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PH ‘sound and improving’

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PBBM: Despite rising threats, ‘Bagong Pilipinas’ has arrived

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday described the state of the nation as “sound and improving” despite rising hurdles, with inflation and the threat of the El Niño phenomenon among the biggest challenges.

In his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) to Congress, Mr. Marcos cited the country’s growth momentum post-pandemic, buoyed by government efforts to improve agricultural production and infrastructure connectivity, among other achievements in his first 12 months in office.

The Chief Executive also said his government has enabled a more competitive workforce and created job opportunities for Filipinos, including returning OFWs; stamped out corruption and promoted transparency through digitalization programs; and ensured a strong and stable rule of law that gears the war on drugs toward rehabilitation and extending amnesty to rebel returnees.

2ND SONA DONE. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. smiles to the crowd as House Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri applaud after the Chief Executive’s second State of the Nation Address on Monday at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. Revoli Cortez

“The state of the nation is sound and is improving. Dumating na ang bagong Pilipinas (The new Philippines has arrived),” the President told around 2,000 guests at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.

While inflation remained high at 5.4 percent in June, he said it has already eased from 8.7 percent in January and is expected to be reduced further to 2.9 percent by next year.

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“What this means is that in spite of all the difficulties, we are transforming the economy. We are stabilizing the prices of all critical commodities,” he said.

“On matters of the economy, there are many things over which we have no control. But over those where we do have control, we are doing everything we can,” the President said.

War on drugs, amnesty program

A strong and stable rule of law, the President said, will “strengthen the foundation of our transformation” as he renewed his policy statement that implementation of the war on drugs during his term will be unlike the bloody campaign waged by his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte was absent from the SONA anew, unlike past Presidents Joseph Estrada and current Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who were in the VIP section hearing Mr. Marcos’ 72-minute speech (see related story on A1 — Editors).

“The campaign against illegal drugs continues—but it has taken on a new face. It is now geared towards community-based treatment, rehabilitation, education, and reintegration, to curb drug dependence amongst our affected citizenry,” he said.

Mr. Marcos, however, warned “narco-cops” to submit their resignations immediately.

“Unscrupulous law enforcers and others involved in the highly nefarious drug trade have been exposed. I will be accepting their resignations. In their stead, we will install individuals with unquestionable integrity, who will be effective and trustworthy in handling the task of eliminating this dreaded and corrosive social curse. We cannot tolerate corruption or incompetence in government,” the President added.

Mr. Marcos said he will likewise issue an amnesty proclamation for rebel returnees, citing the need for unity and social cohesion.

“To complete the reintegration process, I will issue a Proclamation granting amnesty to rebel returnees, and I ask Congress to support me in this endeavor,” he said.

Food and water security

Mr. Marcos said the government will train its guns on smugglers and hoarders of agricultural products, which he said contribute to rising prices on top of inflation pressures.

“Not only farmers are affected, but consumers as well, that’s why we won’t allow such practice. The days of smugglers and hoarders are numbered,” he said.

The President also asked Congress to pass new laws to amend the Fisheries Code and the Cooperative Code to boost agricultural output.

He said the country is also preparing for the full impact of the El Niño phenomenon as he ordered government agencies to improve buffer stock and implement cloud-seeding if necessary.

He also renewed his appeal to lawmakers to pass a law creating a Department of Water Resource Management.

“Water is as important as food. We have to ensure we have enough potable water for us and the next generation – including water for irrigation,” he said.

“Considering its fundamental importance, water security deserves a special focus. Our efforts must not be scattershot, but rather, cohesive, centralized, and systematic,” the President added.

Build better infrastructure with Maharlika help

The President said a key element to post-pandemic economic rebound is the government’s massive infrastructure program that covers 104 flagship projects in the areas of physical connectivity, water resources, agriculture, health, digital connectivity, and energy.

