The Philippine Star

It wasn’t his swan song, President Duterte said yesterday of his final State of the Nation Address. Still, he dedicated a significant portion of his SONA in defense of his most controversial campaign promise, the eradication of the drug menace.

Into his sixth and final year, the President admitted that the threat has not been eliminated, even as he maintained that Filipinos now feel safer as a result of the brutal war on drugs. He promised a continuation of the bloody campaign against illegal drugs and other threats to peace and order.

Filipinos had given him a landslide victory on a campaign platform of killing the drug dealers who were destroying his country. Today, however, as the President also acknowledged in his SONA, the country faces an even more intractable threat, which he admits he never imagined he would face when he assumed power: coronavirus disease 2019.

The country remains on emergency mode as the COVID-19 pandemic enters a new and apparently more dangerous phase, with the virulent Delta variant now sweeping across Southeast Asia. Too many breakthrough infections even in countries with high vaccination rates are forcing governments to tighten restrictions, again crippling businesses that are just beginning to recover.

In his SONA yesterday, the government’s dilemma was on display, as the President initially said the economy could no longer withstand another lockdown, and then reversing himself and saying the more aggressive Delta could mean a return to lockdowns. “I really do not know what to do,” he sighed, and then added later in conclusion that the Filipino will persevere and triumph.

He will need the public’s cooperation in fighting Delta, through vaccination and continuing adherence to pandemic safety protocols. His officials must also exert greater effort to secure the vaccines the country needs. Congress can do its part by acting quickly on the measures that are meant to improve the country’s healthcare capacity, notably the creation of a virology institute and a Center for Disease Control.

For the long term, the country needs reforms to revive livelihoods and create an environment that is more conducive for job-generating enterprises. The President outlined the amendments needed to make the country more competitive in attracting investments. Congress must hit the ground running in its final session.

SONA 2021
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