MANILA - Since 1935, Philippine presidents have been reporting to the nation in an annual address. The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is meant to be an opportunity for the President to inform Congress and the public about the country's problems and to announce his or her legislative priorities.
Each president brings something unique or different to the tradition. Former President Benigno Aquino III was the first to deliver a SONA speech entirely in Filipino.
Duterte's first SONA in 2016, directed by renowned auteur filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, went viral because of the use of unconventional camera angles: from worm’s eye views to extreme close-up shots.
This year, the Duterte administration tapped Joyce Bernal, known for romantic comedy flicks, to direct the SONA. Bernal earlier said that she wanted the President's 2019 address to feel hopeful and joyful, coming from last year’s speech that was delayed over a Speakership coup.
So, what was new or unique or unusual in this year’s SONA?
This year's SONA featured a live symphony orchestra. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra helped set the mood by performing folk songs, including Freddie Aguilar’s “Duterte Para sa Tunay na Pagbabago,” which was played as the President entered the House of Representatives’ Plenary Hall.
We’ve had Presidents sing before in events but it was the first time that Duterte sang at Batasang Pambansa after his SONA. Of course, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra backed him up.
Local fabric backdrop
Noticeably new at the House Session Hall was the local woven fabric draped over the rostrum that served as Duterte’s backdrop. Bernal said they wanted to use something woven from Mindanao or Mt. Province. Duterte is the Philippines' first president from Mindanao.
The use of Filipino woven fabrics was also seen on the red carpet, with many women politicians incorporating it in their outfits.
No mention of federalism and mining
Since 2016, Duterte had always brought up the issues of federalism and mining in his speeches. This year, he did not mention these issues.
First time to mention sports
For the first time, Duterte included sports in his SONA. He said he would be supporting the measure to create a National Academy of Sports for high school students. Incidentally, the country is hosting the 30th Southeast Asian Games later this year.
Ocean theme at SONA protest
It has been a tradition for activist groups to hold a big rally during the SONA. This year, it was their first time to set a visual theme--the West Philippine Sea, according to Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. During the SONA protest, activists brought ocean-themed art, with a sea monster effigy of the President as the centerpiece.
SONA fashion criticisms
In recent years, the worst-dressed SONA attendees become the butt of jokes on social media. Senator Nancy Binay had to endure becoming a meme back in 2014 because of a dress that people thought was reminiscent of Princess Fiona in the movie Shrek.
Binay has since vindicated herself and was praised this year for her elegant Randy Ortiz gown.
Also new was Sen. Risa Hontiveros being “slut-shamed” for her short Filipiniana dress, and a designer receiving flak for dressing a Marcos.
Designer Mak Tumang became internationally famous for designing Catriona Gray’s beautiful gowns during the Miss Universe pageant. But netizens on Monday criticized him for designing for Sen. Imee Marcos, daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Others, however, insisted that Tumang's design in fact threw “shade.” Some netizens joked that the color red at the bottom of Marcos’ gown was blood, symbolic of killings and abuses during her late father's regime.