Days before Rodrigo Duterte delivers his sixth and last State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa hall, the heavens wept as the country plunged into its deepest crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The tears have inundated low-lying areas in the capital and other parts of the main island of Luzon, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes to safer, higher and drier areas. Some had to be rescued by the Philippine Coast Guard as the coastal villages in Mindoro were threatened by rising seawater.

As some rivers overflowed in other areas, people unwell with the deadly coronavirus disease (Covid-19) were also spilling in public and private medical facilities as the Duterte administration continued to struggle to control the virus.

Since the outbreak in January 2020, more than 1.5 million Filipinos got infected with the virus but nearly 95 percent have recovered as of Saturday, two days before Duterte’s speech before Congress, where he is expected to lay down his plan for the next 12 months on how to lift the country from the quagmire.

More than 27,000 people have died and nearly 55,000 others are still getting treatment in hospitals, at home and in government isolation facilities. The situation has become more alarming after the health department announced it has already detected more than 60 cases of the more contagious Delta variant, blamed for the recent surges in Covid-19 cases in other Southeast Asian countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Delta variant threatens the country’s healthcare system, which could be easily overwhelmed when a similar surge happens. It could be worse than what the country experienced in March and April when the number of daily cases soared to more than a record-high 13,000.

The Delta variant exposed the country’s poor biosurveillance capability and the inadequate intensive care unit facilities as well as oxygen and other hospital equipment and supplies.

Imagine, the Delta variant cases were only detected weeks after the infected people have recovered or have died because only less than 1,000 serum samples were tested and sequenced by the Philippine Genome Center out of more than 6,000 daily Covid-19 cases.

The center needs more resources to sequence the blood samples taken from Covid-19 positive patients by acquiring more specialized machines and chemical reagents as well as expanding its biosurveillance work in the Visayas and Mindanao to quickly detect the deadly Delta variant and other future COVID-19 variants.

Duterte’s government has to borrow billions of dollars from the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to fund a social program to distribute cash aid to more than 20 million poor households who were affected by the pandemic and buy tens of millions of vaccines.

What most people do not understand is why the Duterte administration and Congress only appropriated P2 billion in the 2021 budget to buy vaccines when the retired generals and doctors planned to secure nearly 200 million vaccines to immunize some 84 million people, aged 18 and above, except terminally ill and frail people.

Instead of preparing for the pandemic, which got worst this year, the executive and the legislature prepared a budget designed to win votes, funding the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflicts (NTF-ELCAC) with nearly P20 billion and more than P600 million for the Manila Bay beautification campaign, dumping artificial dolomite sand, which are washed away and filled with garbage every time during a typhoon or during monsoon rains.

Duterte’s economic team had placed money in the wrong priorities instead of investing in a national healthcare system, which the country does not have because of devolution under the local government code.

Funds to improve the creaking infrastructure were underspent as the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) had to revise several times the Duterte’s ambitious and centerpiece “Build, Build, Build” program, removing Chinese-funded infrastructure projects as only 5 percent of the promised $24 billion loans and grants from China was realized.

China would probably be uninterested in funding projects as Duterte is set to leave office next year. The Philippines remained outside China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as the maritime silk road despite Duterte’s rapprochement policy, which set aside the July 2016 landmark legal victory at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

The Philippines’ public sector debt piled up to more than P10 trillion. Revenues shrank as Congress passed laws cutting corporate income taxes and as many businesses shut down due to the pandemic.

It resulted in the longest recession and slowest economic recovery as the Philippines went from the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia to the laggard in the region. Vietnam has even overtaken the country’s per capita GDP last year.

On his last SONA, Duterte will ask Congress to pass the biggest-ever national budget of nearly P5 trillion to play catchup with the rest of Southeast Asian’s economy but it will depend on how cooperative Congress will be in passing several measures aimed at boosting the economy.

Duterte has a poor batting average of getting his desired bills passed in Congress. His proposal to reimpose the death penalty remained unenacted. Congress has also forgotten his land use law and the creation of new departments for disaster, overseas workers and water resources.

Congress has disappointed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who have been lobbying to scrap elections next year in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and extend the mandate of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority for another three years.

In its third and last session, Congress will have a shorter period to enact laws and will abandon its lawmaking function by early 2022 when many incumbent senators start their re-election campaign. Congressmen will join them in March.

It seems doubtful if Congress has the appetite to pass laws after December, dashing hopes Duterte will fulfill his campaign promises, some of which he has long abandoned, like the federalism form of government, ending contractualization, a peace settlement with rebels, and ending corruption, criminality and illegal drugs.

But, sounding like a broken record, Duterte will not abandon his war on drugs and his anti-oligarch attacks on some families and businesses he perceived to be working closely with his political foes.

These are empty rhetorics and the people are no longer threatened by his tough words. People are no longer applauding nor laughing at his antics as Duterte has turned out to be a big flop, a failure with or without the pandemic.

Two days before his final appearance before a joint session of the legislature, the capital and some parts of the main island of Luzon were awakened by a powerful jolt, a 6.6-magnitude tectonic earthquake near Calatagan, Batangas.

The shaking for a few seconds was strong enough to wake some Filipinos. Perhaps, most Filipinos need a tremor to awake them from their long slumber to choose a leader next year who will bring decency and dignity to the position, someone with a forward-looking vision to get the country out of this rut.

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