Things Marcos left out in his first SONA

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Things Marcos left out in his first SONA
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 25, 2022.
Aaron Favila via AFP, pool

MANILA, Philippines (First published: July 25, 5:28 p.m.) — Among other things, each president’s State of the Nation Address is expected to bring relief to millions of Filipinos and a plan for the task ahead, especially with the nation in the midst of crises on several fronts.

Like the SONAs of former President Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos was hoped to present a comprehensive pandemic roadmap with the Philippines still in the middle of yet another COVID-19 surge. 

For most of his 90-day campaign, Marcos answered issues of various sectors by pointing back to his key campaign theme: Bringing the country together.  

For his second national address after his inaugural speech, the chief executive did come armed with figures and statistics in his first State of the Nation Address and detailed some topics over others. Still, some questions remain: Which issues did he leave out? How will he work on them moving forward?

Here are a few top-of-mind concerns that the chief executive skimmed over or skipped:

1. Human rights and the war on drugs

Not once did the chief executive mention human rights and illegal drugs in his speech.

Under former President Rodrigo Duterte's flagship campaign against illegal narcotics, official police figures acknowledge over 6,200 deaths in anti-drug operations since July 2016.

Police leadership earlier claimed the number was as high as 8,000 but eventually dialed this back by thousands without explanation. However, rights groups both here and abroad say the real number may be as high as 30,000. 

Marcos has said he intended to pursue Duterte's drug war with a different approach, but he has not signaled if he would cooperate with the International Criminal Court's investigation. 

READ: Marcos gov't should cooperate with ICC in 'war on drugs' probe

At an earlier webinar, former PCGG commissioner Ruben Carranza said the Marcos family intends to maintain Duterte. "Any action that will open accountability of presidents past and even further in the past will obviously re-open questions around the accountability of the Marcos family. And the Marcoses will defend their ill-gotten wealth for as long as they can," he said. 

2. Labor issues and contractualization 

Marcos touched on agrarian reform, poor workplace conditions and intellectual property problems of those in creative industries. He also urged the Department of Migrant Workers to ensure it was accessible to overseas Filipino workers. 

The president, however, made scant mention of other issues facing workers. 

Workers from various sectors and industries gathered earlier ahead of Marcos' SONA, dubbed the State of the Labor Address to discuss the current situation of workers in the Philippines.

In her speech at the event, Julie Ann Gutierrez of Kilos Na Manggagawa lamented the current state of contractual workers in the country.

"The number of contractual workers has worsened and increased. Out of ten workers, six or seven are contractual. We have no job security, low wages, when it comes to layoffs, we will be the first to be fired," she said in Filipino. 

"As the newly seated president said, our dreams are also his. But our dream is to be regular, to end contractualization in the country, and to be given an adequate and living wage."

Doing away with the practice of endo contractualization was among former President Rodrigo Duterte's main campaign promises until he eventually vetoed the anti-endo bill. 

READ: Marcos salutes workers as plans remain undetailed

3. The transport crisis 

Commuter woes have been the new norm ever since the government's coronavirus task force loosened quarantine rules to general community quarantine in June. 

While Marcos did touch on public transportation, particularly on the need to improve railways, he only did so mostly in the context of infrastructure projects he wanted his administration to push. 

Transport groups have long been warning of another "shock" in the ongoing commuter crisis with most public transportation unprepared to take on the additional demand from students trooping back to schools. 

READ: Commuter group: Most Filipino commuters say waiting time too long, PUV supply lacking

What the chief executive did mention was that the Duterte administration's infrastructure campaign would be continued moving forward. This included upgrading airports and constructing more international airports to address bottlenecks in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. 

"It is my belief that we have missed a great opportunity to develop our rail transport system," Marcos said. 

"It is clear in my mind that railways offer great potential as it continues to be the cheapest way of transporting goods and passengers."

