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Inflation as 'biggest problem,' first-ever corruption talk, amnesty to rebel returnees, and other highlights of Marcos' second SONA

By NICK GARCIA Published Jul 24, 2023 9:27 pm Updated Jul 24, 2023 11:45 pm

"Thus, with this in my heart, I know that the state of the nation is sound and is improving. Dumating na po ang bagong Pilipinas."

This is how President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. wrapped up his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

Marcos' second SONA, as he had put it, was meant to be a "really very simple" performance report to Filipinos about his administration's "significant progress" in the past year.

Like his inaugural SONA last June 30, the president did away with improvisations. His speech started at 4:06 p.m. and ended at 5:17 p.m., or 1 hour and 11 minutes, which is three minutes less than the previous one.

Here are the takeaways from Marcos' second SONA.

Inflation: the Marcos government's 'biggest problem'

Marcos opened his SONA with the issue on inflation, noting it's the "biggest problem" that his administration has encountered.

He noted factors that led to increase in prices of goods and services, like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

These, among other factors, caused less oil production from countries the Philippines was importing from, which Marcos said subsequently affected other sectors like electricity and agriculture.

Yet he claimed the country's inflation rate is "moving in the right direction."

Among the measures the Marcos administration is supposedly doing to cushion the blow include infrastructure projects and "investments" on people via food, education, health, job, and social protection.

There's also the establishment of Kadiwa centers, a form of farm-to-consume direct marketing that lets consumers enjoy cheaper prices and generate higher income for Filipino farmers, fisherfolk, and micro, small and medium enterprises.

Inflation reached 8.7%, the highest since 2008, at the start of 2023. It only slowed down to 5.4% in June.

As of May, the national debt has also reached a record P14.1 trillion.

Recalibration of K to 10

Marcos said they're "recalibrating" the country's K to 10 curriculum to ensure that it's "always relevant, responsive, and at par with international standards."

"Nagsisimula ang lahat sa edukasyon. Ito ay para palakasin ang isip at kakayahan ng bawat Pilipino," he said.

The Department of Education previously said it plans to roll out the curriculum in school year 2024 to 2025.

Marcos also said they want to make students "more resilient" even as they try to address the shortage of classrooms and learning facilities in the country.

The 2022 World Bank report stated that learning poverty in the Philippines was at 90.9%.

Build Better More 'being vigorously implemented'

Marcos noted how his administration's "Build Better Program" is “currently in progress and being vigorously implemented.”

The program, a supposed upgrade of the Duterte administration's "Build, Build, Build," has 194 major infrastructure projects, 23 of which are new according to Marcos.

It includes the 1,200-kilometer Luzon Spine Expressway network, which expectedly reduces travel time between Ilocos and Bicol from 20 hours to 9; the North-South Commuter Railway project, which is meant to cut travel time between Pampanga and Laguna from 4 hours to 2; and the Megabridges project.

Maharlika Investment Fund for high-priority projects 'absent any political influence'

For Marcos, the newly-minted Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) can be used for some of the nation's high-priority infrastructure projects.

The MIF intends to draw money from state-owned funds as investment to several assets. Seed money will come from the Land Bank of the Philippines, P50 billion; the Development Bank of the Philippines, P25 billion; and the national government, P50 billion, via dividends from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

To ensure "sound financial management," the president reiterated that a group of internationally recognized economic managers shall oversee the fund's operations, "guided by principles of transparency and accountability."

"This guarantees that investment decisions will be based on financial considerations alone, absent any political influence," he said. "The funds for the social security and public health insurance of our people shall remain intact and separate."

Critics have expressed misgivings over the MIF, citing prevailing economic conditions like budget deficit, mounting debts, and high inflation rate. There are also fears surrounding corruption, following the 1Malaysia Development Berhad corruption scandal in which former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was found guilty of pocketing billions from their sovereign wealth funds.

Amnesty to rebel returnees

Marcos vowed to grant amnesty, or official pardon to people convicted of political offenses, to rebels who will surrender to the government via a proclamation.

"I ask Congress to support us in this endeavor,” he said.

