President Rodrigo Duterte steps up today to the Batasang Pambansa podium to deliver his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) while the country is still struggling with the throes of a deadly coronavirus pandemic.
While this happens a full 11 months before the end of his term and nine months before the holding of the next presidential elections, the political season shifts to high gear barely two months hence as the Commission on Elections’ period for the filing of certificates of candidacy takes place from October 1-8 — even if the official campaign period begins only in February next year.
He is expected to sum up the significant achievements of his administration. Unlike his predecessors, he has had to deal with the harsh impact of a global pandemic of unprecedented proportions.
A bigger in-person audience will listen to him this year, a snapshot of how the country is faring in its struggle against COVID-19. To date, some 16.4 million vaccine doses have been administered; 5.56 million persons have been fully vaccinated or 5.1 percent. This compares less favorably with Indonesia’s 61.2 million total doses and 6.4 percent fully vaccinated persons despite its population being more than twice larger.
Since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March 2020, the government has enforced alternating phases of quarantine, with varying levels of restrictions, to revitalize the economy while holding the spread of COVID-19 at bay.
On the ASEAN economic front, latest data from the Asian Development Bank shows the Philippines in the middle of the pack with a 2021 GDP growth forecast of 4.5 percent, level with Indonesia, but behind Vietnam’s 6.7 per cent and both Malaysia and Singapore at 6.0 percent, and slightly ahead of the ASEAN average at 4.4 percent.
In the latest Fitch’s Ratings as of 12 July 2021, the outlook for the Philippines was downgraded to Negative from Stable, even while the country retained its BBB investment grade credit rating. Fitch is wary about “downside risks to medium-term growth prospects as a result of potential scarring effects, and possible challenges associated with unwinding the exceptional policy response to the health crisis and restoring sound public finances as the pandemic recedes.”
Juan de la Cruz’s assessment matters importantly. Responding to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys, 49 percent said their quality of life got worse in the last 12 months; 49 percent were self-rated poor families; and there was 16.8 percent hunger incidence. These figures reflect the massive economic dislocation due to the protracted lockdowns. Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA) data as of April 2021 reflected an 8.7 percent unemployment rate that translates to 4.14 million jobless Filipinos.
The true state of the nation starts at the gut level of the masses whose votes matter most. As one who portrayed himself as their champion, the President is expected to level with them on what he would do to ease their pain and help them recover lost ground.