House of Representatives

Is shelling out P20 million for SONA too much?

Kaycee Valmonte

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Is shelling out P20 million for SONA too much?

SONA. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2023.

Screengrab from RTVM

House Secretary Reginald Velasco says this already 'covers a range of essential expenses' from the meals of staff to payment for security detail

Preparations for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) are in full swing at the Batasang Pambansa and while no final figures have emerged yet, the government has earmarked P20 million to spend on the annual program.

Is shelling out P20 million for SONA too much?

A red carpet event known for its extravagance in recent years, Filipinos online have been up in arms about the P20-million allocation, saying it is too much for a one-day event, especially as many Filipinos still struggle to make ends meet.

House Secretary Reginald Velasco defended the budget on Wednesday, July 10, saying that the budget already “covers a range of essential expenses.” It was previously thought to cover only food for the guests, prompting one netizen to ask: “Will each of them get lechon?”

“Every peso allocated for the SONA is carefully scrutinized and managed to reflect the significance of this Constitutionally mandated event while being conscious of public sentiments regarding the use of taxpayers’ money,” Velasco said in a press statement on July 10.

Over the weekend, Bayan president Renato Reyes said the event “showcases tone-deaf pageantry and overkill security.” Reyes was reacting to Philippine National Police chief General Rommel Francisco Marbil, who called on activists to refrain from inconveniencing the public with protests.

“If anything, the people have a right to protest the worsening crisis under this regime,” Reyes said. “Government gives workers a paltry P35 wage hike amid skyrocketing prices, of course the people will protest.”

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The government rolls out the red carpet for officials during the President’s annual address, giving them the celebrity treatment and the opportunity to make statements about what they’re wearing.

The SONA has become among the most awaited fashion events in the country, especially now that showmen-turned-public officials are at the center of it. (READ: IN PHOTOS: What government officials wore to SONA 2023)

This has prompted criticism that the event has become devoid of real meaning, with the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago calling it a “thoughtless extravagance.”

“The SONA event should be a serious time for the Congress to pick up policy directions indicated by the President. It should not be treated as Oscar night in Hollywood, with a red carpet, where peacocks spread their tails and turn around and around, as coached by media in a feeding frenzy,” Santiago said in 2013.

Prior to former president Rodrigo Duterte’s SONA, Davao del Norte 1st District Representative Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez reminded his colleagues at the lower chamber to just come in a simple business attire.

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According to Velasco, expenses incurred while preparing for SONA are accounted for in the P20-million budget. This includes staff meals, inter-agency coordination meetings, as well as invitations and giveaways.

The budget will also cover the following on the day of the President’s address:

  • Meals for the police and MMDA officers on duty for the event
  • Three sets of uniforms for 2,000 Secretariat employees, which will also be used after the event
  • Rental for LED walls and other equipment for the program’s audiovisual needs
  • Decorations for the venue
  • Other expenses (collaterals, communication requirements, additional medical support from nearby hospitals, among others)

The House of Representatives also had renovations done at the Batasan to help enhance security measures.

“Our goal is to ensure that the 2024 SONA is conducted with the highest standards, reflecting our dedication to serving the people with integrity and accountability,” he added.

Over 2,000 high-profile guests have confirmed for Marcos’ 3rd SONA, including members of the diplomatic corps, heads of international organizations, and other government officials.

The lower chamber’s staff is looking to see how to accommodate all of the guests, considering the session hall can accommodate only a little over 1,300. Additional 500 seats will be provided inside the hall, while more viewing rooms will be made available for those attending.

Velasco noted on Wednesday that the government has so far yet to make full use of the P20 million. –

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  1. ET

    House Secretary Reginald Velasco stated that they are “conscious of public sentiments regarding the use of taxpayers’ money.” But the government’s actions suggest a showcase of the reigning Political Dynasties’ money, fame, and power. He is conscious of the public sentiments, but he has subtly given greater priority to the reigning Political Dynasties’ uncontrolled greed for money, fame, and power. But what can he do other than follow their wishes?

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Kaycee Valmonte

Kaycee Valmonte is a multimedia reporter who covers politics in the House of Representatives and public health.