By Arjay L. Balinbin, July 22 2019; Business World

Image Credit to PCOO

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte delivers today his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), which Malacañang said on Sunday should give the country an idea of what lies ahead in the second half of his six-year term.

Mr. Duterte marks the midpoint of his term with an 85% public satisfaction rating in Pulse Asia Research, Inc.’s latest poll despite a bloody anti-drug war and an inflation rate that has been easing back this year into the central bank’s 2-4% target band after successive multi-year monthly peaks that averaged a nine-year-high 5.2% in 2018.

At the same time, overall economic growth has still hovered around 6.5% in the past two years, against 2010-2016’s 6.3% average and the current administration’s original 7-8% target until it ends in 2022. The Social Weather Stations’ June self-rated poverty survey also showed 45% of respondents considering themselves poor, up seven points from the record-low 38% in March and steady from the year-ago 48%.

“Tomorrow, in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will report to the Filipino people the achievements of the administration in the past three years, the present situation of the country, and his plans to further move the nation forward for the next three years,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement on Sunday.

“We can expect that he will tackle the promises he made on fighting corruption, illegal drugs, criminality and rebellion,” he added.

“We can also expect that he will speak about other major issues, such as that of the West Philippine Sea, ways to sustain the growth in our economy, as well as his legislative agenda.”

Communications Secretary Martin M. Andanar said the public will hear today “one of the most important SONAs” since it will outline the administration’s next steps in realizing “legacies” before Mr. Duterte steps down in mid-2022.

“… [I]tong ika-apat na SONA, ito basically ang isa sa pinakaimportanteng SONA ni Presidente kasi(… This fourth SONA is basically one of the most important of such speeches of the President because) this is basically the first SONA of the second half of this administration at ilalatag dito ang plano niya (wherein he will unveil his plan) for the next three years,” according to a transcript of Mr. Andanar’s July 19 interview on the Cabinet Report Sa Teleradyo that was e-mailed to reporters on Saturday.

“At the same time, ay kailangan din ma-report kahit papaano kung ano ’yung mga nagawa (Mr. Duterte will have to report what has been achieved) for the last year and the last three years.”

Mr. Andanar said the current administration remains focused on the bottom line of lifting more people out of poverty, building more physical infrastructure as well as improving law and order.

“This is about legacy building… The Duterte legacy for the next three years will center around, number one, poverty alleviation, bringing down the poverty from 21% to 14% and bringing up the economy to upper middle class status,” he said.

“Secondly, infrastructure – the ‘Build, Build, Build’ with the 75 big-ticket infrastructure projects para sa bansa natin (for our country) including the railways, the (Metro Manila) subway, including the flyovers, including the Skyways… the bridges, kasama ’yung railway sa Mindanao,” he added. “Kailangan masimulan itong lahat ng (construction of all these) ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects (has to begin) within this term; whether matapos man siya o hindi (or not they are completed), kailangan masimulan (construction must begin). And I understand that about 28-35 projects will be done within the term (of Mr. Duterte) out of the 75.”

“Thirdly, nandiyan din ‘yung peace and order because we have long been haunted by communism, the communist rebels sa kanayunan (in rural villages).”

Delivery of the fourth SONA, which will be directed again by film and television director Joyce E. Bernal, may take up to one hour and 20 minutes. “I would surmise that it would be about 45 minutes to one hour and 20 minutes give or take; ‘pag nag-ad lib, mas mahaba (but if Mr. Duterte speaks off the cuff, he could take longer),” Mr. Andanar said.

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) will deploy around 14,100 policemen on Metro Manila’s streets today, with 9,000 of them in Quezon City alone where Mr. Duterte will deliver his SONA, NCRPO chief Major General Guillermo T. Eleazar told reporters in Camp Crame on Monday last week.

He had said that the NCRPO expects around 15,000 protesters to gather along the stretch of Commonwealth Avenue near the House of Representatives where Mr. Duterte will deliver his speech. Mr. Eleazar added that the police also expects protest rallies near the US Embassy, on Chino Roces Bridge and Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila, as well as at EDSA Shrine in Quezon City.

In a press conference last Wednesday, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it will deploy around 1,500 traffic management personnel and street sweepers for today’s SONA. MMDA General Manager Jose Arturo S. Garcia, Jr. had also said then that his group will keep Commonwealth Avenue open to traffic until 2 p.m. today. Should protest rallies threaten to close the road, MMDA will still try to keep one lane open. — Arjay L. Balinbin with VACF