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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Takeaway and Summary of President Bongbong Marcos’ First SONA: Full of Hope and Dreams for Better Philippines

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[IMAGE SOURCE: Philippine News Agency]

The State of the Nation Address or SONA is delivered by the President of the Philippines every year. In taking the helm of state affairs, the incumbent president presents a report on the economic, social, and political state of the country, unveils the government’s agenda for the coming year, and proposes to Congress certain legislative measures. The SONA is a constitutional obligation, as enshrined by Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution, “The President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”

The SONA is held at the Batasang Pambansa Complex before a joint session of Congress. All preparations are undertaken with Congress as prescribed in Article VI, Section 15 of the Constitution which states that the Congress “shall convene once every year on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session.” The tradition and constitutional mandate of hearing the state of the nation address of the President in the Joint Session of Congress is an express display of the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of the government. It is streamed and broadcasted across various television channels, radio stations, and other online platforms nationwide.

President Marcos Jr.’s first SONA is considered as a prelude which sets the tone of his term. It exposes what the present administration deems most important and urgent among the many inextricably linked issues and problems of the country. It provides an insight as to how the president thinks, speaks, deliberates state problems, offers solutions, responds to pressing issues, resonates with the struggles of the citizens, and plans to steer the country for the next six years he will be in power—even his mannerisms, if any, will be scrutinized.  

Traditions and Procedures

At exactly 10:00 AM yesterday, both the House of Representatives and the Senate convened their first regular sessions in their respective chambers to elect their officials. Thereafter, a concurrent resolution is filed stating that both chambers are ready to hear the address of the President. Sessions of both Houses are suspended.

After the sessions of both houses were suspended, the Marcos Jr. appeared at Batasang Pambansa alongside the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Sergeants-at-Arms of both Houses of Congress. The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces escorted the President past the Honor Guard. In staying true to the independence of the Legislature, the military escort of the President was relieved of duty and replaced by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives. The President was then escorted to the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), which serves as the chief executive’s office in the House Representatives, for a courtesy call with the Senate President and the House Speaker.

After the courtesy call, a Joint Welcoming Committee consisting of appointed members from the Senate and the House of Representatives, accompanied the President into the Session Hall. The Speaker of the House announced the arrival of the President in the Session Hall. The President then took his position between the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. The Joint Session of Congress was thereafter called to order, followed by the singing of the national anthem and the invocation. After which, the President descended to the rostrum to deliver the SONA.

After the address, the House Speaker and Senate President will suspend the joint session of the Congress within their respective chambers.

SONA Highlights

As we march forward with time, here are some highlights during President Marcos Jr.’s first SONA.

Economic Trajectory  

“Our country must become an investment destination.”

He starts by providing the administration’s vision in responding to the economic tolls caused by, among many other things, the pandemic. In any administration, fiscal policy must carefully utilize the national government resources to gain the maximum benefit and the high multiplier effects for the economy. As the country grapples with the containment of coronavirus and adjustment to the post-pandemic phase, economic progress of the country has been evidently put on hold. As a response, PBBM plans to implement a “sound fiscal management.” He promises that under his administration, tax administration reforms will be in place to increase revenue collection, ensure that expenditure priorities will be realigned, and spending efficiency will be improved to immediately address the economic scarring arising from the effects of COVID-19.

He aims to capitalize on the corporate recovery and tax incentives for enterprises by creating economic liberalization laws i.e., Public Service Act and Foreign Investments Act. Tax system will be adjusted in order to catch up with the rapid developments of the digital economy. The current administration also highlights the importance of Information and Communications Technology in streamlining the processes of Bureau of Customs. The Medium-Term Fiscal (MTFF) Strategy is spearheaded to attain short-term macro fiscal stability while remaining support of the country’s economic recovery. This will serve as an anchor for the annual spending and financing plan of the national government and Congress in preparing the annual budget.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and other external crises disturbed the macroeconomic environment, inflation has accelerated and prices of oil increased. Despite this, the administration affirms that the economic growth momentum remains firm as demonstrated by the 2022 first quarter GDP growth of 8.3%. The challenge is now directed towards the administration in sustaining such growth. Average inflation for 2022 is projected to range from 4.5-5.5%. This is quite contrary to the current inflation rate of 6.1%—the highest recorded inflation since 2018 which is also expected by the national statistics agency to climb in the following months. He further reports that exports of goods are expected to grow by 7% while imports are projected to grow by 18% this year.

Agricultural Prospects

“One of the main drivers of our push for growth and employment will be in the agricultural sector.”

President Marcos Jr. reiterates the challenge with regard to food supply. To resolve this, he envisions an increase in agricultural production by giving farmers financial and technical support. He aims to strengthen the value chain that starts from farmers to consumers. According to him, production of farm inputs will be aligned with the challenges brought about by climate change and global warming. Along with this, the President promises the modernization of the sector through scientific means. He emphasizes the need for a new breed of farmers equipped with modern competencies. He plans to build national network of farm-to-market roads. This would, according to him, enrich the sector and enable agrarian reform. In relation to this, he asserts that agriarian reform is not just about acquisition but also support services and distribution. In view of the foregoing, he urges the Congress to pass a law that will lift the burden experienced by farmers and amend Executive Oder 27, s. 2013 which identifies unused lands owned by the government suitable for agriculture. Such lands will be, he pledges, given to landless war veterans, retirees of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, and agriculture students.

The Filipino Brand within the Tourism and Creative Industry

“To foster the Filipino brand is to foster the Filipino pride”

The country’s tourism sector accounts for 13%, a relatively sizable contribution, in the national GDP. President Marcos Jr. considers the abundance of opportunities that the sector creates and plans to boost projects that would improve it—from road improvements, upgrade airports, creation of more international airports, and others. Likewise, by institutionalizing the creative industry, he plans to combat the many challenges, including workplace conditions, working hours, intellectual property rights, and the welfare of freelancers, who are left vulnerable during the height of the pandemic.

COVID-19 Response/Assistance in Crisis

“Wala na tayong gagawing lockdown”

As the country encounters several calamities and crises each year, it is also important for the President to clearly outline his mitigating plans. President Marcos Jr. promises an emergency shelter assistance program for the victims of calamities. As for the imminent threat brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, he states that the country can no longer support another lockdown. The President is therefore faced with the challenge of steering the balance between the welfare of the citizens and the stability of the economy. He vows ensure that the healthcare system has enough capacity, that there is continuous vaccine booster rollout, and that health protocols are aligned with present conditions. He plans, with the help of the Congress, to create the Center for Disease Control and Prevention which would be the body tasked to address the challenges of the post-pandemic Philippines. Moreover, he promises to improve the welfare of doctors, nurses and other medical frontliners.


“Children to return to full face to face classes once again.”

The administration defines its preparations for the implementation of physical classes in the upcoming school year. Educational institutions are enjoined to follow health and safety protocols for teachers, students, and the entire academic community. In preparation for the resumption of in-person classes, the Department of Health and the Department of Interior and Local Government are directed to carry out another rollout of booster shots. In terms of the complications over school building repairs following the Mandanas-Garcia ruling, the President is yet to provide the country’s next move. He also declares that there have been discussions on the viability of the K to 12 system, implying that there are critical inputs as to its effectivity (or lack thereof). The current administration also offers a program of refresher courses for teachers so they may stay abreast amid the rapid growth in technology. The President hopes to end the discrepancies following the controversial educational materials supplied to schools since the onset of distance learning. He refuses to talk about, as he says, “history or what is being taught” and rather talks about the materials necessary for effective teaching.  In the same breath, he calls for the advancement of STEM-related subjects and other tools to enable students to compete in a highly technological and competitive world.

“The raw talent is there in our young people. It is up to our educational system to develop and to refine that great pool of talent.” He encourages the development of Filipino employee’s command of the English language as the most appealing language for foreign employers and as the language of the Internet. This effectively institutionalizes English as the medium of instruction.

Science and Technology

As we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution, the President highlights the infusion of technology into almost every facet of our lives to radically transform the way business is done. He instructs the Department of Information and Communications Technology to transform the government into an agile bureaucracy that is responsive to the needs of the public, provide good and solid data to ensure informed decision making, as well as allow secure and seamless access to public services. In here, he underscores the role the National ID system plays in digital transformation. The administration expects to issue 30 million physical ID’s and 20 million digital ID’s by the end of 2022. The Department of Information Communications Technology is also tasked to deploy digital connectivity across various islands though the National Broadband Plan and Broadband Para Sa Masa Project.

Infrastructure and Development

“The backbone of an economy is its infrastructure.”

Infrastructure development is one of the most crucial elements to improve sectors ranging from the agriculture, tourism, general economic activity, and governance. President Marcos Jr. promises that the infrastructure program of the Duterte administration will not only continue but will be expanded. The administration puts a prime on infrastructure development and drive for growth and employment. He vows to continue any ongoing projects deemed beneficial. Similarly, he plans to sustain infrastructure development spending at 5-6% of GDP. He calls on the private sector (PPP’s) to assist the government in expanding infrastructure projects. He also pledges to develop the country’s railway system by investing in projects such as the North-South Commuter Railway System, 33 kilometer Metro Manila Subway project, 12-kilometer LRT 1, 23-kilometer MRT 7, and the common station that will connect LRT 1, MRT 3, and MRT 7. Beyond NCR, he projects the development of larger scale railway systems such as the 102-kilometer Mindanao Railway Project. He argues that his orders to the Department of Transportation is simple, that is, “Full speed ahead.”

