Philippines president to deliver national address

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will today deliver his fifth annual State of the Nation address. Duterte is expected to focus

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Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will today deliver his fifth annual State of the Nation address.

Duterte is expected to focus on his government’s heavy-handed response to the COVID-19 crisis. Due to recent spikes in cases after the country’s lockdown was eased in June, the president recently pledged to ramp up testing and arrest anyone who neglects to wear a mask in public. Lockdowns have been re-imposed in some of the country’s hardest-hit areas.

Despite restrictions on mass gatherings, left-wing activist groups are expected to lead protests against the new anti-terrorism law. The law could further silence Duterte’s critics, falling in suit with Congress’ decision to shut down ABS-CBN—the country’s leading broadcaster—after the network was taken off the air in May. Independent journalist Maria Ressa, who has openly criticised Duterte and the network’s shutdown, faces charges of tax evasion just weeks after government accusations of libel. Duterte’s government could add charges against Ressa until she is convicted, which would be a massive blow for the freedom of the press in the Philippines.

As Duterte has prioritised media restrictions over much-needed welfare programs in the wake of the country’s worst economic downturn in 30 years, expect subsequent protests to become larger and more frequent. Nevertheless, state control over the media will likely expand in the medium-term.

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