MANILA — Earlier forums have discussed government plans on how to rescue the Philippine economy from the COVID-19 crisis, Malacañang said on Tuesday, as it fended off criticism against President Rodrigo Duterte's final State of the Nation Address.
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said Duterte's SONA started and ended on Monday with comments on his drug war, and took 2 hours before tackling the coronavirus pandemic, supposedly without presenting a clear plan for recovery.
"Wala naman talagang pumupuri sa SONA ‘pag ikaw ay nasa hanay ng oposisyon. Siyempre, wala kang gagawin kundi ookrayin ang sinabi ng Presidente dahil oposisyon ka. Inaasahan na po natin 'yan," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque in response to Reyes' comment.
(No one praises the SONA if you are in the opposition. Of course, you'll do nothing but criticize what the President said because you are in the opposition. We were expecting that.)
"Pero ang katotohanan po ay unang-una, kakaiba po itong ating SONA kasi. Bago po mag-SONA ang Presidente, meron na pong pre-SONA forums," he said in a press briefing.
(But the truth was, our SONA was different. Before the President delivered his SONA, there were already pre-SONA forums.)
These include a forum by economic managers who discussed fiscal and monetary stimulus to boost the economy. Authorities also discussed the coronavirus vaccination drive, said the Palace official.
"Nakikita naman po ng taong bayan kung anong ginagawa natin sa pandemya," Roque said.
(The public sees what we are doing with the pandemic.)
"Alam na po natin ang ating tatahaking daan para makabangon sa pandemya. Importante po ang pagbabakuna nang tayo po ay makapagbalik sa normal," he added.
(We know the path we will take to recover from the pandemic. The vaccination is important so that we can return to normal.)
The Philippines has administered some 17 million COVID-19 shots, Roque noted.
This however is still below the required doses to meet the government target of vaccinating 58 to 70 million people this year to safely reopen the economy. Last year's economy suffered its worst post-war slump due to the COVID-19 crisis.
With more than 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 27,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second worst outbreak in Southeast Asia.
"We had hoped the president would present a clear roadmap to economic recovery, and how the government is building up healthcare capacity to handle any surges and future pandemics," said Rizalina Mantaring, an officer at the Management Association of the Philippines.
Duterte during his SONA said the battle against narcotics was far from over, more than 5 years after he began the brutal war on drugs that has killed thousands and prompted an accusation of possible crimes against humanity.
"We still have long way in our fight against the proliferation of drugs," Duterte said in his nearly 3-hour address, which many had expected would focus on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last month, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) sought the go-ahead to launch a formal investigation into the drugs war killings, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.
Duterte, who has dared the ICC to put him on trial, taunted the court again, saying he has never denied that he will kill people out to destroy the country.
"I have never denied, and the ICC can record it: those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you. I will really finish you, because I love my country."
Human rights groups accuse Duterte of inciting deadly violence, and say police have murdered unarmed drug suspects and staged crime scenes on a massive scale. Police deny this and Duterte insists cops are under orders to kill only in self-defense.
"Duterte has nothing to show for his promise years ago to eliminate illegal drugs — nothing to show but dead bodies killed by the police," said Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Duterte, who won the presidency in 2016 on a vow to fight corruption, crime and illegal drugs, remains highly popular despite the criticism of the killings and his pandemic response.
"Walang masama doon sa sinabi ni Presidente [sa SONA] dahil iyan naman po ang kaniyang pangako sa taongbayan. Kinakailangan mag-report siya sa kaniyang pangako," said Roque.
(There is nothing wrong with what the President said during the SONA because that was his promise to the people. He needs to report on his promise.)
Most Filipinos had wanted Duterte to discuss jobs and livelihood during his SONA, according to a survey that Pulse Asia released on Monday.
A separate Social Weather Stations poll, meanwhile, found nearly half of Filipino families consider themselves poor.
The government has distributed some P660 billion in grants and loans to help Filipinos cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, Roque said.
"Kinalulungkot po natin ‘yan. Pero asahan po natin na habang nagbubukas ang ekonomiya, mas kakaunti po ang mga Pilipino na nag-iiisip na sila ay mahirap," he said of the SWS survey on poverty.
(That saddens us. But let us expect that as the economy reopens, fewer Filipinos will think they are poor.)
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters