POSTSCRIPT / July 28, 2022 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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SONA as meterstick for grading Marcos

The masterly reading by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of his first State of the Nation Address on July 25 was a big relief for us after six years of the rambling speeches of Digong Duterte, an expert on the ellipsis spiced with expletives.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. caps his SONA with the pronouncement that “The state of the nation is sound!”. Photo: AFP/ Aaron Favila

The program and targets that Marcos rolled out with his SONA at the Batasang Pambansa will now be the meterstick against which his performance will be measured. This is regardless of whether people agree or not with his report on the state of the nation as of July 2022.

Marcos outlined how he intends to save the nation from the economic morass it is in although he was careful not to say that he just inherited the mess from his predecessor Duterte.

To the enthusiastic applause in the cavernous hall controlled by the administration supermajority, Marcos capped his prognosis with the pronouncement that “The state of the nation is sound!”

Was the lusty cheering a reiteration of the partisans’ satisfaction with the performance of Duterte or was it an expression of hope that Marcos will “make this nation great again” as his late father’s slogan said in the then “New Society”?

There is not much to add to the people’s own assessment of the state of the nation. After all, the masses already know the true SONA  – which is the sum of their individual household’s quality of life.

Marcos opened his SONA by telling the people: “We live in difficult times brought about by some forces of our own making, but certainly, also by forces that are beyond our control. But we have, and we will continue to find solutions.”

It was amazing that those “difficult times” he was beginning to talk about vanished after an hour of his reciting the speech pieced together to lead to a conclusion that “the state of the nation is sound!”

We had hoped that Marcos would, in his own way, say sorry for past errors and create an opening for national reconciliation.

But when he said toward the end, “I know this in my mind, in my heart, in my very soul that the state of the nation is sound”, he sounded suddenly remote and unreachable.

Marcos, the male heir of the late dictator, sounded like saying goodbye than sorry.

* * *

Marcos’ speech-writers used some 75 minutes of fast talking to cover 14 topics: Economy, Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, Tourism, Social Welfare, Health, Education, Digitalization, Infrastructure, Energy, Climate Change, Migrant Workers, Foreign Policy, and Priority Legislation.

On the economy, which appeared to be a primary focus, Marcos said his administration would carry out sound fiscal management, tax reforms, etc., although he was silent on the tax and ill-gotten wealth issues raised against him and his family.

He mentioned measurable targets such as 6.5 to 7.5 percent real gross domestic product growth in 2022; 6.5 to 8 percent real GDP growth annually from 2023 to 2028; 9 percent or single-digit poverty rate by 2028; 3 percent national government deficit to GDP ratio by 2028; less than 60 percent national government debt-to-GDP ratio by 2025; and at least $4,256 income (GNI) per capita; and the attainment of upper middle-income status by 2024.

Marcos said he expected the economy to grow by 6.5 to 7.5 percent this year, although he conceded that with external factors and with the pandemic still around, there could be “upward adjustments” of the Inflation rate for 2022 to 2023, and the foreign exchange rate for 2023 to 2025, as well as rising imports of goods and services this year.

The economic predictions and probabilities that Marcos guardedly mentioned indicated that he and his team know they are not in control enough to promise the expectant nation any life-changing breakthrough in the near term.

So while the polished delivery of his 7,680-word maiden SONA was far superior to the ramblings of his predecessor, the nation still has to await another kind of delivery – the fulfillment of his promised reforms and innovations in the 14 areas of concern mentioned.

Media and the rest of the watching world can use the same meterstick, which is mainly his SONA, to grade Marcos’ performance – and rate how well he delivers on his promise to improve the life of the distressed but eternally optimistic Filipino.

• Minority solons fire contra-SONA

A contra-SONA was delivered on the same day in the same Batasan Pambansa building that Marcos mentioned in an aside as one of the edifices built by his mother, then first lady Imelda R. Marcos.

The alt-SONA was delivered by the House Minority Leader, Rep Marcelino “Nonoy” Libanan of the Pagtibayin at Palaguin ang Pangkabuhayang Pilipino (4Ps) Party-list. He said among other things:

“We have formally drawn the lines between The Majority and The Minority — a demarcation line that defines us, or justifies us, where neither bloc may attempt to obliterate the other.

“We have to co-exist, there is no other way. Yes, we deserve each other. The Majority and The Minority are the twin pillars, the mechanism, the facility that supports the healthy balance of public discourse. Like the bow and the arrow, one is useless without the other.

“The Minority does not intend to debate with the President’s perspectives. Instead, we offer a complementary dimension, markedly absent from the President’s address. After all: ‘Ang pangarap niya, ay pangarap ng bansa!’

“The SONA was comprehensive… (but) we express reservation on how the plans shall be funded. We recognize the stress on government rightsizing, on digitalization, on job generation. We also recognize the call for creativity in the midst of current realities, especially the P13 trillion national debt.

“The Minority shall support the initiatives of The Majority for as long as they are geared towards national prosperity, but we shall be the hump along the roadways when the welfare of our constituencies is threatened by organized silence.

“Indeed, there is no arguing that at this inception of our 19th Congress, is a time to heal, to build, to laugh, to embrace, to mend, and to love. It is a time of peace and unity.”

(This is an edited copy of the original column first published in the Philippine STAR on July 28, 2022)

* * *

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