On Alternative Sources of Energy

“The use of renewable energy is at the top of our climate agenda.”

The country’s realization of growth is not and cannot be detached with the availability of cheap and reliable sources energy. The problem is that our demand for energy exceeds our reliable supply—explaining our current energy insecurity. For this, the President calls for the expansion of energy sources. “We must build new power plants”, he says. It is incumbent upon the administration to alleviate the effects of vulnerability that climate change poses toward the country. Focus is therefore needed in cultivating renewable sources of energy that are appropriate for the Philippines. These are, but not limited to, windmill power, solar power, offshore and onshore wind turbines, hydropower, geothermal power, and others. The administration must find ways to effectively take advantage of these alternatives considering that the Malampaya Powerplant is expected to become depleted by early 2024. This is ascribed with an appeal towards companies who exploit our natural resources to follow the environmental laws in the country. Afterall, the preservation of environment is necessary in the security of out energy resources.

Furthermore, the Marcos Jr. administration considers reexamining the country’s strategy towards building nuclear power plants in the Philippines in accordance with the regulations provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency. If this would be pursued, the revival of nuclear powerplant would mean a new era for the country’s sources of energy. In the coming days of his term, the citizens must be involved in making or contesting this giant leap towards energy security.

Foreign policy

“I will not preside over any process that will abandon even one square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.”

The President, as the Chief Architect of our country, holds exclusive authority to handle our international relations. In doing so, they must advance the interests and causes of the citizens while raising the discourse which defines Philippine foreign policy. President Marcos Jr. promises to continue a friendly relation to all foreign friends and visitors. He affirms that the Philippines will remain cooperative in establishing mutually beneficial outcomes with other countries. He claims to stand firm in our independent foreign policy with a national interest as our primordial guide.

Proposed Legislations

As we emerge into the new global economy, partnerships, and alliances that the country will influence our stability as a nation. In connection with this, the President proposes some measures for the legislature’s consideration in support of the country’s foreign policy. These are:

(1) National Government Rightsizing Program – seeks to enhance the government’s institutional capacity to perform its mandate and provide better services while ensuring optimal and efficient use of resources.

(2) Budget Modernization Bill – seeks to institutionalize a cash-based budgeting system under Executive Order number 991, series of 2019 to strengthen fiscal discipline in the allocation and use of budget resources by ensuring that every peso budgeted by the government would lead to the actual delivery of programs and projects.

(3) Tax Package Evaluation Reform Bill – provides for the establishment of real property values and valuation standards across the country and be a development of real property information system that provides for the database of all real. Property transaction and declarations in the country.

(4) Passive Income and Financial Intermediary – seeks to reform the taxation of capital, income and financial services by redesigning the financial sector, transfer financial sector taxation into simpler, fairer, more efficient and a revenue neutral tax system.

(5) E-Government Act – provides for the establishment of the government masterplan, which shall cover all E-Government services and processes.

(6) Internet Transaction Act or E-Commerce Law – aims to establish an effective regulation of commercial activities through the Internet or electronic means to ensure that consumer rights and data privacy are protected.

(7) Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives – seeks to provide financial assistance to distressed enterprises critical to economic recovery through programs and initiatives to be implemented by the Land Bank of the Philippines

(8) Medical Reserve Core – a medical reserve core under the Health and Emergency Management Bureau. This shall be composed of licensed physicians, medical students who have completed their four years of medical courses, graduates of medicine, registered nurses, licensed and licensed allied. Health professionals.

(9) National Disease Prevention Management Authority – seeks to create the Center for Disease Prevention and Control attached to the DOH.

(10) Virology Institute of the Philippines – as an attached agency of the DOST all officers and units under the DOST, with functions related to virology,

(11) Treatment of Water Resources – seeks to create the Department of Water Resources and adopts the Integrated Water resource management as the strategic framework for national water management policymaking and plan.

(12) Unified system of Separation, Retirement and Pension – grants a monthly disability pension in lieu of disability benefits provided under existing laws for military and uniformed personnel. Retired by reasons of disability.

(13) National Land Use Act – provides for a rational and holistic management and development of our country’s land and water resources, hold owners accountable for making these lands productive and sustainable, strengthen the LGU, manage ecological balance within its jurisdiction.

