Ever wondered why the President has to speak before the honorable members of both chambers of Congress—as well as his Cabinet, other invited guests and foreign dignitaries— to tell them what he plans to do every year?
Quite possibly unknown to many, the State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President at the start of his/her term and every year thereafter is mandated by the Constitution.
In Sec. 23 of Article VII (Executive Department) of the 1987 Constitution, there is this provision: “The President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session. He may also appear before it at any other time.”
By tradition, the SONA takes place on the last Monday of the month of July of every year. Hence, we can say that it’s an obligation on the part of the Chief Executive to tell the people what he intends to do during this six-year term.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s SONA on July 25, 2022 at the opening of the 19th Congress is widely anticipated as it is expected to flesh out in some detail the general direction of his administration in the next six years that he outlined in his inaugural address right after taking his oath of office last June 30, 2022.
The SONA will therefore be a veritable roadmap that the new president will pursue following his landslide victory in the May general elections that gave him a clear mandate to lead the nation.
The SONA today is expected to be comprehensive, as it will discuss policies and programs for economic recovery as well sustainable and inclusive development.
It will address pressing concerns, including food security and self-sufficiency, infrastructure development, jobs and livelihood generation, agriculture modernization, and stable and adequate energy supply, apart from poverty alleviation, reforms in education and the public health system, and environmental protection.
It is also likely to delve into how an independent foreign policy can be pursued amid dramatic changes in the geo-political situation in the world today.
More than a roadmap that will guide those in public office at all levels, what the new administration wants to achieve in the economic, social and political spheres, the SONA is at the same time a sort of a social contract with the people as it should elicit the broadest possible support and active participation in the massive and herculean task of nation-building.
After all, the new president campaigned for the highest elective post on a general platform of “unity.” That “unity” should be spelled out in concrete terms, with government asking the private sector and civil society composed of the broad sectors—farmers and fisherfolk, labor, youth, women, indigenous peoples—to lend their support to development initiatives.
Without the full support of the people, the best-laid plans of government, no matter how well-intentioned and well-crafted, are likely to flounder on the shoals of uncertainty and doubt and thus erode its credibility and claim to legitimacy.
In the final analysis, what the SONA should do is to inspire collective confidence and hope for the future, with the government, the private sector, civil society groups and Filipinos working hand in hand to achieve peace, stability, prosperity and a better quality of life for all.
Our economic situation, and what should be done to accelerate recovery
The country faces many challenges on the economic front in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic: factory and business shutdowns, job losses, and high fuel and food fuel prices, among others.
President Marcos is expected to unveil his economic game plan at his first State of the Nation Address today.
The administration’s economic team led by Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno has crafted a comprehensive economic recovery roadmap good for the next six years.
This all-inclusive economic transformation plan prioritizes job creation and security, sustained infrastructure development, food security and self-sufficiency, adequate energy supply, 21st-century education, public health, and tourism.
The goal is to revive an economy adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and the war in Ukraine.
The roadmap aims for the gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent this year, and 6.5 percent to 8 percent from 2023 to 2028. The target for 2022 is the highest in Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, the government seeks to reduce the budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP starting 2026 until 2028. The budget deficit as a share of GDP stood at 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2022.
The administration also hopes to cut the deficit-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio from the current 9 percent to 3 percent by 2023.
The national debt-to-GDP level will be reduced to about 60 percent by 2025 from the current 63 percent due to pandemic-related expenses, which is slightly above the 60 percent threshold of multilateral lenders.
Filipinos will see more spending for infrastructure under Marcos. The administration plans to spend 5 percent to 6 percent of GDP on infrastructure yearly from 2023 to 2028. In the last 50 years before the Duterte administration, the spending on infrastructure was only less than 2 percent.
By the end of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s term, public infrastructure spending would attain its highest share in the economy with a record-high 6.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to his economic team’s medium-term plan.
