Aquino not attending SONA
Bayang Barrios to sing national anthem
Maruya, kesong puti sandwiches for snacks
MANILA (UPDATED) - Around 3,000 guests have been invited to President Rodrigo Duterte's first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, among them, all his predecessors as chief executive.
This could be the first time Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III will be together under the same roof and possibly even sitting together since Arroyo was cleared by the Supreme Court (SC) in the plunder case in connection with the alleged misuse of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds.
House of Representatives Deputy Secretary General Artemio Adasa Jr. said all four former presidents are going to be seated side by side according to chronology of terms of office at the middle gallery, unless Arroyo opts to sit with her fellow congressmen since she is on her third term as Pampanga 2nd district representative.
"Right now, there has been no confirmation yet. We just released the invitations. Na-invite sila, lahat ng former," Adasa said.
"Dito sa middle gallery, tabi-tabi, unless they would advise they would sit on another area. She's (Arroyo) a member of Congress. Yes, mapapagitnaan siya ni Erap at PNoy then FVR."
However, what would have been the first face to face meeting between Arroyo and the president whose administration jailed her, Benigno Aquino III, has been averted.
Aquino sent word to the Committee on Invitation that he is not attending the SONA.
READ: Supreme Court frees Gloria Arroyo
Early last month, Arroyo ally Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez lobbied that Arroyo be given a committee chairmanship once she is freed from detention.
"I will suggest she takes either economic affairs or trade and industry. She will be an asset in Congress," Suarez said.
Incoming Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who was Arroyo's transportation secretary during her presidency, also recently expressed openness to giving her a committee chairmanship.
However, no such request has been made.
Political analyst Richard Heydarian believes Arroyo is still a force to reckon with.
"I think lay low muna siya for now but she will be a force behind scenes. I think she will give inputs [on] the dealing with China based on her own experience but FVR will be proactive among former presidents," he said.
Heydarian said it is possible for Arroyo to reinvent herself. "Possible, if not likely. She still has sway among many legislators and has rapport with the new administration, while the previous administration has been significantly marginalized."
Meanwhile, Adasa explained the first SONA of each president is always well-attended. It brings together all the top officials of government, forcing the House to resort to monobloc chairs as well as a viewing deck at the north lounge for those who cannot be accommodated inside the session hall.
READ: What to expect from Duterte's first SONA
"It's around siguro mga 3,000. That's our past experience," said Adasa. "It's going to be a jampacked crowd."
Vice-President Leni Robredo is going to have a seat with the senators.
"She has a special seat with the senators row sa baba, if not dun sa middle gallery. Depends on her preference," Adasa said.
Preparation work at the Batasan is in full swing. For weeks now, construction work and refurbishments have been ongoing, and today, equipment for the video wall and cinematic lighting that director Brillante Mendoza will employ for the SONA were brought into the session hall.
According to Adasa, the speech will not be too long. "What I've heard is...not more than 30 minutes," he said.
Upon arrival, Duterte will be received at the rear entrance by the new House Speaker and new Senate President and will be escorted by the Majority Leaders of both Chambers. He will wait inside the holding area at the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office till session.
Five minutes before the session, he will walk to the hall and proceed to his designated spot before he is introduced for the speech.
Bayang Barrios will sing the national anthem for the joint session.
Adasa explained the House is spending less for food this year since they are having a simpler menu.
"We've reduced our expenses to more than P200,000, We simplified the menu of course," he said. "We just copied kung ano ginawa nila sa inauguration day ni Presidente... fried banana, mayroong bite sandwiches na ang kuwan ay kesong puti, mostly native."