Marcos reiterated the unfinished infrastructure projects started under the Duterte administration, saying these are being studied by his government, including:

  • North-South Commuter Railway System
  • Metro Manila Subway Project
  • North-South Commuter Railway System
  • LRT-1 Cavite Extension
  • MRT-7
  • Common Station that will connect LRT-1, MRT-3, and MRT-7.

He did not mention road transport woes in the capital region or the canceled Metro Manila Bus Rapid Transit Line 1 project. He did promise "to improve our roads."

Transport experts have said the Duterte administration was loosely focused on rail transport, which is only one part of the metro's complex transport woes.

In an online message sent to Philstar.com, Move as One coalition convenor and transport economist Robert Siy pointed out that "Metro Manila and many Philippine cities are in a transportation crisis."

"While railways will produce results in the longer term (some rail projects will take more than 10 years), Filipino commuters need better mobility today. This means investing much more in road-based public transportation and in infrastructure for safe walking and cycling in every city," he said.

Out of the planned spending for infrastructure of 5-6 percent of GDP, the Move as One transport coalition suggested a target spending of 1.5 percent of GDP for road-based public transportation and for safe walking and cycling.

"Railways should remain part of the investment mix, but better balance across travel modes is needed for earlier and broad-based results," Siy said.

READ: Commuters urge Marcos gov't to provide immediate relief, long-term solutions to transport crisis

4. The fuel crisis 

Speaking of the transport crisis, commuter groups and collectives representing transport workers have pointed out that reduced transport supply on the roads is largely caused by drivers looking for work opportunities elsewhere.

Skyrocketing gas prices are also behind muddled supply chains around the world and fueling inflation closer to home. 

What Marcos put forward as a solution to the problem was urging more "ayuda" or aid and fuel subsidies, particularly in the agricultural sector. 

Marcos said oil supply is expected to catch up and stabilize over the medium term with prices of crude oil barrels expected to settle down towards the end of 2022.  

He also urged Congress to oversee the enactment of an enabling law for the natural gas industry.

"This primarily 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," he said. 

5. The how in blended learning

Marcos simply reiterated the Department of Education's statement that it was preparing for the push for in-person classes by November. 

Prior to the SONA, the president asserted that blended learning can still be done in some areas given the litany of issues that might arise.

This, despite DepEd Order 32 s. 2022 banning any form of “purely distance learning” and blended learning in any school beyond October 31, with the department adopting in its place a policy pushing for the full implementation of the five-day in-person classes.

Vice President Sara Duterte, concurrently education secretary, explained in a statement issued later on that "face-to-face classes shall be the priority and blended modality shall be considered only in specific schools and areas with special circumstances."

To date, neither Marcos nor Duterte have disclosed which schools and areas are being considered for the setup.

Marcos instead said Monday that "it is up to our education system to refine [our] great pool of talent." He also said that the question of the country's medium of instruction in schools "should be continuously questioned."

READ: Marcos pushes for limited blended learning for coming school year

6. Arbitral award

While he touched on his administration's "friends to all, enemy to none" foreign policy, Marcos made no mention of how he intends to assert the arbitral ruling that is irking Beijing over the South China Sea.

He did, however, receive applause and standing ovation for declaring that he will "not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power."

He added, meanwhile, that his government "will stand firm in our independent foreign policy, with the national interest as our primordial guide. We commit to maintaining good relations with the rest of the world."

A Senate resolution has been filed urging President Marcos to resume bilateral talks with China to promote cooperation on oil and gas development in the West Philippine Sea.

Former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario has also urged Marcos to uphold the country's 2016 arbitral ruling before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the West Philippine Sea.

"With respect to our place in the community of nations, the Philippines shall continue to be a friend to all, and an enemy to none. The Philippines has always been open and welcoming to all our foreign friends and visitors. That is our worldview, and that is our culture," Marcos said. 

"We will be a good neighbor — always looking for ways to collaborate and cooperate with the end goal of mutually beneficial outcomes. If we agree, we will cooperate and we will work together. If we differ, let us talk some more until we develop consensus."

