Vice President Leni Robredo, leader of the Philippine opposition, was not initially invited to physically attend President Rodrigo Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA) next Monday, July 26.
Her spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said on Monday, July 19, that the Vice President received her invitation from Malacañang on Friday, July 16, but she was asked to attend Duterte’s address only via teleconferencing app Zoom.
“VP Leni received the invitation to attend the SONA last Friday. Similar to the previous year, she was not asked to be physically present, but to join via Zoom. She will therefore be attending remotely,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
But Gutierrez said on Sunday, July 25, that Malacañang later changed its tune and sent another invitation to Robredo, this time including her in the list of officials who can listen to Duterte deliver his final SONA in person.
“Noong lumabas iyong balita na iyon na ang imbitasyon sa kanya ay para lang sa virtual attendance o para lang sa attendance via Zoom hindi personal, siyempre may mga nag-react. Tapos pagkatapos ng ilaw araw, kinlarify, hindi raw. Mayroon daw bagong listahan na inaprubahan ang IATF at puwedeng na raw siyang magpunta na personal doon sa Batasan,” explained Gutierrez.
(When news came out that the invitation for her was just a virtual attendance or attendance via Zoom and not in person, of course people reacted. After several days, they clarified that wasn’t the case. There’s a new list from IATF saying she can now go in person to Batasan.)
The Vice President, however, would still not be able to attend since only fully vaccinated people can enter the Batasang Pambansa. Robredo is scheduled to receive her second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on August 11.
“Hindi pa nakukumpleto iyong kaniyang pagbabakuna so ayaw naman ‘nyang ipagpilitan, ‘di ba? Lalabag siya sa protocol. Baka malagay pa sa panganib iyong kaniyang mga makakasalamuha roon kasama na si Pangulo,” added Gutierrez.
(She hasn’t completed her vaccination yet so she doesn’t want to push it, right? She would end up violating protocol. She could be a risk to people she would be interacting with, including the President.)
This marks the second time that Robredo was not originally invited to physically attend the President’s SONA. She was also not asked to go to the Batasan last year, the first time Duterte’s address to the nation had to take on a hybrid format due to the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Only a selected number of officials, lawmakers, and guests will be allowed to attend the SONA in person on July 26.
Robredo had been present in all of Duterte’s previous SONAs despite their rocky working relationship.
The Vice President has been staunchly critical of the President’s policies such as the bloody drug war and Duterte’s crackdown on dissent. In turn, Duterte has belittled Robredo’s capability to lead even if her office’s anti-poverty and pandemic response programs have drawn praise.
Like with past presidents, Duterte is expected to harp on the legacy of his administration in his final SONA.
But he will be delivering his speech in the shadow of his government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, where 1.51 million have been infected and 26,786 people have died from the virus.
The President’s last SONA also comes at a crucial point in Philippine politics, as politicians and strategists begin placing their bets on Duterte’s potential successor in the high-stakes 2022 national elections.
Next year’s polls could see Robredo – the most viable standard-bearer for the anti-Duterte forces according to pre-election surveys – pitted against the President’s own daughter, poll frontrunner and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
But the Vice President has not decided on whether to run for president in 2022, given her low survey numbers so far and the persistent attacks from the Duterte machinery these past five years.