President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25 promising improvements in the economy, agriculture, health, and violence. While the speech took place at Batasang Pambansa, more than 8,000 protesters marched along Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City for the “People’s SONA”.
Commitments and promises
Marcos Jr. began his SONA by delivering economic commitments such as a five to 7.5-percent real gross domestic product growth in 2022 along with a 6.5-percent to eight-percent Gross Domestic Product growth annually between 2023 to 2028. The president also committed to only a nine-percent or lower poverty rate and a three-percent national government to gross by the end of 2028. The first of these commitments was the promise to pivot toward renewable energy in hopes of reducing the country’s carbon footprint.
He also proposed a value-added tax (VAT) on digital provider services such as Netflix and Spotify, which is intended to help diversify the government’s tax base. The rapid addition of digital platforms, online streaming services, and digital advertising services called upon a need for the 12-percent value-added tax.
The late dictator’s son also emphasized public health in his address, articulating that the country cannot afford another lockdown—despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases—as this would affect the economy. He mentioned plans of procuring affordable medicines, strengthening healthcare systems, and establishing the Philippines’ version of the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Marcos Jr. also tackled the topic of education, putting forward his plans for full face-to-face classes and an improved K-12 system. The former is said to consider the safety of students and teachers through an additional rollout of booster shots, in cooperation with the Department of Health and the Department of Interior and Local Government. He mentioned that he has reviewed the system, calling it “poor”, and will put an end to the K-12 system’s shortcomings.
Meanwhile, on the subject of agriculture, Marcos Jr. vowed to prioritize farmers and fisherfolk by providing pesticides, fertilizers, and supplies, and to create roads for markets to smooth out deliveries of local produce. Continuing, he promised to resolve issues left by the Rodrigo Duterte administration.
“The state of the nation is sound,” Marcos Jr. ended his first SONA.
Opposition at Commonwealth
As early as 6 am on the day of the SONA, rallyists from Anakbayan Vito Cruz, the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), and other various progressive groups came together to march along the Elliptical Road of Diliman, Quezon City before going forward to Commonwealth Ave. After Marcos Jr. delivered his first SONA, the said groups had insights into the dictator’s son’s speech.
“His SONA, just like any other president’s SONA in the past, are all empty words that seek to sound as if they are close and intimate with the broad Filipino masses,” opined Aki Liongson, deputy secretary general of NUSP.
He explained that he expected Marcos Jr. to address more pressing issues in the country. “I want the president to completely address the [issues] at hand, which [are] the continuing inflation, the continuing education crisis, and the many cases of corruption [within] the government.”
Liongson pointed out that the conviction against Marcos Jr. on tax evasion was also not addressed. “That is a pressing issue. How can one be representing the entire state and nation, when the one doing so is convicted of such [a] crime? This is the reason why many of us don’t see him as a president. If he can become a president, then I can become the second hand of God.”
Jose Mari Cueto, instructor of the National Democratic School Committee of Anakbayan, had similar sentiments.
“I would like to tackle how he addressed the [speech] mostly in English instead of speaking the national language. What is the [SONA] for if it is not directed to the broad masses of the Filipino people?” questioned Cueto.
He also observed the president’s use of jargon and “grandiose promises” in his speech, “He is clearly isolated from the concrete conditions of our country and the Filipino people because what we need right now are clear: lower prices of basic commodities, higher wages, and land to the tillers.”
While Cueto “looks forward” to the promises regarding health and education, he shared his disapproval of plans such as the continuation of the Build, Build, Build program because of the demolition of many properties; the reinstatement of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program, as “it teaches false nationalism and blind obedience”; and the importation of agricultural products when the Philippines has their very own local farmers. Cueto also pointed out that Marcos Jr. did not address the current situation of human rights in the country.
“I like most of the promises of the SONA, especially on the environment and technology. He implied he will not formally revise history,” said historian and Asst. Prof. Lecturer of the Department of History Xiao Chua in a tweet. However, he expressed his disfavor toward the plans for ROTC, similar to Cueto in, and the strengthening of English only.
“We will watch, but God bless the Philippines and our President. But we will watch. May the government work to fulfill his good agenda,” Chua stated.