On Monday, Rodrigo Duterte will address the joint session of Congress for the fifth time, the second to the last before he steps down from power in 2022.

It will be the most important speech he will deliver in his entire six-year term as president, and the most awaited as most Filipinos are staying at home and are not distracted by work or other activities. 

They will be watching and listening intently on what the government’s concrete plans are to rescue the people out of the worst health and economic crisis to hit the country since the Second World War.

Duterte’s State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) on Monday will be unlike all previous presidential speeches. There will be no festivities. There will be less glitter. It will be more sober as there will be fewer senators, congressmen, administration officials and other guests at the gallery. There will be no full media coverage.

The usual noisy protest outside the halls of Congress was banned because of the government’s quarantine protocols as cases of coronavirus remained unabated.

As of Saturday, the total number of confirmed infections in the country has reached more than 78,000 and by the end of the month, the number of cases is expected to exceed that of China, where the virus originated late last year.

The pandemic will certainly dampen the tone and mood of the event as the president will not be able to gloat on his administration’s success. The economy lays in ruins, heavily battered by the prolonged lockdown for the last four months — one of the longest and strictest curbs in the world.

Millions of Filipinos have lost their jobs and livelihoods as micro, small and medium enterprises have closed shop. Many are starving and have been reduced to begging on the streets and hordes of people are migrating back to the provinces.

The economy contracted in the first quarter, the first time in more than two decades and it is forecasted to suffer further, declining 2 percent to 3.4 percent this year.

The Philippines used to enjoy one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world. It started to slide down when Duterte was elected into office in 2016.

Then, the coronavirus pandemic happened, wiping out completely all the gains from the administrations of Fidel Ramos, Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III.

Physically appearing at the legislature on Monday, Duterte is expected to ask Congress to pass a bigger budget next year. His budget secretary Wendel Avisado had indicated a 5-percent increase spending to P4.3 trillion from this year’s P4.1 trillion appropriations.

Next year, spending will focus on strengthening the healthcare system, which has been proven to be unprepared in meeting the challenges of the pandemic, as well as ensuring food security and helping businesses to bounce back.

However, it will be very difficult for the government to raise much-needed revenues to fund a Covid-19 recovery budget for 2021 with the country going into a deep recession and a high unemployment rate.

In a crisis situation, what the Philippines badly needs is an inspiring leader who will call for unity, solidarity and teamwork; a leader with a vision and a fully equipped blueprint for economic recovery.

This is not the time for divisiveness, finger-pointing and threatening critics and political opponents who oppose self-serving, parochial measures and draconian policies.   

In the last four years, Duterte has amassed power through fear, silencing dissent in the political opposition and critical media. He sent to jail a fiery senator, removed a Supreme Court chief justice and marginalized the vice president. He shut down the country’s largest broadcast media network and harassed a hard-hitting online news platform with corporate and criminal lawsuits. 

There has been too much violence and blood in the four years that Duterte was in office, instilling fear in ordinary Filipinos. First, the blood was spilled by drug suspects and petty criminals, and much later by activists, community organizers, lawyers, human rights advocates and suspected Maoist-led rebels and terrorists.

The public is tired of Duterte’s rhetorics on drugs, crime and corruption. They have been hearing the same rhetorics for the last four addresses but the problems remain. There is still drug trade, corruption has worsened and a crime wave could hit urban centers as people go hungry, jobless and desperate.

This is also not the time to crack insensitive jokes. The people would like to hear a more serious and sincere speech tackling the pandemic and the current economic crises.

The simple and ordinary people who voted for him in 2016 used to love his folksy, down-to-earth speeches but the current situation has changed it. The people now do not want to see and hear a rambling President talking incoherently. They want a roadmap to recovery.

The people want to hear a short, simple, direct, serious and sincere speech telling the nation the government’s plans, where we are now, where we are going, and how we will do it.

Stick to the plan, Mr. President. Stick to your prepared speech. Make this State-of-the-Nation Address a defining moment in your presidency.