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‘Man-in-a-hurry’ Duterte breaks Sona tradition

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte—always in a hurry to get things done—wants to prove he means business by breaking all traditions and protocols on Monday, from the moment he steps into the Batasang Pambansa to deliver his historic first State of the Nation Address at 4 p.m.

The President wants all eyes fully focused on him for 38 minutes as he issues orders and talks about his plans to steer the country toward progress and development in his first 100 days—an effort that he wants sustained for the next six years.

A Palace official said Duterte’s first Sona—expected to last 38 minutes—would inspire love of country in every Filipino.

“The address of the President, personally written by the President, will be a very powerful speech that will awaken the patriot in every Filipino,” Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.

“I do not want to exaggerate but the first time I read the speech, it made me cry,” he said.

Drama and all other distractions have been removed. There will be no slideshows, videos or honor roll presentations that used to eat up more than an hour in previous presidential speeches.

Only four House and Senate officials—a departure from the usual 30-man entourage—have been assigned to meet Duterte at the rear entrance of the Batasan to save time, and to do away with the usual shaking of hands.

The escorts will include only the newly elected Senate President, House Speaker and their respective majority leaders, said outgoing House Secretary-General Marilyn Barua-Yap.

While this is the first time the President will formally meet the Senate and House members face-to-face, Duterte did not want them to delay his march up to the rostrum, so the usual meet and green with lawmakers lining the aisles will come after, not before his speech.

The usual red carpet arrivals that have become a fixture of past Sonas have been scrapped, and those attending have been advised to come in business attire, consistent with Duterte’s no-frills style.

Everybody must already be seated when he enters the session hall to avoid delays. 

Award-winning film director Brillante Mendoza devised a way to install a light dimmer in the plenary hall so that all lights are focused only on the President. He said the public will feel like they are talking directly with the President when he delivers his Sona.

Some 3,000 guests have been invited to Duterte’s first Sona—including the past presidents.

This is the first time former Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III will be sitting together under the same roof since Arroyo was cleared by the Supreme Court of plunder charges that were filed during the Aquino administration.

Yap said all four former presidents would be seated side by side according to seniority or chronology of terms of office at the middle gallery, thus, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino.

But Arroyo, as a representative of Pampanga, has the option to join her colleagues on the session floor.

Aquino, who put Arroyo in jail for four years, has sent word that he would not be attending Duterte’s Sona.

Vice President Leni Robredo will be given a special seat with the senators on the floor but she is given a choice to sit in the VIP middle gallery, alongside the former presidents.

Yap said Duterte wanted simple arrangements at the House.

“The preparations were not really very difficult...for example, the President’s team wanted simple arrangements for the session hall, the lobbies, the reception areas and the cocktails. It’s all cut and dried,” Yap said.

Even for the President’s 30-minute speech, the Palace has not asked for provisions for a slideshow, Yap said.

“I expect the President’s Sona to be straightforward and would last for a maximum of 30 minutes unlike previous presidential addresses which usually lasted one hour and 45 minutes. The President will outline his program of government, probably focusing on the same things he has been talking about the last time, like law and order, national security, and the economic agenda. He has a strong economic team and his economic agenda has a good focal point, which is the agriculture sector, and there is also a balance between the agriculture sector and foreign investments,” Yap said.

From Friday to Sunday, the final preparations were made in the House.

“All security forces will be at the holding areas by that time. Our caterers are coming in Sunday so they are all in place when we open in the morning of Monday,” she added.

Yap advised invited guests to come early, bring their pass and invitation, and observe the proper dress code. 

“Please come early because once the doors are closed, you won’t be able to enter the session hall… You will be escorted to some part of the building and you’ll have to wait until the Sona is over before you can get out of that place,” she said.

The three-level galleries at the session hall have a comfortable seating capacity of 1,750 while the plenary floor has a comfortable seating capacity of 350, Yap said.

The President is expected to arrive at the House at 4 p.m. 

Once he arrives, Yap said he will be escorted to the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office by the Senate President and the House Speaker, and the two majority leaders of both houses of Congress. 

Then the Speaker and Senate President will proceed to the plenary hall. The majority leaders will then escort the President to the main entrance of the session hall. 

Bayang Barrios will sing the national anthem for the joint session.

The President is scheduled to deliver his Sona at 4:30 p.m.

Yap said she expects the Sona to also deal with foreign policy like how to deal about the West Philippine Sea, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement implications, the fate of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a pitch for a Constitutional Convention and a shift to federalism, and climate change issues.

In the morning, the session would open at 10 a.m. 

There will be a designation for an acting majority floor leader to be followed by a nomination for the position of Speaker. The election and oathtaking of the new Speaker will be followed by his traditional acceptance speech.

Lawmakers would also pass a resolution informing the President that the House has convened and organized, and is ready to receive the President and hear the Sona. 

The morning session will last until 11:30 a.m. 

In the afternoon, the doors of the plenary hall will open at 2 p.m. and will be closed at 3.30 p.m.

For the reception after the Sona, Yap said Via Mare restaurant was tapped to serve a heavy merienda buffet to at least 800 guests, including diplomats.

Senator Ralph Recto said Duterte could use his Sona to expand his “kill list” to poverty, joblessness, and poor public services.

“It will the best time to unveil his battle plan on how to slay unemployment, exterminate poverty, and end economic want, whose success will be measured in lives improved and not in lives ended,” he also said.

“Like any maiden Sona, I expect it to be more of a looking forward than a looking back speech, more of what to do and not on what has been done,” Recto said.

The Sona, he added was about setting the national agenda and the nation’s aspirations.

Neophyte Senator Risa Hontiveros said she hoped the President will elaborate on his government’s health policy framework. 

She said Duterte’s decision  to send health officials to Cuba to study its health care system is a step in the right direction. 

Outside the Batasang Pambansa, military personnel will be deployed to support police, who will be deployed along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to maintain order, Col. Vic Tomas, commander of Task Force National Capital Region said Sunday.

“The normal distance will be applied per rules of engagement, 50 meters away from the demonstrators. Our personnel are unarmed because they are also there to protect the demonstrators,” Tomas said.

Earlier, the militant group Alyansang Makabayan said it will gather some 10,000 people to march along Commonwelth to show support for Duterte.

Another group, Akbayan, said they will also conduct a separate rally near Batasan Pambansa to protest the planned burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Tomas said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will declare a red alert Sunday midnight in  Metro Manila.

He said, however, that no threat has been monitored.

Duterte has ordered the AFP and the Philippine National Police not to exaggerate the troop numbers for his Sona.

Tomas said demonstrators will be given a demarcation line several meters away from St. Peter’s Church along Commonwealth Avenue. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, Florante S. Solmerin and Rio N. Araja

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , State of the Nation Address , Sona
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