The new administration is also seeking a renewed focus on public-private partnership (PPP) projects.
As a follow-through to the P1.12 trillion—or 5.8 percent of GDP—that the national government, local government units (LGUs) and state-run corporations spent on infrastructure last year, the government plans to spend P1.19 trillion, or 5.5 percent of GDP this year.
For 2023, the government has set total infrastructure spending at P1.28 trillion (5.4 percent of GDP); P1.39 trillion (5.4 percent of GDP) in 2024; P1.51 trillion (5.3 percent of GDP) in 2025; and P1.71 trillion (5.5 percent of GDP) in 2026. By 2027, the amount to be disbursed on infrastructure will breach P2 trillion, equivalent to 5.8 percent of GDP.
In 2028, or the year Marcos ends his six-year term, the infrastructure program will reach P2.38 trillion, or 6.3 percent of GDP.
In his inaugural speech on June 30, President Marcos vowed to continue to build and complete the projects that have been started on schedule. Under the comprehensive infrastructure plan, “no part of our country will be neglected,” and “progress will be made wherever Filipinos are so (that) no investment is wasted.” He also pledged to continue to build and complete the projects that have been started on schedule.
The administration hopes to have enough funds for various infrastructure projects and vital social services as tax collections are expected to rise with economic growth. The economic team is confident that revenues will increase to cover debts incurred during the pandemic.
High inflation in June was driven by increases in fuel and transport costs as well as higher prices for basic commodities. Consumers and minimum wage earners continue to bear the brunt of soaring commodity prices, with the country’s inflation soaring to a three-year high of 6.1 percent last month. But the economic managers said this is not a huge concern unique to the Philippines because other countries face the same problem.
The government will work to maintain price stability. Among the measures aimed at easing inflationary pressures are the fuel subsidies for public utility vehicle operators and drivers. While oil prices are expected to remain high in the near term, the government will expedite the release of the second tranche of subsidies for the transport sector.
The Marcos administration will also focus on providing long-term solutions to the problems hounding the agricultural sector as a key to building a strong economy. This is the reason President Marcos has chosen to head the Department of Agriculture (DA) in a concurrent capacity.
The President has indicated that he has made agriculture the single highest priority of his administration amid the production shortfall in palay, corn, livestock, and fisheries. The country cannot build a strong economy unless the country has a robust agricultural sector, which assures food supply even in emergencies. “We need long-term solutions. Solutions that can take care of this problem. We no longer take care of the symptoms – we take care of the disease. And that’s what we are trying to do in agriculture.”
According to the President, he would try to address gaps in the value chain by encouraging integration. “When you vertically integrate, there are savings all along the line. And hopefully that gets to the point that we can retail these agricultural products at a good price that’s affordable to people.”
The President’s plans to prioritize agriculture and promote self-sufficiency will mean unprecedented assistance for the country’s farmers, many of whom are self-employed “agri-preneurs.”
As to the demand of the labor sector for wage increases, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has said another round of wage increases is only possible if there is a supervening event that will warrant it, such as an extraordinary increase in prices of petroleum products and basic goods and services. Earlier, the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards in the National Capital Region granted a P33 increase for minimum wage earners in the region.
The government will also re-energize the travel and tourism industry that had been badly affected by lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years. The tourism campaign will encourage both domestic and foreign travelers to visit travel destinations with astounding natural beauty and immense historical and cultural value.
Our political system, and what should be done to curb corruption
The Marcos administration has already moved to rightsize the bureaucracy as part of a comprehensive plan to ensure seamless operations of agencies within and across sectors. Rightsizing will necessarily include cutting bureaucratic red tape that has hobbled government services for as long as we can remember.
A component part of political reforms is a relentless drive against graft and corruption. Filipinos already know which agencies are the most prone to corruption, which can take various forms, from traffic enforcers demanding bribes from both private motorists and drivers of public utility vehicles for traffic violations, whether imagined or real, to unscrupulous bureaucrats demanding huge sums to approve contracts.
