[PHOTO AT LEFT - Workers use flat irons to press the large flag at the plenary hall of the House of Representatives, where President Aquino is set to deliver his first State of the Nation Address on Monday. BOY SANTOS]

MANILA, JULY 23, 2010 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - It will be a regular working day when President Aquino delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) before the opening session of the 15th Congress on Monday, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang had to consider the business sector in regarding Monday as an ordinary working day even with the SONA.

“It’s a working day because the administration is not worried about the rallyists. The new administration just came in and so there is no reason to hold protest rallies at this time. That’s the reason why (it’s not a holiday),” Lacierda said.

He said it would be up to the Quezon City government to decide whether to declare a holiday, particularly in the areas near the Batasang Pambansa where Mr. Aquino would deliver his first SONA.

Lacierda added the Philippine National Police (PNP) has been tasked to maintain peace and order, particularly in the areas where militant groups are expected to hold their rallies and demonstrations.

The PNP National Capital Region Office (NCRPO) has said it would deploy at least 10,000 policemen for the SONA at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

Officials said police reinforcements would also come from Central Luzon, Southern Luzon and the Cordillera Administrative Region.

NCRPO chief Director Roberto Rosales said 3,400 police officers from the unit would be deployed at the SONA to augment the 1,100 policemen from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD).

Rosales added several close circuit television (CCTV) cameras would be installed at the site.

Rosales held a dialogue with representatives of militant groups who urged the police to allow them to hold their rallies near the gates of the Batasan complex.

Rosales assured rallyists that there would be no plainclothes policemen infiltrating their ranks.

He urged the rallyists to guard their ranks against infiltrators.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also said they would be deploying several teams to monitor the situation.

The National Capital Command (NCRCOM) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on the other hand, would be placed on full alert starting today in preparation for Monday’s SONA.

“We will declare a red alert effective tomorrow (today)... it (alert level) will be downgraded to normal after the SONA,” NCRCOM commander Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue said.

Angue said two battalions of soldiers would be deployed in the Batasan and surrounding areas.

The troops would consist of a civil disturbance management battalion and a regular infantry battalion to complement the police personnel in the vicinity.

Two battalions of soldiers and a civil disturbance management unit were put on reserve.

Angue said the troop contingent would complement the police personnel from the NCRPO and the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

Angue said they have not monitored any significant threat that could disrupt the SONA.

“We are happy to announce that there are no real threats anticipated but be that as it may, we are prepared for any eventuality,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. said.

Mabanta said security measures are being coordinated with the PNP to ensure the SONA would be peaceful and orderly.

“We are on alert to assist the Philippine National Police on July 26. We are presently in close coordination with PNP particularly the NCRCOM,” he added.

Mabanta said they are expecting “minimal disturbances” from militant groups holding the usual rallies and demonstrations.

“The President at this point has a very high trust rating. As such, we believe that there will be minimal disturbances during the SONA,” Mabanta said.

Concerns and demands

Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said Mr. Aquino is busy preparing his speech that has already undergone a third draft.

“He’s very much involved. We are putting in everything and it would be up to the President to decide on the final draft,” he said.

Carandang said the speech being worked on is already 15 pages long and could last for 25 to 30 minutes.

He said the President based his SONA on the inputs of the Cabinet secretaries as regards the current state of the nation.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo has skipped the 43rd ASEAN Ministerial meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam to assist in the Cabinet preparations for Mr. Aquino’s SONA.

Romulo designated Undersecretary for Policy Erlinda Basilio to head the Philippine delegation in Vietnam to push for the country’s initiatives and proposals, particularly in the areas of disaster management and protection of migrant workers.

Lacierda, on the other hand, said Cabinet members had “uncovered some concerns” in their respective departments with solutions already proposed during the Cabinet meetings that were held Tuesday and Wednesday.

He said the inputs would form part of the President’s SONA.

Lacierda said the concerns of the Cabinet members were varied.

But the SONA, Lacierda added, would not elaborate on the anomalies that were uncovered.

“There are concerns that will be included. The SONA is meant to show the real state of the nation, what the past administration had left,” Lacierda said.

“Because this is (Mr. Aquino’s) first SONA, we’re coming from a point of the previous administration. Working from that, we are going to state the situation and then our proposed solutions and the President will advance, state his proposed legislative agenda,” Lacierda said.

Militant groups though made their demands ahead of the President’s SONA.

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said they would push for what they called “People’s 10-point agenda” that include genuine land reform, wage hike, increased budget for health care and education and other issues.

Renato Reyes of Bayan said their rally would focus on demands concerning national sovereignty, social justice, economic development, human rights, protection of the environment, and the forging of a just and lasting peace.

He added Bayan would push for the prosecution of the former president and an appeal to stop summary executions, among other issues.

Reyes said their group had agreed to respect Mr. Aquino and stop all activity while the President delivers his SONA.

On the other hand, protesting farmers of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) picketing the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) main office in Quezon City warned Mr. Aquino that they would stage a hunger strike if their demands were not met.

Foremost among their demands is to put a stop to the ongoing land conversion of the 7,100-hectare former sugar estate owned by the Yulo family in Calamba, Laguna.

Civil society groups led by Ramon San Pascual of the National Multi-Sectoral Policy Conference also called on Mr. Aquino to declare his position on the issue of reproductive health.

“We urge President Noynoy to listen to us, incorporate our human development policy agenda in his SONA, and consider it as priority measures of his administration,” San Pascual said. - With Non Alquitran, Alexis Romero, Pia Lee-Brago, Helen Flores, Rhodina Villanueva and Michelle Zoleta

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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