READ: After 6th Hague ruling anniversary, China insists tribunal decision is 'illegal'

In a statement sent to reporters, Infrawatch PH said that Marcos in his SONA "failed to mention how he will deal with China, particularly the fate of ongoing and prospective development loans."

"Policy clarity on Malacañang’s current relationship with Beijing is essential to determine whether the President will accept new development loan proposals from China, after years of delay in the last administration," Infrawatch convenor Terry Ridon said.

"This will determine whether new Chinese loans will be subject to competitive and concessional interest rates, and whether Chinese laborers will continue to be used in place of Filipino workers in several projects," he also said.

"This will also determine whether the new President will continue his predecessor’s unpatriotic surrender of West Philippine Sea interests in exchange for the promise of development loans from China."

7. Peace talks

Marcos made no mention of the communist insurgency, or the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict's recommendation for amnesty for armed insurgents.

National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos already said the task force had made the recommendation but was yet to iron out any details. She said the final decision on amnesty and even peace talks was still up to Marcos.

Carlos has made clear her stance against red-tagging, which she called "lazy and unproductive," but it is unclear if this will result in changes in the national government's approach to fighting the communist rebellion.

READ: NTF-ELCAC here to stay, but more questions than answers from new leadership after 1st meeting

At the NTF-ELCAC's first meeting, Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez claimed that peace talks with rebels are still ongoing but are "more localized" this time around, as he asserted that national peace talks, which were cut short by no less than former President Rodrigo Duterte, never yielded results.

Galvez said localized peace engagements worked in some regions as “the dynamic of conflicts is different in different areas.”

8. Crime and corruption

Ahead of the SONA, Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos told reporters that he expected the president to touch on safety and security in the country.

Marcos' speech did not explicity include a mention of crime, corruption, safety, or security in the country and, in contrast to former President Rodrigo Duterte's SONAs, did not issue any directives to law enforcement personnel.

But he pushed for Congress to pass the National Defense Act which he said was meant "to provide for a change in the military structure of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that is more responsive to current and future non-conventional security threats to the country’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty."

Responding to those who point out that the president missed out on anti-corruption policies in his SONA, newly installed Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri argued, in an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source" on Tuesday: "He did through the digital framework for government."

While not specifying digitization as an anti-corruption measure, Marcos instructed the Department of Information and Communications Technology to oversee the task of "transforming our 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."

Senators urge solutions to Filipinos’ problems

According to a survey of 1,200 adult Filipinos by Pulse Asia, the top “urgent national concerns” of Filipinos from June 24 to June 27 include:

  • Controlling inflation (57%)
  • Increasing pay of workers (45%)
  • Reducing poverty of Filipinos (33%)
  • Creating more jobs (29%)
  • Fighting graft and corruption (20%)

“He can be very honest that these are the problems of the country, because that is what he has come to as president,” Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters at a press briefing in Pasay City. 

“But what we need is the creativity and innovation in facing it.” 

In a separate interview aired over CNN Philippines’ “The Source,” Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said that the Marcos administration “has to lay out a plan to navigate us through these external factors” behind many of the country’s problems. 

“We're facing a lot of pressures from inflation from external factors, and we need to address that at least in the next two to three years. As long as there is that incident in Ukraine and also, the Feds hiking interest rates will face a lot of pressures here in the Philippines, especially on inflation,” he said. 

Sen. Risa Hontiveros at her State of the People Address also cautioned Filipinos that administration officials would play down real concerns over the national situation. 

"I think we need to call this administration’s attention to the unseen and unmonitored suffering and fragility in the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Filipinos. Can we still endure? Is there anything left in the so-called resiliency of the Filipinos, even though aid is always late and lacking?" she said.

"Let's not pretend that our so-called experts fully understand the extent and depth of the financial problems left behind by the previous administration…The new administration may have their pre-conceived notions. They will be resistant to information; they will implement top-down policies from their golden age; they will say that the situation is not really as bad as we portray it.”

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