SoNA behind the scenes


The busiest day of the year at the Batasang Pambansa complex is most definitely the third Monday of July every year, the constitutionally mandated date for the president’s State of the Nation Address (SoNA). Classes are suspended in the entire of Quezon City and the roads leading to Barangay Constitution Hills are shut down to give way for rallies and VIP. For those who watch “Designated Survivor” on Netflix, this is precisely the target area.

The day started very early in the morning with two breakfast meetings set to finalize what seemed to be a turbulent race to the speakership. The first meeting was called by the President’s son, Rep. Paolo Duterte, scheduled at 8 a.m. at the South Lounge, the adjacent room to the Plenary Hall, where congressmen have their snacks and coffee during session days. Congressmen crowded the area as early as 7:30 a.m. in eager anticipation of any surprise announcement despite everyone knowing that the day before, Sunday, the three contenders for the speakership already met and agreed to “behave” on SoNA day. Notably, Rep. Martin Romualdez was the only contender present in the South Lounge.

However, Rep. Duterte was a no-show, and it was Rep. Isidro Ungab who took the microphone at around 8:15 a.m. We all knew that Rep. Ungab was the bet of the Davao Coalition formed by Rep. Duterte, and it was appropriate for him to speak before the bustling crown of House members. Rep. Ungab didn’t dwell into the specifics, and instead said that they shall abide by the endorsement of the President. This calmed everyone down and people started filing out of the South Lounge for the next breakfast meeting set by Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano at Nograles Hall in the South Wing Annex, a five-minute walk away. But before everyone got to leave South Lounge, Rep. Cayetano arrived at the South Lounge and everyone ganged up for a picture with the presumptive speaker, with Rep. LRay Villafuerte assisting to gather the crowd.

Soon, former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Rep. Lord Allan Velasco arrived to join the herd of House members walking to Nograles Hall in what seemed to take forever with all the media reporters hounding them. By the time the House members got inside, it was already past 9 a.m. and the microphone was later handed to Rep. Cayetano. He masterfully gave the outline as to who will address the House members – namely himself, Rep. Velasco for a short message, then Rep. Romualdez on the scenario of the opening of session. This was an excellent strategy to avoid surprises later on. Rep. Cayetano even joked that he spoke for only 15 minutes, and Rep. Velasco will speak for 22 minutes, just like the “Magellan formula.”

After Rep. Romualdez articulately detailed the scenario of the Morning Session, Rep. Cayetano thanked everyone to close the meeting. Then, as if right on cue, the doors of Nograles Hall swung open and Rep. Duterte entered together with his crew of congressmen.

The microphone was handed to Rep. Duterte for a short message, which turned out to be, perhaps, the biggest surprise of the morning. He said that he is against the term-sharing agreement, but if after 15 months the speaker resigns, then the House will elect a new speaker. After speaking, Rep. Duterte joked to Rep. Romualdez that the latter was orchestrating a supposed coup, which of course was not true.

The second breakfast meeting concluded around 9:40 a.m. and the congressmen shuffled into the Session Hall for the opening of the 18th Congress set at 10 a.m. Right on the dot, Acting Secretary General Bobby Maling opened the session, as well as the nomination for the Speaker of the House — the rest was history. The election of the speaker, deputy speakers, majority leader and the chairpersons of the House Committee on Accounts and Appropriation was done quickly. Session was suspended at around 1:30 p.m., to resume at 3 p.m. the following day.

In the afternoon, the joint session for the SoNA was scheduled at 4 p.m., but didn’t start until 5 p.m. The President arrived late, perhaps due to the inclement weather that troubled his helicopter from arriving. His whole speech lasted for around two hours in what was said by some to be his best SoNA thus far. More on this in my next column.

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