Duterte defies pandemic threat, to physically deliver SONA before lawmakers

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 20 2020 01:09 PM | Updated as of Jul 20 2020 02:15 PM

President Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on July 22, 2019. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) -- President Rodrigo Duterte will physically deliver his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa on July 27, Malacañang confirmed Monday.

Despite the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 75-year-old leader will appear before some 50 lawmakers next week to deliver his fifth report to the public which would set the tone for his last two years in power.

"I can confirm for the first time that the President will be physically present in Batasan for the SONA," Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace press briefing.

"He (President Duterte) has confirmed that he will attend unless there are supervening events," he added.

It has yet to be decided on whether Cabinet officials will be allowed to physically attend the President's address, Roque said as he noted that preparations for the annual report are underway and a rehearsal has also been scheduled.

Traditionally, government officials, lawmakers, and business leaders convene at the Batasang Pambansa for the President's SONA.

But due to the COVID-19 threat, only a limited number of people are expected to attend Duterte's address this year. Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III initially announced President Duterte's physical presence for the SONA last week.

The Palace even considered videoconferencing from Malacañang for Duterte's SONA to minimize the President's risk of exposure to the virus.

PANDEMIC-CENTERED SONA

For his penultimate address, the President is expected to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the country and steps the government has taken to mitigate its impact.

"I think it will be obvious that he will be talking about COVID-19, impact on the country and steps taken to deal with COVID-19 at kung paano tayo makakabangon sa aberya at sigalot na ang resulta dahil sa COVID," Roque said.

As of July 19, the Philippines has reported 67,456 COVID-19 cases, 43,160 of which were deemed active.

The government has largely eased lockdowns across the country even as virus infections continue to increase.

SECURITY, PROTESTS

Despite the pandemic threat, several activist groups last week said they have started planning demonstrations in time for Duterte's SONA.

Groups such as BAYAN, Akbayan, Partido Manggagawa, Kilusang Mayo Uno, and Laban ng Masa said the demonstrations would be held in Quezon City as well as online due to the COVID-19 threat.

Yearly, the SONA is known to attract several protests from critics of the administration.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police over the weekend said it would implement stricter measures for this year's SONA to ensure that only authorized officials would be able to enter the Batasang Pambansa.

So far, authorities said they have yet to receive any threat in relation to the President's address.