COVID-19 response more important now than illegal drugs, Recto says on Duterte's SONA

Published July 27, 2021, 3:45 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

With President Duterte prioritizing the country’s problem of illegal drugs in his final State of the Nation Address (SONA), Senator Ralph Recto also found the Chief Executive’s speech lacking, particularly on how the Philippines will move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto (Senate PRIB)

The Senate President Pro Tempore said Tuesday, July 27, that he had expected to hear from Duterte more of his programs so the country could finally recover from the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I think it’s more of the same, every SONA, he’s spoken about illegal drugs,” Recto said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel. “I think he’s more comfortable talking about illegal drugs,” he opined.

Duterte, he said, failed to mention his plans and updates on the rollout of vaccination program, especially with his administration’s target of inoculate some 70 million Filipinos to protect the country from the novel coronavirus.

He also inquired about how the government will boost the country’s health care system, strengthening the testing and contract tracing, and the benefits due for medical frontliners, as well as the unpaid reimbursements to hospitals.

“It was too long, it was three hours, and I think what people were expecting was how he will address the issue of the pandemic. We do have a health crisis, and of course you have talked about a Delta variant,” the Senate leader replied when asked about his thoughts about Duterte’s SONA.

“And many people would also be equally concerned about their jobs, livelihood. You know, poverty is incrreasing, hunger is increasing, the debts are increasing…inflation, prices are going up,” he added.

“I think that’s the best way to assure the public that government is on top of the situation,” he said.

Recto stressed the need for the Duterte administration to focus more on health to pave way for the reopening of the economy.

“We cannot reopen the economy, we cannot people back to work if we don’t address the pandemic. Moreso today, natatakot ang tao (people are afraid) because may (there is a) new variant,” he said.

“We should make more investments in health care, instead of talking of just about illegal drugs — I don’t think that is a priority today. It is an important issue, the President is addressing that issue, the public knows about it, but people were more concerned of when are gonna get vaccinated. And if they get sick, will they get well?” Recto said.

Duterte started talking about the government’s COVID-19 response two hours into his SONA, as he first discussed the landmark laws he signed, his efforts to help uniformed personnel and against the communist insurgency, and his usual lament about the country’s problem on illegal drugs and crimes — which he previously promised to end within the first three to six months of his term.

He repeated how illegal drugs can destroy a family and warned anew that he will “kill” those “who will destroy my country”.

In his speech, Duterte cautioned about the “irreversible” impacts of imposing more stricter lockdowns, although he hinted that he might be forced to again restrict movement to prevent the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

He thanked health and frontline workers and expressed his appreciation to the private sector, local chief executives and international partners who helped in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duterte also said around 36 million vaccines are expected to arrive in the Philippines this month and in August.