By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

THE COUNTRY’s business community will be glued to President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) today for signs of how he plans to address its concerns in the next 12 months, leaders of the sector said in separate interviews over the weekend.

With the planned theme, “A Comfortable Life for All,” Mr. Duterte’s prepared speech is drafted in English and should not take more than 40-50 minutes to deliver, according to Malacañang.

“He wants it direct to the point. I’m estimating the final draft to be between 15 and 18 pages,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin M. Andanar told reporters last week, adding that the firebrand leader might still give some off-the-cuff remarks, true to form.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said Mr. Duterte’s second SONA will be “frank, challenging, realistic but hopeful.”

“He’s just simply going to be speaking from his heart,” Mr. Abella said.

Mr. Duterte’s SONA today will also mark the formal start of the second regular session of the 17th Congress.

In his first SONA a year ago, Mr. Duterte made several promises, including a shift to a federal type of government, tax reforms and emergency powers to solve the traffic crisis.

Congress approved three of Mr. Duterte’s proposed measures a year hence. The measures on free Internet access in public places, as well as on extension of the validity of passports and driver’s licenses now await his signature.

In his first year in office, Mr. Duterte signed five measures into law, namely: the postponement of barangay and sangguniang kabataan elections; the 2017 national budget; inclusion of casinos in the coverage of Republic Act No. 9160, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001; as well as renewal of GMA Network, Inc. and Smart Communications, Inc. franchises.

According to a statement issued by the Senate on July 21, topping the list of bills which senators intend to tackle in this session are the first tax reform package which the House of Representatives approved at the end of May and the proposed shift to a federal form of government.

The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council earlier this month identified 13 measures as “urgent” for approval in the next five months: a proposed unified national identification system act, a security of tenure bill that ends some forms of contractualization, a bill guiding utilization of Coconut Levy Fund collections, a proposed national transport act to address the traffic gridlock hounding Metro Manila and other major urban centers, a budget reform act, a national land use act, national government “rightsizing”, an ease of doing business act/fast business permit act, as well as amendments to RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, RA 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996, to the National Irrigation Administration charter to provide for free irrigation, to Commonwealth Act No. 146 or the Public Service Act to redefine public utilities in order to allow foreign ownership, and to RA 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act.

A list which 15 local and foreign business chambers submitted to Malacañang last January bared 12 priorities, namely: tax reform, a legislated freedom of information law, removing foreign ownership limits enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, apprenticeship program reform, build-operate-transfer law amendments, corporation code amendments, Public Service Act amendments, telecommunication sector reforms, water sector reform, easing of bank secrecy, emergency powers to address traffic and retail trade law amendments.

Sought for comment, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President George T. Barcelon said in a telephone interview that he expects Mr. Duterte to push for “more teamwork” between the executive and legislature in his speech today. It will be recalled that Mr. Duterte had to step in after noting in March “resistance” to and “rough sailing” for the first tax reform package in the House of Representatives, which the ruling party controls.

Mr. Barcelon added that he hopes to hear some “updates” on Mr. Duterte’s promises, including further cutting red tape and reducing corruption, easing traffic congestion, improving infrastructure and upholding rule of law.

“…I think these would sort of help us really bring about the necessary changes,” Mr. Barcelon said. “Just focus on these key issues and I think it would make a difference.”

John D. Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said in a mobile phone message that his group hopes to hear Mr. Duterte support the legislative agenda the local and foreign business chambers had submitted at the start of the year.

“[We also want to hear the President support the] plans for better broadband and other infrastructure modernization projects, and other policies to make the economy more competitive and attractive for investment and job creation,” Mr. Forbes said.

Sought separately for comment, Guenter Taus, president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, replied: “We hope that the President will follow through his earlier statements in further opening up the economy to foreign players.”

“We welcome the movement in the tax reform in that we support the reduction of corporate income tax as well as the reduction and the realignment of personal income tax, in line with inflation,” Mr. Taus said in an e-mail, referring to the second tax reform package which the Finance department will submit to Congress before yearend and which will cut the current 30% corporate income tax rate to align it with the rest of Southeast Asia.

“[We also expect the President to] press on with BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law that had been derailed after the bloody January 2015 anti-terror raid in Mamasapano, Maguindanao) and stabilize the situation in Mindanao.”