FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

It was a splendid speech.

In the days following his inauguration, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. did tell us all the activities of his administration will be anchored on the economic and fiscal strategy. His State of the Nation Address (SONA) was structured exactly like that.

The speech began by setting the economic and fiscal goals of his administration. The direction and initiatives of the various government departments flowed from that. Finally, the priority legislative measures that would help in achieving the set macroeconomic goals were enumerated.

This was a well-disciplined speech, much like the well-disciplined campaign that elevated him to the presidency. It began and ended on schedule.

It was not a speech built around applause lines. It was not rousing although it was reassuring. It was businesslike. It had the wide horizon one expects from a SONA but it was also specific and precise.

One might say this speech portends how the Marcos II administration will be: forthright, no-frills, substantial and goal-centered. Some commentators described it as technocratic. Perhaps it is. But it also captures the ethos of modern government: an intense focus on problem solving.

There was no whining in this speech. No snide remarks. No sniping. In a word, there was no inessential utterance. It was spare but not sparse.

The speech hews closely to the personality of the President. He is a person who holds no grudges and better inclined to get people to work together to get things done. He is not given to flamboyance in word and deed.

Migz Zubiri shares that, at the onset, the President wanted the SONA to contain everything. But he then realized he might have to deliver a 4-hour speech. Only a Fidel Castro or a Vladimir Putin does that: test the endurance and attention span of audiences. The speech was pared down to the most essential points.

Critics, especially those whose inability to win elections has become chronic, fault the speech for not saying this or that small point. It seems they want the speech to look like a Christmas tree – pandering to every interest group rather than setting a clear direction for the nation.

To be sure, the SONA did not waste precious joint session time wallowing in the many details of our misery. We all know those details. What we want to hear is what we can all do together to pull out of this challenged situation.

The SONA did not waste precious joint session time repeating what everybody understands to be the everyday concerns about governance: suppressing crime, fighting corruption, upholding civil liberties and improving compensation where resources allow. Some people are simply not happy if they do not hear the catchwords repeated over and over. They want a novena, not a SONA.

Some groups, especially those that function mostly as echo chambers, want their quaint and antiquated narratives read back to them. They need a psychologist, not a President.

Leadership is certainly not about synthesizing the collective angst. It is about defining a way forward. Last Monday’s speech certainly delivered that.

For most of us, last Monday’s SONA was tremendously reassuring. Between all the lines, the speech tells us that we have a modernizing leadership in place. It is a leadership well versed in how the world actually works, intent on finding feasible solutions. We have a modernizing presidency conscious about building up the capacity of our institutions.

Those beholden to 19th century economic orthodoxies will be unhappy about this speech. It sets our policy framework firmly on market processes. This will not be a statist regime that entangles government in processes better left to the private sector.

Our growth strategy centers on making the country more hospitable to business. If the business environment is not attractive to foreign investments, it will not be attractive to any investment. Capital has no nationality. It flows to where business is good.

If we do not improve on the ease of doing business, our own companies will flee to other jurisdictions. Political borders do not impress modern markets.

The SONA tells us that the political leadership is conscious of the need for both government and private enterprise to adopt digital technologies as quickly as possible. Doing so will enhance our competitiveness in the new economy, in what is called in the literature as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” E-government and e-commerce thrive in tandem.

As economic activity shifts to the digital space, our tax systems ought to adjust as well. Otherwise, we will be taxing only antiquated businesses. This will bring in decreasing revenues over time.

I am happy President Marcos is keen on delivering our delayed national ID system at the soonest. A reliable citizen ID system is the predicate towards vastly more efficient processes in both the market and government. The lack of a reliable ID system is a major reason why the majority of Filipinos are unbanked and therefore excluded from the financial markets, making our growth exclusive rather than inclusive.

I find it incredible that after a quarter of century, we are still laboring to deliver a national ID system. We began working on this during the Ramos years. The communist groups managed to block this program by running to the Supreme Court saying the ID system is a violation of the right to privacy.

These groups prefer an environment where people use aliases and where transactions could not be verified. The delay in digitalization set back our development.

As a statement of national direction, last Monday’s SONA was sound.


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