Lagman delivers more scathing counter-SONA than Minority Leader Abante

MANILA, Philippines – Two counter-speeches to President Rodrigo Duterte's 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) were delivered in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, July 24. 

Like in the past 3 years, staunch opposition lawmaker and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman's speech was more critical of the Duterte administration compared to the speech of House Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr, who succeeded ex-Quezon 3rd District representative Danilo Suarez in the House post.  

Traditionally, the counter-SONA is delivered by the minority leader as a reaction to the President's speech. The minority leader is presumed to be the opposition leader in the House, but this has not always been the case.

Lagman earlier slammed Abante's election as minority leader, saying the latter only got the post because the majority bloc supposedly allowed it. 

In his speech, Abante mostly agreed with the President's hardline stance on corruption, ending red tape in government, and increasing the salary of teachers and nurses. (READ: FULL TEXT: President Duterte’s 2019 State of the Nation Address)

On Duterte's priority bills, the freshly minted minority leader also vowed his bloc will be "objective in our criticism and scrutiny" of the measures, while at the same time promising to be "supportive if it will serve the good of our country and our people."

"We shall be fearless in defending measures aimed at ridding the government of graft and corrupt practices, illegal drugs, and all forms of criminal activities. But we shall equally be relentless and never compromise in fighting against measures that are not right, moral, just, and that will not be good to our people and our country," Abante said. 

The pastor-turned-lawmaker's speech was peppered with various Bible verses.

Lagman's speech was more scathing and was also more comprehensive, as it tackled several issues that even Duterte himself did not mention in his SONA, including the human rights violations under the bloody drug war and the 22 Filipino fishermen whose boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel.  

Before diving into his criticisms, however, Lagman lauded Duterte for pushing for a higher pay for nurses and teachers, slamming the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation scam, calling for the passage of the fire protection modernization program bill, ordering mayors to issue clearances and permits within 3 days, and urging Landbank to prioritize farmers over financing big businesses.  

"In the last 3 years of his tenure, the President aims to make 'life more comfortable for all Filipinos.' We join him in this aspiration," Lagman said.

"But before this could be achieved, there must be serious reforms in the justice system, extrajudicial killings must end, human rights promoted and protected, due process and the rule of law zealously observed, genuine sovereignty upheld and preserved, and the economy made robust for all, specially for the disadvantaged and marginalized," he added.  

Here are the major highlights of the counter-SONAs of Abante and Lagman:

Only two issues – corruption and traffic – were both discussed by Abante and Lagman in their speeches:

Abante: "Corruption is a deep-seated problem and we support the President in his call to stop corruption and the proliferation of illegal drugs, in whatever form and manner. But it must be a genuine fight, and a fight that recognizes and upholds the rule of law."

Lagman: "Speedy solutions to the drug, corruption, and traffic problems were promised by the President during his campaign and renewed when he assumed the Presidency. The promised solutions are nowhere in sight."

Abante: "We join the call of the President to our local executives to ensure the free flow of traffic by taking public roads from private use. This can be done, as in the case of Mayor Francisco 'Isko' Moreno Domagoso of the City of Manila. It is hoped that his lead would be followed by others."

Lagman: "The traffic gridlock has not been solved, and even escalates. The President said that 'one estimate pegs economic losses at P3.5 billion a day due to traffic congestion in Metro Manila.' According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, this amount of losses could balloon to P5.4 billion daily by 2035 if interventions are not made."

Only Lagman tackled the following 11 issues:

Justice system: "The pervasive injustice afflicting the Duterte administration was again highlighted by the recent baseless and malevolent charges for sedition, inciting to sedition, cyber libel, and other crimes against Vice President Leni Robredo, critical bishops, and vocal opposition leaders in relation to Bikoy's 'Ang Totoong Narco List' videos."

De Lima's incarceration: "The only sin of Senator De Lima is her courage to talk back against the President and criticize the ferocity of his war on drugs."

Death penalty, lowering MACR: "Two legislative proposals of the administration will plague the justice system: the restoration of the death penalty and the reduction of the age of criminal responsibility. Empirical studies show that both initiatives will not deter the commission of crimes."

The 22 fishermen of Gem-Ver: "Instead of defending Filipinos who were left to die, the President, even without a formal investigation, trivialized the incident by declaring it a 'little maritime accident,' or a 'marine incident' as mentioned in his SONA."

Human rights violations: "Because he denies suspected drug users and dealers of their human right to due process and the rule of law, his brutal war on drugs has intensified the extrajudicial killings."

Rejection of UNHRC resolution: "The rejection by the Duterte administration of the projected investigation is based purely on self-serving reasons masquerading as 'upholding Philippine sovereignty.'" 

Plight of human rights defenders: "The human rights record of the Duterte administration is further stained by its unabated harassment and even liquidation of human rights defenders."

The Hague ruling on West Philippine Sea: "Three years after the arbitral award, the Duterte administration has failed and refuses to take the necessary action to enforce the award, or even discuss the arbitral award with China…. This unpatriotic surrender of our sovereignty violates the Constitution and the President's solemn oath of office."

Economy: "As conventionally measured by the growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product or GDP, overall Philippine economic performance under the Duterte administration has been by no means spectacular."

Inflation rate, peso power: "The 4% upper limit target of the Bangko Sentral was clearly breached. Inflation in 2019 gradually eased from 4.4% in January to only 2.7% in June. But the purchasing power of the peso has not strengthened and the prices of prime commodities remain high."

Job generation, poverty alleviation: "In the area of job creation, the Arroyo administration created jobs at an annual average of 869,000. The Aquino administration did even more, annually averaging 937,000. The Duterte administration has not been as assiduous averaging only 662,000. It seems some catch-up work is called for in the second half of this administration." – 

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.