Fireworks underscore drab SONA

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered Monday, July 23, lacked the dramatic flair of his first two, but what happened behind the scenes more than made up for the chief executive’s uninspired performance.

The SONA started more than an hour behind schedule following a shake-up at the House of Representatives, which saw Pantaleon Alvarez voted out as Speaker and replaced by former president and Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

On Tuesday, July 24, Senator PanfiloLacson described the ill-timed removal of Alvarez as “awkward, ugly, low, and disgraceful” and was an argument against the parliamentary form of government being pushed by the Duterte administration.

Rep. EdcelLagman described the House coup as a “shameful sham.”

Reports confirmed that presidential daughter and incumbent Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte was behind the removal of her father’s close ally. Alvarez and Ms. Duterte had been at odds for months after she put up her own regional political party, which the former Speaker had described as “an opposition party.”

Alvarez had also made a powerful enemy in Rep. Antonio Floirendo, who had been the top contributor to Mr. Duterte’s presidential campaign.

It was still Alvarez who officially welcomed the president when Mr. Duterte arrived at the BatasanPambansa in Quezon City, where the president addresses both houses of Congress for his or her SONA every year. But behind his back, his fellow congressmen and women had already plotted to declare Gloria Arroyo as the new Speaker.

GMA assumed the speakership under less-than-ideal circumstances. She took her oath as Speaker with the microphone turned off. Also, the mace that symbolized her authority as head of the lower house was nowhere to be found.

By mid-afternoon, just before Mr. Duterte was to deliver his SONA, Malacanang said that as far as they were concerned, Alvarez was still the Speaker of the House.

When he finally entered the chamber, the loud applause of previous years was absent. Instead, a somber President Duterte delivered his report sans the usual ad libs that he is known for.

The president had visited his doctor the day before his SONA, which the Palace said was for a regular check up.

Mr. Duterte is said to have been extremely disappointed that his pet bill creating a new Bangsamoro region had not been passed, as it had been mired in the Senate. The majority of senators had vowed to block any attempt to derail next year’s mid-term elections, which Alvarez had been calling for. As such, the Bangsamoro Basic Law was not passed by the Senate.

An earlier coup in the upper chamber had seen the removal of Koko Pimentel as Senate President. He was replaced by Senator Tito Sotto.

Former Senate President Pimentel and former Speaker Alvarez are the two highest ranking officers of the PDP-Laban, the party that drafted former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to run for president in 2016.