Dealing with COVID-19 to dominate President's SONA -- Andanar

Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is expected to dominate President Duterte’s lengthy State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday afternoon, according to Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar

The President is expected to focus on government efforts to save lives and protect livelihoods in the face of the pandemic when he addresses the nation, Andanar said. 

This year's SONA speech is expected to run 60 to 80 minutes if the President sticks to the speech. Duterte practiced the delivery of his annual public address over the weekend.

"My estimate is between 1 hour and 1:20 without adlib," Andanar said Monday morning when asked about the length of the President's SONA.

He noted that the President's speech has been edited to cover topics mostly related to the coronavirus outbreak. The government recognizes the public concerns about health, food, jobs, education, among others, he added.

The Palace had earlier said the President is expected to present the government's sustained pandemic response as well as a roadmap for economic recovery during his SONA.

"We are ready for the President's SONA. There were some changes in the President's speech. According to his directive, only the important topics will be included in the State of the Nation Address because we are in the COVID crisis," Andanar said in a radio interview. "So most of the topics will be about the COVID-19," he added.

The coronavirus threat has also compelled the Palace to introduce changes in the President's SONA at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City this year, from imposing a limit on the number of invited lawmakers and other officials, to mandatory testing of guests before the event.

The stringent health and security protocols are part of the Presidential Security Group's (PSG) effort to provide 360-degree protection for the President. The PSG has appealed to the public, especially those at the venue, to bear with the protocols to ensure a peaceful, successful, and COVID-free SONA this year.

Andanar also said the SONA venue may move from the House of Representatives in Quezon City to Malacañang if many of the Batasan guests test positive for the coronavirus.

"The difference of this year's SONA is we are in the new normal. It means we won't see the usual big crowds at the Lower House. The audience will be limited. I understand that only around 50 guests have been invited," he said.

"If many of the guests turn out positive, we may switch to option B which is to hold it at the Rizal Hall in Malacanang. But if it is held at the Rizal Hall, understandably, there will be fewer people who can attend," he added.