“Physical connectivity infrastructure—such as roads, bridges, seaports, airports, and mass transport—accounts for 83 percent of this program. Our infrastructure spending will stay at 5 to 6 percent of our GDP,” he said.

In the pipeline, Mr. Marcos said, are the 1,200-kilometer Luzon Spine Expressway Network Program and the Mega-Bridge Program that includes the Bataan-Cavite Interlink Bridge, Panay-Guimaras-Negros Island Bridges, and the Samal Island-Davao City Connector Bridge.

The President said the Maharlika Investment Fund will provide strategic financing for high-priority projects “without the added debt burden”.

“To ensure sound financial management, a group of internationally recognized economic managers shall oversee the operations of the Fund, guided by principles of transparency and accountability. This guarantees that investment decisions will be based on financial considerations alone, absent any political influence,” Mr. Marcos said.

Renewable energy is way forward

The President said his administration will aggressively promote renewable energy to meet the target of attaining a 35 percent share in the power mix by 2030 and then on to 50 percent by 2040.

“Renewable energy is the way forward,” he said.

“The Malampaya project has been a boon to our country, energizing 20 percent of Luzon. The renewal of the contract guarantees continued revenues and energy production for another 15 years. But aside from Malampaya, we will also push for more gas exploration in other parts of the country,” the President added.

Mr. Marcos, however, called the attention of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines over 68 delayed grid connections.

“We are conducting a performance review of our private concessionaire, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines. We look to NGCP to complete all of its deliverables, starting with the vital Mindanao-Visayas and Cebu-Negros-Panay interconnections,” he said.

Learning recovery and ‘Filipinnovation’

As the country moves forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Marcos said learning recovery becomes even more crucial as the government recalibrates the K-10 curriculum and amid the return to hybrid or full face-to-face classes.

“Everything begins with education… Learners will be made more resilient. Our public schools and facilities are being increased and fortified,” he said.

A culture of innovation must be fostered, the President said.

“This is ‘Filipinnovation.’ Science, technology and innovation will drive the quality and competitiveness of our workforce, as well as our manufacturing, export, creative, and service industries, in existing markets and in new ones waiting to be explored,” he said.

Addressing health inequities

“We are now refocusing our health priorities, applying the lessons learned from the pandemic and addressing the weaknesses that it has exposed. Healthier communities and lifestyles are our advocacy,” the President said.

He cited the pilot Food Stamp Program which seeks to supply the nutrition needs of a million most food-poor Filipinos as he assured the public the government will also do a catch-up on the routine vaccinations that were affected by the pandemic.

“To address the current shortage of healthcare professionals in our country, and to help us achieve our goal of universal healthcare, we are greatly expanding our medical and nursing education programs. We will push the envelope even further. We are helping nursing graduates hurdle their board exams so that they will obtain their licenses and join our pool of healthcare professionals,” the President said.

Data-driven fight vs. corruption

The President said the government will fully embrace digitalization to provide better service to the people, through its vital frontline services and its back-end functions.

“Digitalization will support the government’s data-driven and science-based planning and decision-making. It is the greatest, most powerful tool, not just to improve the ease of doing business, but also against many forms of graft and corruption,” he said.

“Consistent with this transformative policy direction, all government offices must then ensure that their vital services are digitized immediately,” Mr. Marcos added.

Priority legislative measures

Mr. Marcos also listed 16 priority legislative measures for Congress to work on, namely:

– Excise tax on single-use plastics;

– VAT on digital services;

– Rationalization of mining fiscal regime;

– Motor vehicle user’s charge/road user’s tax;

– Military and Uniformed Personnel Pension;

– Amendment of the Fisheries Code;

– Amendment of the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act;

– Amendment of the Cooperative Code;

– New Government Procurement Law;

– New Government Auditing Code;

– Anti-financial accounts scamming;

– Tatak-Pinoy law;

– The Blue Economy law;

– Ease of paying taxes;

– LGU income classification; and

– Philippine Immigration Act.

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