(Updated) President Rodrigo Duterte stuck to his script for the most part of his 5th and penultimate State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA), but the more than 1.5 hours speech still went longer than last year.
While Duterte specifically expressed his gratitude to soldiers, policemen, security guards, workers, his cabinet officials, local government units and everyone who helped in general and commended Senator Bong Go, Duterte seemed to forget to recognize and thank health care frontliners in particular in his SONA during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Near the beginning of his speech, he thanked frontliners in general.
“In the meantime, let us express the nation’s gratitude to those who courageously and willingly put their lives on the line to serve the people and country. We share the griefs of their families and no amount of tears can compensate their great losses,” Duterte said, after encouraging the nation to not lose hope as a “vaccine is around the corner.”
He also thanked workers and those involved in provision of utilities and services in general.
“In this regard I would like to express my gratitude to all those who made possible the steady supply of food, water, and basic utilities [to] our households [applause] and the provision of basic social services and financial assistance to our people,” said Duterte.
He then thanked workers in food supply chain and essential establishments, soldiers, policemen and security guards.
“Our profound gratitude goes to everyone who helped keep our country’s food supply chain running, the valiant soldiers, policemen and security guards who kept peace and order [applause] in our communities; the dedicated personnel who kept our essential establishments operational. You showed us kindness and selflessness. You gave us strength. You risked your own lives to serve the greater good in keeping with the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan,” said Duterte.
Duterte then thanked his Cabinet officials serving in the government’s policy making body for COVID-19 response.
“I also thank the men and women of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases and the National Task Force against COVID-19 for all the countless hours it spent to keep the pandemic in check and for all the efforts it made to ensure the safety of our people,” Duterte said.
Duterte then acknowledged local government units in the COVID-19 response.
“Let me also recognize the efforts of the local government units that stepped up and initiated their own response measures to contain the effects of COVID-19 and its impact to their constituents. Have been — impact to its constituents,” said Duterte.
Duterte also commended his former Special Assistant and now senator in particular for the law that pushed the creation of Malasakit Centers and for “other significant pieces of legislation.”
“We commend the initiative and work of Senator Bong Go in this regard as well as other significant pieces of legislation. As of today, there are 75 Malasakit Centers serving Filipinos all over the country. These centers will be of great help in ensuring that our people remain healthy and resilient during these challenging times,” said Duterte.
He also thanked everyone who helped in general.
“To everyone who helped us in this time of great need, maraming salamat po,” Duterte said.
He thanked Congress for passing the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act (Bayanihan Act)—the law that gave him additional powers to address the pandemic, including realignment of funds.
“May I again reiterate my thanks to you, the men and women of Congress, for the effort you invested into passing that law,” Duterte said the last of his thanks in the speech.
Duterte has thanked health care frontliners specifically in past speeches during the pandemic.
In a televised public address on March 16, Duterte thanked doctors, nurses, and other health workers for attending to patients and vowed to express his gratitude to them “in a more tangible way” when the health crisis is over.
Duterte again thanked frontliners including health workers in a speech on March 30.
“As always, I give my sincerest gratitude to all those who are fighting in the frontlines: Our doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, police, soldiers, civil servants and everyone performing essential services in the private sector…I assure you that your efforts will be rewarded. Your heroism will not be forgotten. Saludo kami sa inyo,” said Duterte.
However, another part of his intention to thank health workers drew flak in that same speech.
“May doktor mga nurses namatay, sila ‘yong nasawi ang buhay para lang makatulong sa kapuwa. Napaksuwerte nila. Namatay sila para sa bayan,” he added.
Netizens pointed out the government’s late and lack of distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), lack of mass testing and late response in general that could have prevented health workers’ deaths; 17 doctors have died at that time. Health workers with mild symptoms were only considered to be among those who the government will test, with the Department of Health (DOH) amending their testing guidelines on March 31.
As part of the Bayanihan Act, health workers were to be given P100,000 compensation for those who contracted severe COVID-19, while P1 million pesos for those who died in the line of duty.
The Bayanihan Act in Section 4 (f) grants public and private healthcare workers who contract severe COVID-19 infection while in the line of duty to a P100,000 compensation, and one million pesos (P1,000,000) to the family of any health worker who may die while fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the compensation was delivered only two and a half months later, with Duterte issuing an ultimatum to DOH to give the promised reparation. The number of health workers infected with severe COVID-19 who the Health agency said will receive compensation went down from 79 to 42 to just 19 after validation. With 32 who died and 19 severe cases eligible out of 2,787 COVID-19 cases among health workers that time, only 1.8% of those who got sick were compensated then.
Nurses’ group Filipino Nurses United expressed dismay at this and demanded that all those who contracted COVID-19 be compensated. The group also published an open letter from a nurse who contracted COVID-19 who said that with all she has been through, P100,000 was not even enough but she was ineligible for the compensation for having only mild COVID-19.
The president declared 2020 as the “Year of Filipino Health Workers” through Proclamation No. 976 signed on July 6 and released on July 10. The DOH was directed to lead, coordinate and supervise the nationwide observance of the Year of Filipino Health Workers.
The DOH Situationer Report recorded 4,443 health care frontliners have been infected with COVID-19 as of July 25, with 951 of them being active cases. Meanwhile, 3,456 have recovered and 36 have died, the latest one tallied on July 22. An additional 228 cases were added on July 25, just after one day, while there were 106 more active cases.
The DOH indicated in its COVID-19 tracker that hospitals, health and isolation facilties in Metro Manila have reported 76.4% bed occupancy as of July 26, with some hospitals have declared they are at full capacity.