10 things to expect at Duterte’s SONA 2018

Mara Cepeda

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10 things to expect at Duterte’s SONA 2018


With a new director and a presidential promise to keep the speech within 35 minutes, will this year's SONA be a big change from the last two?

MANILA, Philippines – The nation will be watching as President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 23.

Duterte’s 3rd SONA is set to be a historic one, with the President expected to sign the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in the morning, just before he delivers his speech at 4 pm.

He is also set to flaunt his administration’s achievements for its second year and lay down his legislative agenda for the next 12 months. (READ: Two years of Duterte: Broken and fulfilled promises)

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 Carlito Galvez Jr as well as the sergeants-at-arms of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The President’s welcoming committee will include Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, and the 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.

Here’s what we know about Duterte’s 3rd SONA and major SONA-related events from organizers and those close to the President:

1. Invitations. House Secretary General Cesar Pareja said they expect some 3,000 people to watch Duterte’s SONA live at the Batasang Pambansa plenary hall. 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 3rd year in a row. But Vice President Leni Robredo, Aquino’s party mate at the Liberal Party, said she will attend the event.

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

3. 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 17th Congress’ session at 10 am.

4. Shorter speech? Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque quoted Duterte as promising his speech would last not more than 35 minutes. If he keeps his word, this year’s address will be his shortest. His first SONA was an hour and a half long while his SONA in 2017 stretched to two hours. He also held a press conference right after.

5. No more list of department achievements. SONAs are characterized by a long list of accomplishments of every department or agency read out by the President. This is because the SONA is seen somewhat as a report by the Chief Executive to Congress and his constituents on how his administration is doing so far. But this year, Duterte has asked for the accomplishments to be reported in pre-SONA briefings so that he has more room in his speech to convey his personal sentiments. The Office of the Cabinet Secretary has been organizing pre-SONA briefings, where department heads in each Cabinet cluster present their accomplishments.

6. National anthem singer. The award-winning Tagum City Chamber Chorale will be singing “Lupang Hinirang” before Duterte’s 3rd SONA. The choir was chosen upon the recommendation of Alvarez, who also hails from Tagum.  

7. Duterte family attendance. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio confirmed she is attending the SONA. The presidential daughter was also present at the SONA last year.

8. Director. Blockbuster movie director Joyce Bernal will direct Duterte’s 3rd SONA. She plans to capture “how much Duterte loves the Philippines” in her direction of the event. She was recommended by actor Robin Padilla, a staunch supporter of the President. Her selection is a big change for Duterte’s SONAs as the previous two were directed by internationally-acclaimed director Brillante Mendoza.

9. Tight security. More than 6,000 police and military officers will be deployed in parts of Metro Manila to secure the country’s most powerful men and women who will be attending the SONA. Only invited guests can enter the venue. House sergeant-at-arms Roland Detabali said that, for the President’s safety, they are advising Duterte to skip personally meeting with protesters who will gather outside Batasan. 

10. Menu. Pareja refused to disclose which company will be catering this year’s SONA. But he said the menu will likely be 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. – with reports from Pia Ranada/Rappler

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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.