(14) National Defense Act – seeks to amend the antiquated National Defense Act of 1935 to provide for a change in the military structure of the armed forces of the Philippines that is more responsive to current and future nonconventional security threats to the country’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

(15) Mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps and National Service Training Program – seeks to reinstitute the ROTC program as mandatory of Senior High School programs, Grades 11 and 12, in all public and private tertiary level educational institutions.

(16) Enabling Law for the National Natural Gas Industry – seeks to foster the development of the midstream natural gas industry in a bid to strengthen Philippine energy security by diversifying the country’s primary sources of energy and promoting the role of natural gas as a complementary fuel to variable renewable energy.

(17) Amendments to the Electric Power Industry Power Supply – seeks to restructure their regulation Commission to foster accountability and improve the commissions government system that would ensure consumer protection and enhancing competitive operation. Of the electricity market.

(18) Amendments to the Build Operate Transfer Law – seeks to improve the implementation of the PublicPrivate partnership pProgram and to be able to direct the desired outputs and outcomes in line with the strategic development targets of the country.

Key Takeaways

The first SONA of any President provides a glimpse of what the people can expect based on promises of social, political, and economic development. It is, by necessity, full of optimism and hopeful dreams for a better Philippines. We, as citizens, must make the sitting administration accountable and answerable to its words and inspiring promises and, if necessary, be critical of its shortcomings as bearers of democratic power. As for the administration, it should be open to accept and, if they can, rebuke such critiques as part of our individual democratic rights to question any lapse within the government. Similarly, the government should refrain from feeding its citizens any false narrative of success under its watch.

For the most part, PBBM’s first SONA, like the previous SONAs before him, was indeed promising. It provided him an avenue to sell his leadership amongst all citizens, regardless of their political choices during the election period. His priorities may tell us a lot about the kind of leader he is and will be for the next six years. While it is understandable that the 1-hour speech may not encapsulate all of the plans of the administration, it would expedient if the President can further address the people about some relevant and urgent issues that were not included in the speech.

First, not once were human rights issues springing from the previous administration’s war on drugs mentioned by the President in his speech. While he has expressed his plan, in other speaking engagements, to continue former President Duterte’s fight against illegal drugs, he is yet to establish his cooperation (or not) with the International Criminal Court’s investigations. The same inattention to other human rights abuses of past administrations, particularly during his father’s, breeds an atmosphere of circumvention that essentially trivializes the struggles of all victims, alive or not.

Second, there were also no mentions of the administration position on the largely disputed issue concerning the West Philippine Sea. As the Chief Architect of the country’s foreign policy, the President must be on the frontline in asserting our rights and territorial sovereignty. He must provide a clear stance that would send a firm message that the Filipino people does not and will not falter in defending its territory—be it a consideration of joint exploration or absolute claim.

Third, the President must also address the ongoing education crisis. This is not only in terms of the lack in tools and effective learning materials within the education sector, but even more so the ever-pervasive problem of massive mis and disinformation. Provided that the system of checks and balances actually works for the interest of the people, the government must ensure that our learners are taught to think critically and trained to not simply accept whatever lies are peddled within information dissemination institutions. The government must ensure that no traces of history are revised to the political advantage of any servant of the government. If it is true that the President puts a prime on Information and Communications Technology with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, then such must be used to propagate nothing but factual information in and outside academic institutions.

Third, while the proposed programs of the administration for our workers are laudable in theory, we are yet to hear his actual plans, if any, in increasing the salary of and providing benefits for our frontliners in and outside the health sector—doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, teachers, janitors, and the like. It should not even be a matter of debate to incentivize our workers. Other issues faced by workers i.e., contractualization and poor working conditions must also be combatted with stringent policies supported by the President. The President must, as soon as possible, provide his plans in making sure that these workers are not just essential in title.

Finally, the President’s proposal to revive nuclear powerplant as a source of energy truly opens new discussions in between concerned groups and government agencies. It is important that we do not immediately close our doors to such ventures and constantly look for alternative ways to address the ongoing energy insecurity. Despite this openness, there were no statements on the administration’s stance in ending fossil-based energy sources that are proven to exacerbate environmental problems. If this administration truly recognizes the need to protect the environment, it must uphold our environmental laws and reject any and all coal-based sources of energy and push for genuine transition towards renewable sources of energy.

Acknowledging that much has to be done is much better than claiming that the administration can already provide the panacea to the country’s most pressing problems after less than a month in office. The challenge is now directed towards the government to ensure that the words uttered today before the citizens would not be mere speech—that the President would not, in any case, betray the trust of the 31 million Filipinos who voted for him and the welfare of all citizens. The President must therefore prove himself as worthy of the mandate of the Constitution and as a servant of the people. For now, promises cannot be judged. Time is the ultimate truth-teller.   

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