Duterte delivers third SONA

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 23) — President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), as Congress resumes session on Monday.

His speech is scheduled at 4 p.m. at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, which has traditionally been the venue of the chief executives' SONAs. He delivered his speech at 5:23 p.m.

The Constitution requires the President to address a joint session of Congress annually.

Malacañang said the tough-talking President, who is known for veering away from his prepared speech, has promised he will stick to the script this time and will talk for only 35 minutes.

The Palace also said Duterte won't spend a lot of time talking about the administration's achievements since some Cabinet officials had already discussed these in pre-SONA briefings.

"[It will] be a message straight from the heart of the President, not hindered by the need to report achievements," Presidential Spokersperson Harry Roque earlier said.

It won't be all talk, as SONA day is expected to pave the way for the historic signing of the Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Bangsamoro law signing

Malacañang previously said Duterte is ready to sign the Bangsamoro law on or before the SONA as soon as he receives the bill from Congress.

In an exclusive interview with CNN Philippines, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the Senate and the House of Representatives could ratify the bill in its joint session in the morning, and send it to Malacañang by afternoon for Duterte's approval.

He even raised the possibility of Duterte signing the proposed Bangsamoro law during his address. If this happens, Duterte will be the first president to sign a bill into law during the SONA.

Duterte, the first president from Mindanao, earlier certified as urgent the Bangsamoro bill. Once signed, it would implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a landmark peace deal signed by the government and Moro rebels in March 2014 that seeks to put an end to the decades-old conflict in Mindanao. It would also create the Autonomous Region in the Bangsamoro to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao established in 1989 through Republic Act 6734.

Lawmakers will also reveal their priority legislation for the third regular session of the 17th Congress during its opening on Monday.

Charter change

Duterte is expected to formally endorse to Congress the proposed constitution drafted by the Consultative Committee (ConCom), which he created to review and introduce changes to the present charter. 

The proposed constitution allows for a shift to a federal form of government, which is among Duterte's campaign promises. It aimed at providing more autonomy and faster development in the regions.

The ConCom's proposed charter also lets Duterte step down from his post once the new constitution is approved to make way for an elected transition president who will oversee the shift to federalism.

Both houses of Congress have received the ConCom's draft. Contentious issues, however, divide the leadership of the House and Senate.

The House of Representatives already approved a resolution that will convene Congress as a constituent assembly to revise the constitution.

Senate, however, has yet to decide on pertinent issues: Whether there is a need to amend the Constitution, and if so, whether it will be done by a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly.

In a constituent assembly, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate shall convene and decide on constitutional amendments themselves. A constitutional convention, meanwhile, requires nationwide elections to select delegates who will draft the constitutional amendments.

Who'll attend SONA?

Aside from lawmakers, dozens of foreign diplomats, government officials and other dignitaries are expected to hear the President's SONA from the session hall of Batasang Pambansa. A total of 3,000 guests have confirmed their attendance.

These include Vice President Leni Robredo, who said she's ready for the insults the President may hurl against her.

"Mag-a-attend ako kahit iyong iba ayaw akong pa-attend-in. Iyong iba natatakot daw at baka insultuhin ako, baka hiyain ako," she said in a press conference in Naga City.

[Translation: I will attend even though others don't want me to. Some people fear I will be insulted and humiliated.]

Robredo has repeatedly expressed disagreements with some of Duterte's policies, and recently said she is willing to unite all the opposition groups and be their leader.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, meanwhile, said he will also attend the SONA despite earlier deciding otherwise. The most senior associate justice's change of mind came when he took over the chief magistrate post in an acting capacity when Maria Lourdes Sereno was ousted.

Former presidents Joseph Estrada, Fidel Ramos, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo also said they are coming.

However, Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III is skipping the SONA rites for the third time, saying it is better to watch the speech on a television set at home.

Tight security

The Philippine National Police is deploying 6,000 policemen at areas near the Batasang Pambansa as it expects up to 10,000 protesters to hold rallies. About a thousand soldiers will augment the police force.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Lt. General Roland Detabali said more security personnel will be deployed inside the Batasan complex as compared to previous years.

Authorities maintained they have not monitored security threats, but are prepared to thwart any.

Activist groups, meanwhile, said this will be their biggest and broadest protest against the Duterte administration during the SONA, estimating their number at 30,000.

They will raise pressing issues such as rising prices caused by the tax reform law, charter change, the President's promise to end contractualization, the administration's stance on the South China Sea dispute, and Duterte's controversial statements against God.