President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday will deliver his final State of the Nation Address, seeking to define his legacy and chart his path post-Malacañang as the threat of the Delta coronavirus variant loomed.
The 76-year-old President, the first from Mindanao, is expected to recap the achievements of his last five years in office before a nation that has been under varying forms of COVID quarantine for 16 months, one of the world's longest lockdowns that cost millions of jobs and sank the economy into a recession.
"It's his final hurrah to define what he wants to be his legacy," University of Santo Tomas Department of Political Science Chair Dennis Coronacion told reportr.
Physical attendance to Duterte's swan song is limited to officials who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, authorities said. The annual report -- a red carpet affair pre-pandemic times -- will be attended virtually by hundreds of government officials, and dignitaries.
Vice President Leni Robredo, the leader of the opposition who is being urged to run to succeed Duterte, had expressed hopes that the President would be "very candid" about what the Filipino people can expect in his last year in office.
"We're in the middle of a pandemic and we want to hear all the good things that we hope for but I think for people to be appeased -- kasi marami ngayon ang anxious, marami ang nagtatanong kailan ba ito matatapos -- it would help if the President would be honest about where we are as far as COVID response is concerned," she told ANC.
The virus is the enemy
Duterte will enter his final year in office with the Philippines economy in its deepest recession since World War II. Debt-watcher Fitch Ratings last week downgraded the country's credit outlook due to rising borrowings.
The pandemic struck in Duterte's last two years in office and has killed over 26,000 Filipinos and plunged millions into poverty.
Nearly half of Filipino families or 49% view themselves as poor according to a May 2021 Social Weather Survey. Of the estimated 12.4 million "poor" families in May 2021, 2.4 million were "newly poor," SWS said, meaning they only considered themselves as poor during the term of President Duterte.
Before COVID, Duterte trumpeted the gains of his war on drugs, his centerpiece program that got him elected in 2016. For his last SONA, Filipinos will want to hear how he plans to revive the economy and accelerate vaccinations to cover at least half of the country's 109 million people this year. So far, authorities have fully vaccinated over five million.
Duterte has asked Congress to prioritize measures that would help uplift the country from the pandemic. These are the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Foreign Investments Act, and the Public Service Act.
Who will carry the Duterte torch?
The SONA will also be closely watched for signals on the President's plans in the 2022 elections. Duterte has expressed openness to run for vice president while his eldest daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio is being egged to run to succeed him.
"There should be nothing left to prove at this point because nabigyan ka na ng pagkakataon. It should be about your achievements. Ano ba ang nagawa mo?" said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
"What your critics say shouldn't matter anymore because you're on your way out. You're entering the lame duck phase," he added.
In the weeks leading to the SONA, the firebrand leader was busy attacking his former political ally, Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who is rumored to be gearing up for a presidential bid. Duterte has yet to officially endorse anyone as his successor.
Politics aside, Robredo had said that it would be ideal if the President could offer a "calming voice" with all the anxiety caused by the pandemic. Words from the country's leader would "help tremendously," she said.
"I would want the President to be very candid, hindi lang where we are [in terms of pandemic response] but what the government plans to do about it," she said.
Duterte in his penultimate pandemic SONA last year assured Filipinos of an unwavering fight against COVID-19, comparing it to his administration's centerpiece program -- the war on drugs -- which is viewed as his defining legacy.
"Together, we shall fight this pandemic with the same fervor as our campaign against illegal drugs, criminality, insurgency, and corruption in high places and entrenched parochial interests," he said.
"My faith in the Filipino innate patience, resilience, and determination to bounce back is unwavering. Let us share our blessings with those who have little and those who have none. This is the time to bring out the best in us."