By Charissa Luci-Atienza
It’s all systems go for the fourth State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte (SONA).
This was declared by House Acting Secretary-General Dante Roberto Maling, chairperson of the Steering Committee of Task Force SONA 2019, and House Sergeant-at-Arms retired Major General Romeo Prestoza, chairman of the Task Force SONA 2019-Committee on Presidential Honors and Security.
The House officials assured that everything was ready for the President’s SONA, and the Opening of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress after months-long preparations.
“The House is fully ready for SONA 2019. We have ensured that all details for the Opening of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress in the morning and the President’s SONA in the afternoon have been considered and well taken care of for the safe, peaceful and orderly holding of these big events,” Maling said in a statement.
“These include the necessary internal and external security measures and requirements, protocol arrangements, parking restrictions, media coverage, other physical arrangements, prescribed and required attire, and final reminders to guests particularly with regard to their invitations, seat cards and car passes, among others,” he said.
For his part, Prestoza disclosed that “more or less 1,000 security personnel, including the Presidential Security Group (PSG), will be stationed in the House Complex to ensure the safety of the President and all the 1,500 expected guests.
“It’s all systems go for SONA tomorrow as far as the security aspect is concerned,” Prestoza said in a text message.
“More or less 1,000 security personnel, including PSG (Presidential Security Group) will be stationed in the House of Representatives Complex to ensure the safety of the President and all the guests,” he noted.
In a latest advisory, Maling disclosed that the “No Car Pass, No Entry” policy will be strictly implemented starting 4 a.m. Monday, July 22, for the entry and exit from the House Complex.
According to the advisory, the Main/South Gate will be for the exclusive entrance of vehicles of House Members, Senators, Congressional Spouses and their back-up, VIP guests, and House and Senate Secretariat officials.
The North Gate shall serve as the entrance gate of vehicles of invited guests, OB vans and generator sets, emergency vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances and military vehicles; House shuttle buses and vehicles with “Drop-Off” passes.
Only accredited members of media institutions wearing the official SONA 2019 Media IDs, together with their agency IDs, will be allowed entry to the House Complex, the latest advisory provided.
It disclosed the closing down of Main Gate, North Gate or Gate 2, which is beside the President Corazon C. Aquino Elementary Schools, at 4 p.m.
These will be used as exit gates of vehicles after the SONA, the advisory said.
All motorcycles, taxicabs and Transport Network Vehicle Services (TNVS) will be prohibited from entering the House Complex, it said.
Maling also reminded that all parking spaces within the House Complex will strictly be allotted for vehicles bearing color-coded car passes on a “First Come, First Serve” basis based on the parking plan.
Secretariat employees and congressional staff who wish to bring their vehicles may avail of the parking spaces at the Civil Service Commission and the Batasan National High School, according to the advisory.
Maling also stressed the “No SONA 2019 ID, No Entry” policy will be enforced.
His latest advisory also noted that upon entry, everyone is required to undergo body search, and that all personal belongings need to pass through the x-ray machine.
Authorized personnel reporting for work on SONA Day are required to wear their color-coded SONA 2019 IDs at all times, it said.
“Firearms are not allowed within the premises except those of authorized security personnel,” it reminded.
The advisory said the Main building entrances will be closed at 1 pm and will be opened after the SONA for the exit of guests.
The advisory also cited the issuance of countersigns or special stickers this morning to the following for access to restricted areas: House officials, employees, congressional staff, usherettes assigned at restricted areas, and close- in photographers of the President, Senate President and House Speaker.
Live coverage, interviews and photo shoots by media personnel are allowed at the North and South Wing lobbies up to 3 pm only, it said.
A one-kilometer “No Fly Zone” over the area of the House Complex from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. will be implemented for the Joint Session of Congress in the afternoon.
The Senate and the House will convene in a Joint Session to hear the President’s SONA at 4 pm.
Filipino tenor and Broadway singer Arman Ferrer will sing the Philippine National Anthem “Lupang Hinirang” both at the opening of the session in the morning and the Joint Session for the SONA in the afternoon.
The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), the country’s leading orchestra and one of the top musical ensembles in the Asia-Pacific region, is set to play several original Pilipino music (OPM) and provide the accompaniment to Ferrer when he sings the national anthem during the Joint Session.
For the second time, award-winning film and television director Joyce Bernal will direct this year’s SONA. Bernal expressed hope that this year’s SONA will be “hopeful, lively and grand.”
At 1 p.m., the South Wing Lobby will be closed to all Secretariat employees, Congressional staff and visitors, Only Protocol Officers, in-House media personnel, authorized media and security personnel deployed at the lobby will be allowed to stay to welcome guests.
Arriving House Members, Senators, Congressional Spouses, VIPs and members of the Diplomatic Corps shall enter through the South Wing lobby or the North Wing lobby. All other guests, media personnel and visitors shall pass through the North Wing lobby.
“Entry to the Plenary Hall will be strictly prohibited from 12 noon to 1 p.m. for final security inspection and clearing, except for RTVM personnel who will install the teleprompters and florists who will do the flower arrangements after the end of the Opening of the First Regular Session,” the advisory said.
The latest advisory was issued to ensure the safe and orderly conduct of Monday’s events. The House preparations started as early as February 20, 2019.
It was former President and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who created a Task Force to assist in the preparation for the Opening of the First Regular Session of the 18th Congress and the Joint Session of Congress to hear the SONA of President Duterte.
The creation of the Task Force SONA 2019 was made through Memorandum No. 17-200.