Handicapped by coronavirus pandemic, Duterte presses agenda

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to deliver on Monday his annual address to the Philippines, having consolidated his power with a firm grip over Congress and a majority in the Supreme Court, but under mounting pressure over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

With 23 months left of his six-year term, Duterte has been thrust into a national emergency.

Analysts say he is trying to make up for his lack of a clear policy to address the health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic, by resorting to the same law-enforcement approach he wielded with deadly consequences in his war on drugs.

But this time, the “enemy” remains unseen, afflicting more than 80,000 people and leaving almost 2,000 dead as of Sunday. Unemployment has surged to 17.5 percent and the country of 100 million could be facing its worst recession in 35 years.

“This is, I think, one of the most important state of the nation addresses of any Filipino president, mainly because this is not only an economic crisis, this is a crisis that can potentially change the way we live,” said Jean Encinas Franco, a political science associate professor at the University of the Philippines.

Duterte is due to start delivering his address at the House of Representatives at 4pm local time (08:00 GMT) in an event scaled back to just 50 people as a result of the coronavirus. However, the venue could still be changed at the last minutes, following reports that some of the invited guests tested positive of the coronavirus.

Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, who is a member of the opposition, says Filipinos want to hear from the president on his “real plan” to address the pandemic.

“We have long been asking questions because what we’ve learned from their weekly meetings appears incomplete. Hopefully tomorrow, it will be presented completely,” Robredo said during her weekly radio show. The president and the vice president are elected separately in the Philippines.

Earlier, Harry Roque, the president’s spokesman, had promised that Duterte will present a detailed roadmap for recovery, including how to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-10.

There have also been reports that Duterte could declare another expanded lockdown if the number of cases hits 85,000 by the end of this week.

On Monday, Presidential Communications Secretary Andanar added that the president’s speech “will be one that is full of optimism and hope.” He added that the government “has done enough within its means”.

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