Duterte will deliver fifth SONA at Batasan: Sotto

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    PRESIDENT Duterte will deliver his fifth State of the Nation Address at the Batasan Pambansa on July 27, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

    “I just received word today, Thursday, that the President has decided to deliver his SONA in the Batasan Pambansa,” Sotto said in a virtual interview with Senate reporters.

    To ensure that health protocols are followed, Sotto said security and health officials have agreed to limit the number of those who will attend the event to only 50, made up of 25 from the executive department, 13 congressmen, and 12 senators. All will be subjected to rapid test before they are allowed entry to the Batasan and will be required to wear face masks.

    Sotto said he and seven other senators – Panfilo Lacson, Francis Tolentino, Ronald dela Rosa, Christopher Go, Sherwin Gatchalian, majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Pia Cayetano – are sure to attend the SONA. He said Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto and minority leader Franklin Drilon begged off.

    He said the Senate sergeant-at-arms, Senate secretary, and two staff members who will document the event will complete the list of those who will attend from the Senate side.

    Only a few members of the media will be allowed inside the Batasan Pambansa and Sotto said ambush interviews will not be allowed to maintain physical distancing.

    Sotto said he expects to hear from the President the “exact state of the nation.”

    “That is the purpose of SONA, more particularly in the issue of the pandemic. How government spent and what will be the proposal in the next few months,” Sotto said.

    Sotto also wants the Senate to fasttrack, during the second regular session of the 18th Congress, legislative action on five measures that he has filed seeking to improve current government systems and uplift the labor sector.

    Sotto said he would push for priority discussions on his proposal to enact a Medical Scholarship Act, Presidential Drug Enforcement Authority Act, Hybrid Election Act, Anti-False Content Act and the 14th Month Pay law.

    “I will move for speedy but comprehensive committee and plenary discussions on these five priority measures which I believe can make a huge impact on the lives of the Filipino people. The variety in the objectives of these measures would hopefully bring about needed reforms in governance, which at this time are essential to tip the scale in favor of public welfare over political, corporate or personal interests,” Sotto said.

    Topping Sotto’s list is the proposed Medical Scholarship Act (Senate Bill No. 1) that was under plenary deliberations when Congress adjourned sine die last June. The measure proposes the grant of scholarships to deserving medical students to address the twin issues of scarcity and unequal distribution of physicians in the country.

    Sotto said the move will encourage financially-challenged students to take up medicine and eventually increase the number of physicians in the country. Under the proposed legislation, medical scholars will be required to work in the country for five years after graduation, two years of which shall be rendered in a government hospital or office where the scholar resides.

    Sotto noted how the country’s healthcare system teetered on the brink of collapse under the medical weight of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic due to the lack of health professionals to attend to the surge in the number of sick patients when local transmission went out of control.

    Sotto is also seeking speedy debates on his proposed Presidential Drug Enforcement Authority Act (SBN 3), which aims to strengthen the government’s fight against illegal drugs by unifying its four major programs – enforcement, prosecution, prevention and rehabilitation – into a single agency.

    Another priority measure is the Hybrid Election Act (SBN 7), which pushes for an electoral system that would use manual voting and counting at the precinct level and electronic transmission and canvassing. The mixed mode is aimed at ensuring credible, accurate and transparent elections.

    Sotto is also appealing for immediate committee hearings on the proposed Anti-False Content Act, or the Anti-Fake News bill (SBN 9). The measure prohibits and sanctions the publication and proliferation of false online content and promotes the responsible use of the internet.

    He is also urging his colleagues to act on his bill mandating the grant of an additional Christmas pay to workers in the private sector, or the proposed 14th Month Pay law (SBN 10).