Opposition raises issues 'missed' at Marcos Jr. SONA

Opposition raises issues 'missed' at Marcos Jr. SONA
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address as newly elected Congress leaders, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and House Speaker Martin Romualdez, react on Monday, July 25, 2022.
OPS / Marcos media team

MANILA, Philippines — Although the Marcos administration's first State of the Nation Address marked a departure from those of the past six years, progressive lawmakers and groups found it lacking on the crises that the country is facing. 

At a press briefing Tuesday morning, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of just two members of the minority bloc in the upper chamber, called the address a case of "window shopping" that had the potential to "over-promise and under-deliver."

"I heard a lot about rightsizing, streamlining processes, and removing red tape in various agencies. But what we are looking for is a more explicit statement from the president that he will fight theft and abuse of the public treasury," she told reporters in Filipino.

"It seems that it still hasn't been made clear to the president that prices and hunger are surging faster than the projected growth in agriculture," she also said.

Hontiveros also questioned the president's overall assessment that "the state of the nation is sound" at just his first SONA.

"Sound for some but not all?...For him to say, as early as now, during his very first SONA, that 'the state of the nation is sound,' where does the confidence come from?" she said as she pointed out that many Filipinos are hungry and are worried about high prices.

"If, by next year, we are on track to rise again, maybe by then it's an honest assessment. That's his campaign promise, so he should fulfill it."

'Hard to give him a chance'

At a press briefing Tuesday morning organized by umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, progressive groups pointed to the many issues the chief executive left unaddressed en route to claiming that "the state of the nation is sound" to end his first SONA. 

"It’s hard to say 'give him a chance' when the programs he will implement are the same as that of the previous [administration], and when there are no fundamental changes in the direction of the country. The outcome will likely be the same as the last six years," Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.

Former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, also Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair emeritus, took issue with the lack of concrete plans on the Rice Tariffication Law, which think tank Ibon Foundation has said decreased rice farmers' net income per hectare by up to 47 percent in 2019. 

"I still haven't heard any decisive action by Marcos Jr. on how to suppress agricultural smuggling in the country. This is economic sabotage in our country," he also said in Filipino. 

Workers woes

Labor leader Elmer Labog of the Kilusang Mayo Uno said that Marcos did not mention any workers' issues including labor contractualization and the minimum wage.

"He put his government rightsizing of government institutions first instead of reviewing the functions of those institutions," he said. 

He added that Marcos' avoidance of mentioning human rights and government red-tagging also affects workers because 56 workers and trade unionists who have been harassed and even jailed under the Duterte administration on what the group says are manufactured charges. 

Eufemia Doringo of urban poor group Kadamay said it was clear from the get-go that the president's plans were geared towards big business instead of regular Filipinos. 

"We didn't hear any concrete plans on addressing our housing backlog that has reached P6.7 million by the end of Duterte's term," she said in Filipino, saying Marcos also made no mention of housing for the urban poor. 

Doringo also scored Marcos' statement that transport infrastructure programs would be pursued to boost tourism, saying: "It's infuriating that they're putting big capitalists first even with all our calls for ayuda (aid)."

Women and children

In a statement, Rep. France Castro (Alliance of Concerned Teachers Party-list) panned Marcos for leaving out the much-delayed salary hike for teachers in favor of what she said was Marcos' "obsession [with] using English as the medium of instruction."

ACT, Gabriela Women's Party and Kabataan party-list are the only members of the Makabayan bloc with seats in the 19th Congress. As in the Senate, the opposition at the House of Representatives is greatly outnumbered by the supermajority. The minority at the House might not even reach 30 members, based on how the chamber voted for the speakership on Monday.

"As studies have shown, we must begin teaching learners using their first language or mother tongue. If not, they are already at a disadvantage in learning their lessons," she said. 

Castro also said that school buildings should not be left for local funding using the Mandanas ruling. 

Under the SC decision popularly known as the “Mandanas-Garcia ruling”, LGUs get a bigger share in the collections of national taxes, with the high court stating that their IRA should come from 40 percent of all national taxes collected by the Bureaus of Internal Revenue (BIR) and of Customs.

"Education is not devolved and is the main responsibility of the national government. This will leave many schools in low-income LGUs at a disadvantage, since these LGUs will have insufficient funds to upgrade the sorry infrastructure and facilities in public schools."

Gabriela Women's Party also reacted to the mention of strengthening of Violence Against Women and Children programs, saying that there are no concrete plans to support such agenda.

"Time and time again, the government only mentions women's issues like some consolation prize — just all talk, no clear plans. What women need is a comprehensive plan that will address the sector's basic issues like lack of jobs and livelihood and state-perpetrated violence against women," Rep. Arlene Brosas said in a statement sent to reporters. — Franco Luna with reports from Xave Gregorio 

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