As President Rodrigo Duterte arrived on Monday at the Batasang Pambansa with the sleeves of his sparsely embroidered Barong Tagalog rolled up to his trademark “working look,” there was no doubt that it was an end of era at the State of the Nation Address—fashion-wise that is.
With Malacañang’s earlier announcement that the President’s first SONA will do away with “ostentatious appearance to focus on substantive governance,” no one dared defy the tough talking leader’s orders to come in business attire or simple knee-length Filipiniana.
As such, whether the senate or congressional spouses liked it or not, gone were the “who-are-you-wearing” and blinding flashbulb moments on the red carpet that made them feel like celebrities attending the Oscars.
While there was still a red carpet in place leading to Batasan’s lobby, it was no longer a place for guests to flaunt their bespoke gowns as the wives of government officials or the officials themselves tried to outdo one another. There was neither a best-dressed list this year as in past SONAs. It was, like the dress code demanded, all business.
In a report from ABS-CBN, Honeylet Avancena—the President’s common-law-wife—was said to have commissioned Mr. Duterte’s long-time tailors Bonnie Adaza and Richard Pulatche of Davao design house Chardin for his barong. Aris Escarilla, also from the house of Chardin, meanwhile designed her off-white, below-the-knee dress, with sheer embroidered sleeves and minimal pearl beadwork.
As for the usual fashion plates of the SONA, Senator Loren Legarda, for starters stuck with her colorful indigenous textile choices by pairing an embroidered okir with black pants.
Painter and actress Heart Evangelista-Escudero, meanwhile wore an all-white Massimo Dutti pantsuit as she walked the red carpet with husband Senator Francis Escudero.
Newbie congresswoman, Batangas Representative Vilma Santos-Recto kept her outfit very Filipino with a stylized Barong Tagalog and white pants.
Jinkee Pacquiao, wife of first time Senator Manny Paqcuiao wore a violet terno at the opening session of the Senate but made sure to change to a green suit dress with bell sleeves.
Another first-time senator Risa Hontiveros, who is also known for her sense of fashion, wore Acebuche lace dress with purple neoprene wrap and proudly Marikina-made shoes.
Actress Gretchen Barreto, one of the President’s invited guests, was also spotted wearing a delicately embroidered piña top and black skirt to match the traditional Barong Tagalog ensemble of her common-law partner, businessman Tony Cojuangco.
A head-turner as always, Tootsy Angara, wife of Senator Sonny Angara, managed to wear downsized butterfly sleeves in a bright green terno dress by Rajo Laurel.
Days before the SONA, the wife of a congressman from the Metro East confessed to The Manila Times, “I must admit I always looked forward to dressing for the SONA. In fact, I already had a terno made by Rajo [Laurel] before the [dress code]announcement was
made. Automatic na ‘yon in my calendar. But of course, I wouldn’t want to make a scene so I’ve set the terno aside—ready perhaps for the next wedding we’re invited to as principal sponsors—for a simple dress. I’ll miss the red carpet though.”
And while most of Monday’s SONA attendees followed orders as this congressional spouse, there remained one brave fashionista who came in all her Filipinana glory. She is Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman—the country’s first transgender legislator—who changed from a simple blue suit and printed white dress during Congress’ morning session to a fabulous silken emerald green terno by Paul Cabral. She looked so stunning that as of press time, there have been no violent reactions to her choice of outfit.