Thoughts on SONA 2017

I attended my second SONA as a guest. Let me share with you my experience.

Let me tell you also about some of the best Mindanao-inspired outfits I saw but which you may not have seen in the news.

That red carpet is intimidating. Last year, I was so afraid that I would stumble in my heels (or I would forget to keep my breath). The TV cameras with spot lights on the right are already forbidding and that is confounded by people with cellphones watching from both sides of the carpet. Stumble and you’re already on youtube before you right yourself. This year was no different. There are congressmen who do this for three terms, equivalent to nine SONAS! When they graduate they should get a t-shirt indicating “I conquered the catwalk!”

Many legislators wore Mindanao-inspired outfits. That is actually the decision reached by the Association of Women Legislators before Congress went on recess. The group wanted to show its solidarity with Marawi.

The best Mindanao-inspired outfits

I saw many beautiful outfits and the women legislators should be congratulated for highlighting the fact that Filipiniana is not limited to the pina.

I did not see everyone. I am sure there were many other ladies with beautiful outfits aside from the ones I recall seeing below.

From @maracepeda @rapplerdotcom

I do not personally know the lady who wore this gown but her outfit stood out to me because it used our traditional fabric t’nalak in a modern manner. I found out later that she is Precious, wife of Congressman Winnie Castelo.

I like her outfit because the designer had respect for the t’nalak, producing a modern gown that at the same time honored the tradition that went into crafting the fabric. T’nalak can be unwieldy because it is made of abaca fibers. Its not obvious from the photo but the t’nalak was strategically cut, then sewn to the gown to produce another pattern, this time one that flatters the wearer and display the new pattern to a pleasing advantage.  Each length of t’nalak is unique because the weaver’s pattern is not printed on paper but is in her mind. This fabric is identified with the T’boli people, the dreamweavers of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Another Mindanao-inspired outfit that I like is Bernadette Barbers’ two-piece gown. The top is a hand-painted and beaded body suit (using fabric similar to hosiery) paired with a malong-inspired bottom. It’s also an 11-year old outfit. She’s the only one I know who can pull this off now and 11 years ago! The boys in the photo are her kids with Cong. Ace Barbers.

From FB Bernadette Barbers


I also like this outfit by Cong. Ria Vergara. She paired it with a black and silver skirt a deep purple skirt with silver inlay and an ingenious blouse. It’s a modern take on the shawl.

I also like Randy Ortiz’ modern interpretation of a Mindanao-inspired outfits for Cong Lucy Torres and Cong Arlene Arcilla. The malong-inspired skirts used the briliant colors of the Maranaos. He topped them with blouses that were like the barong. I admit I am biased because I go to him. Unfortunately, I did not wear a Mindanao-inspired dress. He asked me at the outset if I wanted something Marawi-inspired. It was I who said no. I regret saying no. I told him I did not think I could carry it off, so he said, “O sige, we’ll do a Filipiniana na dainty.” I love the dress he made me, even if it was obvious that I neglected to follow the memo wha ha ha ha!. Randy also made the outfits of Senator Nancy Binay.

I apologize to my dear Prof. Norma Respicio, foremost authority on Philippine weave, for missing this opportunity to wear something with sinullaman (Yakan).

From @wengsalvacion @dzbb

Dress Code
The invitations were released just a few days before the SONA and it threw a curve ball to some of the guests I know. The attire indicated was “Filipiniana Dress or Barong; Business Attire.” That was problematic. Never mind the legislators – they can dress as they like. But if you were a guest who drew inspiration from last year’s dress code which was “Business Attire,” this year’s level-up was a little surprising. It also became more confusing when there were news reports that Honeylet Avancena was going to wear a gown. Last year, she wore a knee-length ecru dress.

Speaking of Honeylet, yes she attended the SONA and she wore a light pink two-piece terno with modest beading at the hemline and waist. And no, I did not take a photo of her. For the second year, I sat just few seats away from her and on both occasions I observed that she was kind to people who approach her but she kept to herself. So I respected that. You might recall that Brilliante Mendoza’s cameras panned in many directions (including some visually uncomfortable close-ups) but they never focused for a long time on North 1st gallery 1st row.

By the way, thank you, @wengsalvacion @dzbb @maracepeda @rappler and politico for your kind photos, chos!

The legislators are also like you and me: they like to take groupies with each other on the floor.

A lady solon from Mindanao made available to her colleagues some beautiful locally woven fabric and the early birds got first dibs on the nicest fabric.

My take-away

What I’ve learned here is the SONA dress code can be an inspiration but it is not really completely followed. It could be knee-length, a gown or business attire of skirt or pants. If you stress over it, its because you can’t decide if you want to stand-out, blend with the crowd or under-dress. Best to make a decision and own it. There’s nothing wrong with going over the top and I admit that’s a standard I would generously apply to others but probably not me 🙂


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