Battle of opposition blocs? Lagman, Suarez deliver counter-SONAs

MANILA, Philippines – Two counter-speeches against President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) were delivered at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, July 25. 

Minority Leader Danilo Suarez first delivered his speech, followed by opposition bloc figurehead Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman. A counter-SONA is traditionally delivered by the House minority leader, who is expected to debunk what the President said in his SONA.  

Both lawmakers touched on Duterte’s bloody war against drugs, but Suarez’s speech was less scathing compared with Lagman’s. (READ: Duterte: War on drugs 'will be unrelenting')

“We feel that the drug war may be more effective if we deal not only with its criminal aspect but also the social and economic facets that contribute to the proliferation of drug use,” said Suarez. 

He then urged the government to provide alternative sources of income for drug suspects, but did not specify how. He also vowed to push for an increase in the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s budget to “finally eliminate the drug menace.” 

Lagman, on the other hand, called out Duterte for not meeting his own 6-month deadline in addressing the drug menace. He also criticized the President for 7,000 drug suspects killed in legitimate police operations and apparent summary killings nationwide.  

“It is most regrettable that President Duterte denigrates human rights. He even branded human rights advocates as enemies of the State. He has repeatedly said that ‘criminals have no human rights,’” said Lagman. 

“Yes, we have a drug problem. But the President’s violent solution aggravates the problem,” he added. 

Suarez’s bloc has long been criticized as being “subservient” to the majority, with the Quezon 3rd district representative being a co-author of several controversial administration pet bills, like the reimposition of the death penalty. 

Lagman and the rest of the independent bloc lawmakers have been considered by observers as the genuine opposition in the lower chamber. They call themselves as “Magnificent 7.”

Suarez’s speech

Suarez tagged as a “pipe dream” the recently approved National Broadband Plan. 

“How can we achieve nationwide connectivity when Internet connection in our country is among the most inefficient services in the region?” asked Suarez.

He also urged his colleagues to approve his resolution seeking to amend the General Procurement Law, following Duterte’s call for the passage of bills easing government procurement processes. (READ: 6 priority bills of Duterte in SONA 2017)

Suarez proposed Congress consider giving incentives and tax breaks for local businesses to become competitive. 

The Minority Leader also called for the resumption of the peace talks, following Duterte's criticism of the Left in his SONA. 

“We encourage all concerned to go back to the negotiating table with sincere hearts so that we will finally achieve lasting peace,” said Suarez. 

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Lagman’s speech

Lagman covered more topics, including the President’s appeal for the lifting of the temporary restraining order on implants, environment and mines, tax reform, traffic, end of contractualization, the President’s independent foreign policy, the peace talks, and the Marawi City siege. 

He first congratulated Duterte on his plan to build more infrastructure in the country and the President’s call to prioritize environment protection over mining.

Lagman also said “sufficient enabling safeguards” must be put in place to protect vulnerable sectors from the burden of additional taxes in the first batch of tax reforms being proposed by the Duterte administration. The House already passed the measure, but it is still pending at the Senate. 

The Albay congressman, however, said there is “no light at the end of the tunnel” in addressing the perennial urban traffic problem in the country.

He also hit the President for excluding the issue of labor contractualization in his speech, even if he had promised to put an end to it under his term.  

Lagman also maintained there was no basis to declare martial law in Mindanao.

“The ‘siege of Marawi’ is a malevolent myth. The lawless violence did not amount to a siege. In fact, the Marawi City Hall and the Provincial Capitol of Lanao del Sur, the seats of local government, were never overrun or captured by the terrorists,” he said.

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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.