President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (Presidential file photo)
MANILA – Unfazed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, President Rodrigo Duterte has opted to fulfill his constitutional mandate to deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27 at the Batasang Pambansa Complex, Malacañang said Thursday.
Duterte might be at risk of contracting Covid-19, but as the country’s highest elected official, he cannot abandon his task of giving an annual report on the state of the nation to Congress at the opening of its regular session, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.
Roque issued the statement in a virtual press conference, even though he admitted that Duterte’s physical presence at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City for SONA makes the Palace “worried.”
“He may be vulnerable pero patuloy pa rin ang kaniyang trabaho bilang isang president (but he has to fulfill his job as president). At nakasaad po sa Saligang Batas na sa takdang araw ng buwan ng Hulyo, siya ay magre-report sa Kongreso at gagawin po niya iyan (The Constitution states that in July, he has to make a report to Congress and he will do that),” Roque said.
Article 7, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution mandates the President to “address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”
On Monday, Malacañang announced that Duterte will be “physically present” at the Batasang Pambansa when he delivers his fifth and penultimate SONA on July 27, or the day when the 18th Congress opens its second regular session.
Duterte made the decision to deliver a message that Covid-19 will not be a hindrance to the country’s development, Roque said.
“Gagawin po natin ang katungkulan. Mabubuhay po tayo sa kabila ng Covid-19 (We will do our job. We can live despite the Covid-19 pandemic). Physically, he has said he will go. I think it’s also to send a message that we continue to live our lives despite Covid-19,” he said.
Malacañang initially said Duterte might hold virtual SONA, in case he cannot go in person to the Batasang Pambansa.
To minimize Duterte’s risk of exposure to Covid-19, Roque reiterated that there would only be a limited number of people who can attend this year’s SONA.
Traditionally, the presidential family, members of Congress and their spouses, former presidents, foreign diplomats, government officials, and other dignitaries are invited to attend the annual SONA.
Roque, however, could not confirm whether Duterte’s family would grace the event.
“Hindi ko pa po alam kung sino ‘yung magiging kasama ni Presidente (I do not know yet who will accompany the President),” he said. “‘Yung kasama ni Presidente, ang karamihan po diyan ay syempre, ang Presidential Security Group, ang PSG (The President will be accompanied mostly by members of the Presidential Security Group or the PSG).”
Roque also noted that only 15 seats will be reserved for Cabinet members, and 25 seats each for senators and congressmen.
He was likewise unsure whether he can attend Duterte’s fifth SONA.
On Monday, Roque said Duterte’s fifth SONA will focus on the national government’s response to Covid-19 pandemic, as well as on the President’s priorities for his last two years in office.
‘360 degree shield’ for PRRD
In a separate press statement, PSG commander Col. Jesus Durante ensured that “heightened” security measures are in place to keep Duterte safe from Covid-19.
Durante said the PSG is working closely with concerned government agencies to “ensure a 360 degree shield for the President and the safety of the whole venue.”
“With the ongoing pandemic, PSG will enforce additional health security measures adopted from the implementing guidelines of the PSG Task Force Covid-19, Department of Health, and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, as expected,” he said.
Durante said inter-agency meetings with involved security firms have already been conducted.
He added that there are “continuous collaborations” to make sure that Duterte will remain Covid-19 free.
“All out security preparations work towards the end goal of a peaceful, successful and a Covid-free SONA 2020 of the President,” Durante said. (PNA)