In these times of uncertainty, when so many institutions, celebrations, and occasions for which we are known as a nation have been upended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is good to know that President Duterte will carry on the tradition of personally appearing before Congress in joint session on Monday, July 27, to deliver his annual State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The President could have chosen to deliver his SONA via television from the safety of Malacañang on the bank of the Pasig River in Manila, lest he somehow catch the virus on the way to the Batasan in Quezon City or right in the halls of the Batasan itself.
Security is bound to be tight and health measures are bound to be thorough, but the COVID-19 virus, despite the best efforts of the world’s top scientists and health experts, has managed to spread around the globe these last seven months, infecting such world leaders as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Brazil’s President Jair Messias Bolsonaro. There is so much that is not known about this virus, that it is best to avoid any situation, any gathering of people, where it might somehow find a way to reach a new victim.
The arrangements for the President’s appearance at the Batasan have been carefully planned. Only 50 people will be in the vast assembly hall of the House of Representatives, which would normally have over 300 congressmen, 24 senators, their staffs, and hundreds of people in the gallery for the SONA.
The 50 on the floor on Monday, seated with considerable spaces between them, will be 13 congressmen, 12 senators, and 25 members of the executive department. All will be subjected to rapid coronavirus tests before being allowed entry into the Batasan. All will be wearing face masks.
The President’s speech will be aired on radio and television over the government network Radio Television Malacañang (RTVM) and the social media accounts of the Presidential Communications Office and Radio Television Malacañang. Private media may hook up with RTVM.
Over the years, the delivery of the President’s SONA on the first day of the new regular session of Congress has been met by protest marches along the road to the Batasan. This year, because of the pandemic, mass gatherings of any kind are discouraged but with proper distancing, protesters should be able to stage their traditional demonstrations for their various causes.
Through all the safety precautions on Monday, the nation should be able to hear the President’s State of the Nation Address in the safety of their homes around the country. There is much that the President is expected to say, including on such issues as the recently enacted Anti-Terror Law, the country’s relations with the United States, China, and other nations, the national budget and other national issues, but we expect that this year’s SONA will focus on the pandemic, its deadly toll in the lives and health of Filipinos, the impact on the nation’s economy, and plans for national recovery .