12 things to expect at Duterte’s SONA 2019

Pia Ranada, Mara Cepeda

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12 things to expect at Duterte’s SONA 2019
From the President's possible lecture on the West Philippine Sea to director Joyce Bernal's surprises, here's what we know about Rodrigo Duterte's 4th SONA

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is going to deliver his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 22.

Like in his past SONAs, Duterte is expected to flaunt his administration’s achievements for its 3rd year and lay down his legislative agenda for the next 12 months.

Duterte will be delivering his speech in the aftermath of the controversial sinking of a boat with 22 Filipino fishermen onboard by a Chinese vessel. The President merely downplayed it as a ‘little maritime incident,’ angering his critics. 

Despite his controversial remarks, Duterte continues to enjoy high approval and trust ratings, and even scoring his highest satisfaction rating so far in June.

On Monday, Duterte will be arriving either by air or land at around 3:30 pm at the Batasang Pambansa. He will receive arrival honors to be led by Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Benjamin Madrigal Jr as well as the sergeants-at-arms of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The President’s welcoming committee will include the new House Speaker and Senate President, who will be elected by their respective houses during the opening session of the 18th Congress on Monday morning. They will be joined by the new Majority Leaders and secretaries-general of both chambers.

They will then escort Duterte to the Legislators’ Lounge, where he will be paid a courtesy call by Congress leaders. He will then proceed to the plenary hall to deliver his speech at around 4 pm.

Here’s what we know about Duterte’s 4th SONA and major SONA-related events from organizers and those close to the President:

1. Invitations. As in the past years, some 3,000 guests are expected to personally watch Duterte’s SONA at the plenary hall of the Batasang Pambansa. House acting secretary-general Roberto Maling said the invited guests include top politicians, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, members of the diplomatic corps, former presidents, and other special guests. Former president Benigno Aquino III is set to skip the SONA for the 4th year in a row. But Vice President Leni Robredo, Aquino’s party mate at the Liberal Party, said she will attend the event. 

2. No Sara Duterte. While Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte played a central role in the dramatic events of last year’s SONA, she’ll be a no-show this year. She told Rappler, “No (not attending). I am on special medical leave for 60 days.”

3. Dress code. The dress code is simple business attire. Lawmakers, however, are required by law to be in Filipiniana.

4. Program. SONA guests have to be in the plenary hall by 3 pm to ensure they are seated by the time Duterte arrives and delivers his speech at 4 pm. But in the morning, lawmakers are expected to already be in the plenary hall to begin the 18th Congress’ session at 10 am.

5. Theme. Duterte’s 4th SONA will be about his “legacy,” said Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar in an ABS-CBN interview on Wednesday, July 17. Among the priority topics to be taken up in the speech are poverty alleviation, the Build, Build, Build program, and efforts to end communist armed conflict. Andanar also said Duterte would likely again push for the passage of the National Land Use Act, as he did in two previous SONAs.

6. Duration. Andanar says the public can expect Duterte’s SONA to be at least 45 minutes long to one hour and 20 minutes long, based on his previous SONAs. Duterte’s first SONA was 100 minutes long, his second SONA two hours long, and his 3rd only 48 minutes. 

7. Presidential lectures. Duterte had earlier said he might use the SONA to “educate” Filipinos, especially his critics, about why his allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone is not unconstitutional. Maritime law experts like Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio had slammed the apparent presidential decision since the Constitution expressly states that resources in Philippine waters are to be reserved for Filipinos. Andanar said it’s “highly possible” that Duterte will discuss another recent thorny issue: the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on action against his illegal drugs campaign.  

8. Fora on accomplishments. Three Cabinet clusters have been holding a series of fora across the country to showcase the achievements of the Duterte presidency in the lead up to his 4th SONA. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said these fora may lead to a shorter speech for Duterte. The first forum, called “Patuloy na Pag-unlad” by the Economic Development and Infrastructure Cluster was held on July 1 in Manila. On July 10, it was the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster as well as the Participatory Governance Cluster’s turn to hold their “Patuloy na Malasakit at Pagkakaisa” forum on July 10 at Cebu City. The last “Patuloy na Katatagan” forum by the Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction Cluster and Security, Justice and Peace Cluster will be held on Wednesday, July 17 at Davao City.

9. National anthem singer. Broadway singer Arman Ferrer will be singing the “Lupang Hinirang” before Duterte’s 4th SONA. Ferrer will also be singing the national anthem when the House of Representatives opens its session in the morning. 

10. Director. Award-winning television and movie director Joyce Bernal has once again been chosen to direct Duterte’s 4th SONA. She hopes to capture a “hopeful” mood in her direction of the event. The public might also want to watch out for some “creative surprises” from director Joyce Bernal, said Andanar. “There will be some changes in the State of the Nation Address inside Congress…I think they bought new LEDs for their stage, two in front and one in the back. Director Joyce has surprises,” said the Cabinet member.

11. Tight security. With the recent twin bombings in Sulu, House Sergeant at Arms Romeo Prestoza said they are directly working with government intelligence units to ensure the safety and security of all SONA guests.

12. Menu. Via Mare will once again serve as caterer for this year’s SONA, said House Press and Public Affairs Bureau director Rica dela Cuesta. Via Mare has been catering the SONA for the past two years. In 2018, their menu was a fusion of Filipino and Spanish cuisines. In 2017, Via Mare served SONA guests with mostly native delicacies from Mindanao and Davao City, where Duterte was a longtime mayor. – Rappler.com

For highlights of President Duterte’s 4th SONA, check out our live blog.

For related stories, visit Rappler’s 2019 State of the Nation Address page. 

Rappler takes a deeper look at the first half of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency – its highs and lows, its achievements and shortcomings: 
Duterte Year 3: The Halfway Mark 

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.
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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.