Maintaining peace and order is necessary for government to do its work and for the citizenry to feel secure in their homes, out in the streets or in their workplaces. The Philippine National Police (PNP) must therefore be given all the support it needs to do its job while ensuring that the officials and rank-and-file adhere to the highest standards of discipline law and misfits and scalawags are punished or even dismissed as evidence warrants.
The creation of a new office, the Presidential Adviser for Military and Police Affairs, will ensure that these two institutions act in accordance with established protocols in launching national security operations and maintaining law and order throughout the country.
The communist insurgency remains a grave national security threat. President Marcos is likely to retain the National Task Force on Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to pursue localized peace talks rather than national-level peace negotiations that have failed in the past. The National Security Adviser has instead proposed granting amnesty to those willing to return to mainstream society as one way of ending the decades-long armed rebellion.
At the same time, the national government is expected to lend full support to the efforts of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to strengthen self-government as part of the peace process and to accelerate the socio-economic development of the region.
Our social structure, and what should be done to reduce poverty
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically set back poverty reduction efforts. Hence, the Marcos administration will seek to lower poverty incidence in the country to 9 percent before the end of its term in 2028. By then, the country should have attained upper middle-income status, with a $4,046 per capita income for Filipinos.
The new administration’s economic team aims to bring down poverty to single-digit levels by 2028, which would be the lowest in history.
In the previous administration’s first year in office, the poverty level was around 25 percent. But the target under the new situation is for the poverty rate to go down to 9 percent by 2028.
The poverty incidence among Filipinos rose to 23.7 percent in the first half of 2021, equivalent to 26.1 million Filipinos, based on official data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. This rose from the 21.1 percent recorded in 2018 due to the pandemic.
Along with poverty reduction programs, the national government will focus on education to provide Filipino youths with 21st-century knowledge and skills, particularly in the sciences. An updated education system will not only be the best defense against ignorance, but also bring to an end to the exploitation of overseas Filipino workers and allow them to come home with better job opportunities.
The new administration should also upgrade the public health system and address the shortcomings in COVID-19 response with transparent public health policies.
The national government should also strive to give the poor and disadvantaged sectors adequate social protection to allow them to go beyond the exigencies of daily survival and improve their quality of life over time.
Our foreign policy, and what should be done to enhance relations with the international community
The Marcos administration should strictly adhere to the constitutional mandate to pursue an independent foreign policy. This means that in its relations with other states, it should assert national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination. More than this, it should uphold peace, equality, justice, freedom, cooperation and amity with all nations.
The new government should strengthen diplomatic ties, trade and investments, economic cooperation and cultural and people-to-people exchanges with as many countries as possible, including the United States, Japan, China, Russia, the European countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), among others, on the basis of mutual benefit and mutual respect.
President Marcos has indicated that he would uphold the landmark ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on July 12, 2016 favoring the Philippines in the maritime dispute in the South China Sea. He has said he would not “allow a single millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon…We have a very important ruling in our favor and we will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights. It is not a claim. It is already our territorial right.” This is a step in the right direction.
On the sixth anniversary of the award, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo correctly said that the South China Sea arbitration is “final” and “indisputable.” The Philippine government should insist that maritime disputes in the South China Sea should be properly handled through dialogue and consultation.
At the same time, the Marcos administration should support efforts to advance the consultations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea between China and the ASEAN.
Our bilateral relations with China, however, cannot be entirely defined by the South China Sea issue as we have robust trade and investments, economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges with Beijing in recent years, and likely to grow even stronger in the future.
After the SONA, what?
After President Marcos’ SONA, the hard work begins. The road ahead may be full of challenges and roadblocks, that’s already a given. But it’s a new beginning that brings new hope: that the next six years will bring real change that will lead to a stronger democracy, a resilient economy, and a much better future for the nation as a whole.