What to expect in Duterte’s non-traditional fifth SONA

By Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to address a nation that is grappling with an economic slowdown and a health crisis amid COVID-19 cases rising to almost 80,000 in the country.

Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday will outline a recovery plan for a post-pandemic Philippines, as well as report on the government’s COVID-19 response, the Palace said.

The President will be physically present at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, the traditional venue for the constitutionally mandated SONA, but other time-honored practices are being scrapped due to the pandemic.

Here’s what to expect:

Limited guests

Only a few Cabinet members and lawmakers, who tested negative for coronavirus in their RT-PCR and rapid tests, can enter the session hall.

Previous SONAs had always seen a jam-packed audience, with the red carpet a chance for government officials and their wives to show off their fashion sense and advocacies.

But this year, even media personnel are not allowed inside the Batasan premises. They can only tap into the broadcast feed of state-run Radio Television Malacañang for their coverage.

RTVM, as well as the House of Representatives, had confirmed COVID-19 cases among their personnel but authorities assured that only those who are coronavirus-free will be deployed.

COVID-19 recovery plan

Duterte is expected to discuss the coronavirus crisis “in much detail,” his spokesman Harry Roque told CNN Philippines.

READ: Duterte’s 5th SONA to be aired unedited, RTVM assures 

The President will unveil a road map for recovery, Roque said, as the economy contracted for the first time since 1998.

While restrictions are slowly being eased to reopen the economy, experts say bringing back the millions of jobs lost during the pandemic could take at least two years.

Labor issues are among the protesters’ concerns, but they cannot hold their rallies along Commonwealth Avenue, where the groups traditionally converge.

No Commonwealth Avenue protests

This year, the closest the protesters could get is the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

The city government did not grant permits for any public assembly, in line with the national government’s ban on mass gatherings. Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said demonstrations could be held in privately-owned properties or school campuses instead.

Different cause-oriented groups condemned the new pronouncement, calling it an affront to freedom of speech and assembly. They said they will push through with the planned rallies in UP or other venues, assuring that health protocols will be observed, including the wearing of face masks and physical distancing.

Amid the global health crisis, the Duterte government is being criticized for focusing on the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act and shutting down ABS-CBN, instead of concentrating its efforts and resources to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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