Sustaining Economy, Big Plans Ahead in Marcos Jr.’s SONA

First State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos. Photo courtesy of Philippine News Agency (PNA)

Under Marcos Jr.’s  stewardship, he vowed to clamp down on cartels to ensure lower prices of goods. At the same time, he said talks with international pharmaceutical companies are ongoing to consider investing in the generic drugs business in the Philippines.

By Fernan Angeles

DELIVERING his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), the son of the late strongman behind the 20-year Martial Law years embarked mostly on recycled programs as his working agenda for the next six years.

Speaking before hundreds of political allies at the Batasang Pambansa, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. vowed to infuse major changes in the Philippines’ tax system – without directly saying the government plan on expanding taxation. He also hinted at the government’s agenda which included economic recovery, COVID-19 pandemic response, resumption of face-to-face classes and legislations which he wanted members of both chambers to consider.


Conspicuously Missing

However, conspicuously missing were top concerns which hounded the previous administration.

For one, the pandemic is far from over, says no less than the World Health Organization (WHO), which went as far as urging the people to “learn to live with the deadly coronavirus disease” referred to globally as COVID-19.

Spending an hour and 10 minutes at the podium, Marcos Jr. spokes a wide but “generic” plans at a time when the government is faced with humongous economic challenges ranging from inflation, energy crisis, high-cost of fuel and electricity, corruption and in-fighting among his allies over presidential appointments.


Agriculture and Food Security

Citing figures, statistics and highly-technical terms that the majority of the Filipinos could hardly understand, the son of the disgraced dictator hinted on providing sufficient and affordable food for the people through agriculture. According to him, he would pursue programs seen to alleviate the plight of farmers, fishermen and livestock growers, whom he described as an essential sector in the government’s food security program.

Marcos Jr. went as far as claiming that the Department of Agriculture, which he heads as “Interim Secretary”, is already in the process of empowering the agricultural sector through its re-invented “Masagana 150,” financial and technical assistance to the farmers and fishermen, farm-to-market roads, farming and fishing equipment and cheap supply of saplings, pesticides and fertilizer which the government would directly buy abroad and sell as cheap to the farmers.

In 1973, during the first phase of Martial Law, then President Marcos Sr. pegged a goal of 99 sacks per hectare of palay harvest known as “Masagana 99” Green Revolution.

Marcos Jr. also mentioned issuing an executive order that would effectively condone unpaid loans of farmers, fast-tracking of land distribution to beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), perks for graduates of agricultural courses, and the reactivation of Kadiwa outlets.

Interestingly, Marcos Jr. remains mum on his sister and concurrent Sen. Imee Marcos’ call to publicize the names of agri-smugglers and cohorts in the government.


Culture-Driven Tourism

According to the 66-years old son of the late strongman, the Philippines has what it takes to become a top global tourist destination given the proper government approach which he referred to as re-branding.

Marcos Jr. said that Philippine tourism should embark on embedded culture and heritage for which Filipinos are known for, even as he claimed that under a “re-branded” tourism program, Philippines stands to gain more than revenues and local employment.

Under his re-branding strategy is the need to construct more international airports for tourist arrivals.

Interestingly, Marcos Jr. didn’t mention the peace and order situation besetting regions hosting the finest places in the archipelago. There was also nothing about the sorry plight of the tourism workers, flesh trade, pedophiles, child trafficking, and illegal drugs, among other issues.


Poverty Alleviation

Marcos said that the poor deserve the best government care. His formula? Clean up and rid the government list of beneficiaries under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) from fake paupers.

Under what many described as a band-aid solution, the government makes a monthly financial dole-out primarily for the children and nursing moms falling within the category of being poor. Badly missed in Marcos’ radar for the monthly government aid are the senior citizens, solo parents and persons with disability.

In what appears to be a grand show-off, the President expressed dismay over the multi-layered bureaucracy which has been eating up precious time before the government releases aid to the poor, particularly those in distress and families displaced with calamities.

Part of his plan is the establishment of regional depots where the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) could store food packs, medicines and other basic needs of evacuees in case or even before a disaster strikes.

There was nothing which tackled long-term poverty alleviation.


Health Above All

If there was one topic that triggered a standing ovation, it was about his healthcare agenda. Marcos categorically said that healthcare should not be limited to the National Capital Region (NCR).

As such, he fanned on the idea of replicating his father by establishing more Philippine Health Centers, Lung Centers, Children’s Hospitals at National Kidney Institutes in other regions, and forming local versions of the US-based Center for Disease Control and a Vaccine Institute.

He also took note of the need to send government healthcare workers to the remote barrios in far-flung barangays where the problems on accessibility, peace and order and electricity remain unresolved. Relatedly, the government is also rapidly losing healthcare workers who have opted to work abroad for higher salaries.

He also urged the public to get booster shots in view of more contagious COVID-19 mutated strains called Omicron sub variants. The question however is – do we still have funds to buy vaccines? Or would the government rely on vaccine donations through the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility?


No More Cartels?

Marcos said that under his stewardship, he would clamp down cartels if only to ensure that there is a competition among businessmen. As to why he prefers a slug-out among businessmen, Marcos said that competitions often result in lower prices.

Proving his point, the President claimed that talks are in progress with international pharmaceutical companies to consider investing in the generic drugs business in the Philippines.

But some of his appointees are known to be aggressively pushing the businesses of the benefactors who have been of help to Marcos’ 2022 presidential bid.


Not in Marcos’ List

Marcos made significant mention of the territorial issue embarking on the West Philippine Sea, resumption of in-person classes, and nuclear energy as a viable solution to the power crisis, among many others.

Wittingly or otherwise, the President skipped on controversial issues – some of which hounded his father’s 20-year presidency, human rights to be specific.

He also didn’t touch on the government war on drugs, fuel crisis, unpaid Marcos’ estate tax, insurgency, terrorism, freedom of the press, government transparency, labor and wage concerns, traffic, corruption, transportation and the impending prosecution of his predecessor before the International Criminal Court.


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