*Sen. Legarda is the Chair of the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations, Finance and Climate Change
On the SONA theme "A Comfortable Life for All":
70% of Filipinos aspire for a simple and comfortable life. At least that is what a national survey of Filipinos say (Basis of Ambisyon Natin). As elected officials, we need to help them achieve their aspirations of having a home, having enough earnings to support everyday needs, having the capacity to provide their children college education; among others. This is essentially about building a predominantly middle class society. We should all support this.
We have never seen this level of government infrastructure spending in many decades. This will spur economic activity and help address some of the most pressing issues facing our people today. These will eventually solve traffic congestion, decongest Manila, spur growth in non-urban centers, facilitate flow of goods, and create jobs, just to name a few.
We have achieved some progress in the field of education and even UNESCO acknowledges this; however, we have to do much more. Inequality in education continues to persist. Only about 69% of grade school graduates from the poorest families continue high school, compared with 94% of those from the richest households. Access to higher education is also being limited by resource constraints on the part of the poor. We need to address this. This is one of the reasons why in the 2017 budget, we have put in funding to support the free education of students in state universities.
On Climate Change:
I welcome the President's mention of climate change and the urgency of implementing measures to mitigate its impacts. Climate action should be a part of the change agenda. More importantly, we should not merely react to the impacts of climate change. We should reduce risks. Doing so entails a shift in the way we pursue development. We should shun the development that destroys our environment.
On Disaster Resiliency:
It is about time that disaster resiliency is given a prominent role in the President's SONA. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Act is due for a sunset review. I support the strengthening of existing institutions to give them the authority and the wherewithal to effectively deliver DRR measures. The operative word is no longer response, but risk reduction. To reduce risks, we have to be willing to leave our comfort zones and go the more sustainable path.
I welcome the President's statement that the "Protection of environment ahead of mining" will be observed in dispensing action on mining applications. If we continue to refuse to take action to remediate the many environmental problems inherent to irresponsible mining and reckless development strategies, the end would be devastating for all.
The attention given to the agriculture sector will help push rural development. We need to equip our farmers with the technologies and technical support that will allow them to compete globally. We cannot just open our doors to foreign goods. We are keeping these doors open so our goods can also find a bigger space in other markets.
On National Land Use Act:
I am glad the President asked Congress to immediately pass a National Land Use Act. This is one of the first ten bills I filed at the opening of the 17th Congress last year. It is about time we adopt a land use and physical planning mechanism that will ensure sustainable management and utilization of natural resources and maintenance and preservation of environmental integrity.
On Foreign Policy:
Our Constitution, no less, mandates an independent foreign policy. An independent foreign policy, however, does not mean relinquishing alliances. We are faced with overwhelming global issues that require collective international effort. The Paris Agreement, for instance, has been signed by 197 countries--all contributing to addressing climate change. An independent foreign policy essentially means putting national interest above all other considerations.
On Rightsizing the Bureaucracy:
It is about time we adopt this measure. We need a lean but mean bureaucracy. Resources are scarce and we have to maximize its use and channel these to address needs that will truly benefit our people. I have proposed a measure in this regard and I look forward to working with my colleagues in passing this measure.
On Tax Reform:
Good infrastructure, good transport system, better health and social services, support for our farmers, the poor, and the senior citizens require money. This reform will help achieve equity - those who have more should pay more. However, in pursuing these reforms, we also need to demand efficiency and integrity from our tax collectors.
On Peace and Order:
We should never underestimate the issues of terrorism, the drug menace, and public menace to our people's safety. As Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I will ensure that our law enforcers, our soldiers, the intelligence community are adequately supported to enable them to carry out their lawful and constitutionally mandated duties.
Source: Senate of the Philippines