MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged Filipinos to "pray for salvation" from the possible spread of the more virulent Delta variant in the Philippines, saying the country could no longer afford another lockdown should there be a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
"If it will spread, I hope it will not go any further," Duterte said about 2 hours into his final State of the Nation Address (SONA).
"Pasa-saan tayo pupunta? If it requires a new vaccine, we don't have it yet. Maybe we just have to pray for salvation," he said.
Duterte said that "if something wrong happens," he has "to be strict" and may tighten community quarantine protocols, but noted that the Philippine economy may not withstand another lockdown.
"We cannot afford more lockdowns lest our economy bleeds to the point of irreversible damage," he said.
"There is no telling when this virus would disappear from the planet Earth. We can only pray to God," he added.
The Delta variant, which is known to be twice more contagious than other mutations of COVID-19, has been confirmed to have infected at least 119 Filipinos as of this month. Twelve of these cases are active.
The Department of Health (DOH) earlier said that there is no data yet as to how many Filipinos are actually positive for the Delta variant as the Philippines is conducting purposive sampling only due to lack of machines and resources for genome sequencing.
Duterte did not mention in his final SONA if the Philippines plans to sequence more samples from COVID-19 patients to have a more accurate picture of the Delta variant's spread in the country.
The President instead highlighted the passage of the Universal Health Care Act in 2019, and the establishment of 130 Malasakit Centers or assistance areas in hospitals, a project of his long-time aide Sen. Christopher "Bong" Go.
Duterte called the centers "one of the most poignant act of Congress and the executive department."
Duterte also touted the passage of the "most extensive social protection program in our country's history with the passage of Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2", which are the Philippines' two COVID-19 aid packages passed in 2020.
Because of the funds dedicated for COVID-19-related expenses, the Philippines was able to have 260 accredited testing laboratories nationwide, and increase bed capacity in hospitals to 140,000, the President said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson had noted in an earlier statement that about a third of the P140-billion COVID-19 aid fund under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) has yet to be utilized.
"As per DBM website which we accessed today but dated June 25, 2021, the Obligation Rate was 78.84 percent. Therefore, 21.16 percent has not been obligated yet by the agencies," Lacson told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
"Disbursement rate is worse at 69.49 percent and therefore, there’s still 31.51 percent of the Bayanihan funds that remains undisbursed or unspent," he said.
The national government was able to establish new hospitals and upgrade existing ones to boost the Philippines' response against the pandemic, Duterte said.
"Never did I imagine that my presidency would not only be judged by how I made good in my campaign promises in fighting illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption, but how I led my nation during the global pandemic," Duterte said.
"We cannot continue living in the shadow of this potent enemy, especially now that science has proven that it is possible to live if not entirely defeat this virus, he said.
"The best solution is still vaccination," he said, urging Filipinos to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
As of July 25, the Philippines has fully vaccinated over 6 million people against the virus which has killed millions worldwide.
In the first part of his speech, Duterte thanked health workers and other frontliners who pushed to keep health facilities and the economy running during the pandemic.
The country's total recorded COVID-19 cases, as of Monday, stood at 1,555,396, of which, 55,140 or 3.5 percent are active. The Philippines logged its first case in January last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.