By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte yesterday asked courts not to block development projects and pressed the Senate to approve the first of up to five tax reform packages in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) that also had strong words for miners.

And despite apparently sweeping statements against the industry, one mining official said he believed Mr. Duterte had aimed his words only at those who spoil the environment.

In his second annual report to the nation that lasted for around two hours, Mr. Duterte — who had run for the highest office in the land partly on the promise of a merciless war on narcotics and criminality — started his speech by discussing his deadly anti-drug campaign, which he said would remain “unremitting as it will be unrelenting” despite the outcry both here and abroad.

He then urged lawmakers to act on the proposed revival of death penalty “especially in the trafficking of illegal drugs.”

“The fight against illegal drugs will continue because that is the root cause of so much evil and so much suffering that weakens the social fabric and deters foreign investments from pouring in,” Mr. Duterte said.

He also highlighted his administration’s peace-and-order efforts, adding that his May 23 martial law declaration covering Mindanao was “the fastest way to quell the rebellion [now centered in Marawi City] at the least cost of lives and property.”

At the same time, he declared anew that he would no longer talk peace with communist rebels, who had intensified attacks on government forces after Mindanao was placed under martial law.

He briefly touched on what his administration considers a framework for addressing the roots of Filipino Muslims’ decades-long restiveness, by giving them a bigger area of autonomy. “We ensure a Bangsamoro government that truly reflects the aspirations of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

He likewise assured that “the West Philippine Sea issue and federalism are matters that we have to tackle sooner or later,” but did not linger on these issues.

Mr. Duterte then pressed Congress to act on two other legislative measures, namely: the proposed National Land Use Act and the first of up to five tax reform packages which the House of Representatives approved at the end of May and which now awaits Senate fiat.

“I am appealing to all our legislators to immediately pass the National Land Use Act, or NaLUA, to ensure the rational and sustainable use of our land and our physical resources, given the competing needs of food security, housing, businesses and environmental conservation,” Mr. Duterte said.

Noting afterwards that the “fate” of the tax reform bill is now in Senate hands, Mr. Duterte said: “Ano bang gusto ninyong gawin, magluhod ako dyan? (Do you want me to beg?)”

He issued a veiled threat, apparently in jest, that he will not back senators up for re-election in 2019 who will not support the bill.

Aside from the two measures, Mr. Duterte also asked Congress to “expeditiously” draft a law establishing a “new authority or department” that is “responsive to the prevailing 21st century conditions… to best deliver enhanced disaster resiliency.”

He then turned to the Supreme Court to air his concern — long shared by the business community — of courts’ penchant for granting pleas for temporary restraining orders (TRO), saying “TRO would delay the projects… which has been the case in the provinces.”

In the middle of his speech, Mr. Duterte said he wants to stop exporting the country’s mineral resources, as he threatened miners with even heavier taxes.

“If possible, we shall put a stop to the extraction and exportation of our mineral resources to foreign nations for processing abroad and importing them back to the Philippines in the form of consumer goods at prices twice or thrice the value of the original raw materials foreign corporations pay for them,” the President said.

“I am holding all mining companies and officials responsible for the full and quick clean-up, restoration… Either spend to restore the virginity [sic] of their source or I will tax you to death.”

Sought for comment, Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc. President Dante R. Bravo replied: “I think the President was simply against irresponsible mining.”

“As for taxes, he wanted us to pay the correct taxes. I believe all responsible mining companies like us are paying the correct taxes.”

Ronald S. Recidoro, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ vice-president for Legal and Policy, said separately: “On the matter of taxation, it’s really his prerogative to impose legislation to forward his agenda and we are willing to engage in that discussion.”

For John D. Forbes, senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc., Mr. Duterte was “forceful” but did not address enough of business concerns.

“It was a forceful speech in which the president took a strong stance on his top policy concerns, including drugs and rebellion,” Mr. Forbes said in a mobile phone message.

“We would have liked to hear more about his top legislative priorities and reforms to create more jobs, more details about ‘build, build, build’ and more priority bills…” — with inputs from Janina C. Lim

SONA pushes select bills, warns miners