MANILA, Philippines – For some critics of the administration who tuned in for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’ first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25, the highlight was not the man of the hour, but a woman in the background, standing her ground.
On Twitter, people were quick to notice how lone female opposition senator Risa Hontiveros was nonchalant, her hands not meeting, while the rest of Batasang Pambansa gave the chief executive a thunderous round of applause as he entered the plenary.
Welcome to Congress, where Monday’s events showed mostly a warm reception for the Marcoses and their full return to power, while a shrunken opposition continued to showcase their dissent – in ways they knew how.
Few opposition reps from the audience
Marcos’ speech – which zeroed in on his priority measures and planned moves to tackle the rising prices of goods and services – lasted 73 minutes, and was met with no lower than 80 rounds of applause.
There were also two standing ovations: one, when he promised to make healthcare more accessible outside Metro Manila; two, when he vowed to protect the country’s territories from foreign powers.
Members of the progressive Makabayan bloc – reduced to a trio for the 19th Congress after a dismal showing in the 2022 elections – were dissatisfied with Marcos’ speech, saying it was complete on generalizations, and lacking in details, specifically on programs for education and the youth.
“He did not mention anything about the safe reopening of classes. We were hoping he would mention if funds will be allotted,” ACT Teachers Representative France Castro said.
“The only education-related in his 19 priority bills is the Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. That’s not what the youth need. What we want is assistance in their studies, so their confidence would be built for the reopening of classes in November,” Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel added.
Castro, Manuel, and Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas attended the SONA defying a rare House memorandum which prohibited “wearing of clothes with political messages.”
Castro wore a black dress to signify the Marcoses’ disinformation networks and historical revisionism; Manuel and Brosas donned hand-painted outfits to signify the youth agenda and women’s struggles.
OUTFITS of the lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc carry a political message. Jairo Bolledo/Rappler
But with Congress composed mostly of Marcos’ allies, government officials’ feedback on his speech was overwhelmingly positive.
“In terms of content and detail, I would give it a 10,” Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said.
“This SONA is really meaningful. You can see we have a president that studies on issues, is familiar with different challenges and problem, and is a solutions finder,” Department of Migrant Workers chief Susan Ople added.
Prior to Marcos’ speech, the mood in both the Senate and the House was joyful, as both chambers opened their first regular session.
In the House, Martin Romualdez officially ascended to the speakership, following a nomination by his nephew, Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative and presidential son Sandro Marcos.
In the upper chamber, senators were also displaying a sense of camaraderie when they formalized the Senate presidency of Juan Miguel Zubiri.
(One surprising moment of the session however was when freshman Senator Robin Padilla abstained from the vote to elect his colleague, Senator Joel Villanueva, as Senate majority leader. Villanueva told reporters he had no idea why and could only speculate.)
The President’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, meanwhile, appeared to be in a power position, despite not holding the chamber’s top posts.
The female Marcos said she was still choosing which to prioritize among the four Senate committees she might lead: foreign relations, electoral reforms, cooperatives, and social justice.
As the chief executive’s sibling, she would always be on the receiving end of questions of how influential she would be on her brother, like during Monday’s event.
Prior to the President’s speech, she claimed she did not give him direct advice, saying her brother had already consulted with a lot of people.
But asked ahead of the SONA what she hoped to hear from the President, Senator Imee said: “I want him to be angry and already name all the agricultural smugglers destroying our local farming industry. I hope he warns and goes after all corrupt government officials, including those in the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue.”
Surprise, surprise, not a word about it during Marcos’ SONA speech. – Rappler.com
*All quotes in Filipino have been translated into English.