Amid pandemic, Duterte to deliver 5th SONA at Batasan on July 27

Amid the rising coronavirus cases and government discouraging mass gathering in enclosed spaces, President Rodrigo Duterte will not shy away from tradition – he will deliver his 5th State of the Nation Address at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City on July 27.

This year's address will be a record, as Malacañang will have to adopt a hybrid SONA.

Senate Presisdent Vicente Sotto III told reporters on Thursday, July 16, that only 50 people would be allowed inside the gallery – 25 from the executive branch, 13 from the House of Representatives, and 12 from the Senate. The rest of the officials and lawmakers will join virtually.

In normal times, all lawmakers, each with one companion, were physically present at Batasan whenever the President delivered his SONA. Past presidents, as well as diplomats, were also invited.

On why the President chose to delivery his address at Batasan, Sotto can only presume: "I cannot speak for the President, pero siguro…ayaw niyang masabi na na-cower ang gobyerno ng pandemic eh (but maybe he didn't want to create the impression that the government was cowered by the pandemic)."

"I think it's a very good decision," added Sotto.

Sotto explained that the number of participants already include members from the chambers' secretariat and sergeant-at-arms, so only 8 senators and 9 congressmen will be among those allowed to attend.

Apart from Sotto, the following senators are expected to be present in Batasan: Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and senators Christopher Go, Ronald dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Sherwin Gatchalian, Pia Cayetano, and Panfilo Lacson.

Go, Dela Rosa, and Tolentino were the 3 senators for whom the President campaigned hard in 2019.

Sotto said that he was informed of the SONA arrangements on Thursday morning. All attendees will undergo rapid testing and temperature checks to be allowed inside the House gallery.

While other protocols are yet to be firmed up, Sotto said those whose temperatures reach at least 37.5 degrees Celsius would be asked to go home or take a swab test.

The President is expected to cite his administration's achievements in its 4th year, as well as the state of the pandemic response. As in his past SONAs, Duterte is also expected to lay down his legislative agenda for the next 12 months. (READ: Pandemic unravels Duterte's 2016 promise of decisive leadership)

Metro Manila remained under general community quarantine until end of the month. Duterte warned that the capital region could be under stricter quarantine measures should cases continue to rise.

As of Wednesday, July 15, the Philippines had 58,850 coronavirus cases, with 1,614 deaths and 20,976 recoveries. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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