All systems go for Duterte’s 2nd SONA

MANILA-- The House of Representatives is all geared up for the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure a safe, secure and orderly holding of the important event.

House Secretary General Cesar Strait Pareja, head of the task force for SONA 2017, said all preparations pertaining to internal and external security and safety, protocol arrangements, reception, media coverage, parking and other necessary engineering needs are all set.

"We are very much prepared for the SONA. So far, there are no major hitches in the SONA preparations," said Pareja in a statement.

Pareja also assured that the special joint session on Saturday regarding the President's request for a martial law extension will not hamper the preparations for the SONA.

"We will temporarily halt the remaining preparatory work on Saturday to give way to the special session. We can adjust things. By Sunday, we will resume work and finish what else needs to be done for SONA," he said.

All finishing touches including last-minute repair work will be completed by Sunday, he added.

Pareja said the new parking structures, providing over 300 parking slots, at the North Wing and South Wing will also be finished before SONA. Meanwhile, the newly-constructed South Wing Annex Roadway, which can accommodate 52 vehicles, has been inaugurated last Tuesday.

According to Pareja, coordination meetings and other preparatory activities for SONA had been conducted as early as January this year.

"The in-house with our Task Force, we've been meeting since January. There were also monthly regular meetings and then the Task Force meeting. Then the meetings branched out, for instance, the security group had its own coordination meeting with other agencies," he said.

"And then we had the one major coordination meeting with all agencies last week. Yung security group mas nakarami ng meetings," he added, assuring that all security forces are very prepared.

As for the food, the House again tapped the caterer last year, Via Mare.

"There will be similar food from last year and also new ones. We had some discussions on the variation. There will be no serving of alcohol just like last year. Guests will only be served native drinks such as sago, gulaman, and lemonada. This is also in deference to our Muslim brothers who shun alcohol," said Pareja.

As for security preparations, the Presidential Security Group (PSG) made an ocular inspection of the House last Wednesday not only in the Main Building but on the perimeter fences.

Deputy Secretary-General for Legislative Operations Atty. Artemio Adasa, Jr. said this year's security will be tightened due to possible threats from terror groups and militant groups.

"There is the crisis now in Marawi City, involving an act of rebellion, terrorism, the threat from the New People's Army (NPA) because the recent ambush that occurred against a group of the PSG in North Cotabato and other activities of the NPA in other areas, and from the militant groups that are against the government on various issues," said Adasa.

Adasa said the number of uniformed men to be deployed to the House for security has been increased to 6,000, including the whole contingent of police and military to be deployed mostly outside of the House.

Adasa also said a stricter enforcement will be implemented for the "No Invitation, No Entry, No Car Pass, No Entry policies.

Meanwhile, for the reception of lawmakers and guests, IPRS Director Edith Cardenas said all 1,500 seat slots in the Plenary Hall have been filled up by guests and members of Congress per the invitations sent out.

Those who sent their RSVP replies confirming their attendance were members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Cabinet, Justices of the Supreme Court, former Presidents, former Vice Presidents, former House Speakers and former Senate Presidents. Guests of House Members need not send their RSVPs, said Cardenas.

Cardenas advised the guests to come on time. The House will begin to admit guests at the Plenary Hall at 2 p.m. The doors of the session hall will be closed at 3:30 p.m. in preparation for the arrival of the President.

Source: Philippines News Agency