The 1987 Constitution's Article VII Section 19 states that the president has the power to grant amnesty "with the concurrence of a majority of all the Members of the Congress."

Past presidents have granted amnesties, including Manuel Roxas, Cory Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, even Bongbong's very own father and namesake Ferdinand Marcos.

Priority bills

Marcos reminded lawmakers of 16 priority bills that he wants to be enacted into law soon.

  1. Excise tax on single-use plastics
  2. Value-added tax on digital services
  3. Rationalization of mining fiscal regime
  4. Motor vehicle user’s charge or road user’s tax
  5. Military and uniformed personnel pension
  6. Amendment of the fisheries code
  7. Amendment of the anti-agricultural smuggling act
  8. Amendment of the cooperative code
  9. New government procurement law
  10. New government auditing code
  11. Anti-financial accounts scamming
  12. Tatak Pinoy law
  13. The blue economy law
  14. Ease of paying taxes
  15. Local government unit income classification
  16. The Philippine immigration act
War on drugs continues, but with 'a new face'

Marcos reiterated his past pronouncements that the "war on drugs" will continue, except that "it has taken on a new face" through community-based treatment, rehabilitation, education, and reintegration.

He was alluding to Duterte's bloody anti-narcotics campaign called Oplan Tokhang, which saw the execution of thousands of suspected drug peddlers, users, and small-time criminals.

Based on the government's "Real Numbers" data, a total of 6,229 individuals were killed during anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2022. Rights groups, however, estimated that the number of deaths reached as high as 27,000.

Marcos previously said his administration won't cooperate with the International Criminal Court "in any way, shape, or form" on its investigation into the Duterte drug war. The country withdrew from the ICC in 2019.

PhilHealth covers 93% of Filipinos already

Marcos noted that the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) already covers 93% of Filipinos, which has a population of 117 million.

The Philippine Statistics Authority previously reported that 69.7% of Filipinos are covered by PhilHealth.

Marcos said they're working toward a "more direct and efficient delivery of services" from PhilHealth through integrated primary care providers and networks, in partnership with the LGUs and the private sector.

He also reiterated PhilHealth's expanded hemodialysis coverage from 144 to 156 sessions this year. The coverage was 90 sessions in 2022.

Last January, the president through a memo from his executive secretary called on PhilHealth to suspend rate hikes this 2023 due to "socioeconomic challenges" and "difficult times."

PhilHealth has been caught in controversy in 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, after former officials' claimed that their colleagues had pocketed P15 billion from the agency through several schemes, including allegedly overpriced medical equipment.

'Cannot tolerate corruption'

Marcos talked about corruption for the first time, saying his administration "cannot tolerate corruption and incompetence in government."

He was piggybacking on his administration's war on drugs, alluding to "unscrupulous law enforcers" who were exposed. He said they will install "individuals with unquestionable integrity, and who will be effective and trustworthy in handling the task of eliminating this dreaded and corrosive social curse."

His talks of corruption, however, were limited to law enforcers.

He also said digitalization of government services—like payments, company and issuance of permits and licenses, loan applications, revenue collection—will help not only improve ease of doing business but also against many forms of graft and corruption.

Marcos didn't address critics' long-standing sentiments about corruption—and authoritarianism—during his father and namesake's regime. The elderly Marcos ruled the country for 20 years under Martial Law.

Crusade against agricultural smuggling and hoarding

Marcos is reiterating his crusade against smuggling and hoarding that threaten food security.

The president, who also serves as the agriculture secretary, asked the Congress to amend Republic Act No. 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016. The law considers as "economic sabotage"—and will have corresponding penalties—if produce and meat worth at least P1 million and rice P10 million are illegally brought into the country from abroad.

Marcos noted that such fraudulent activities lead to the increase in market prices, affecting local farmers and consumers.

"Bilang na ang mga araw ng mga smugglers at hoarders na iyan," he said.

He previously asked the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation to launch an investigation into the sector's anomalies.

Creation of the Department of Water Resource Management

Marcos stressed on the importance of potable water, calling the Congress to pass a law seeking to create the Department of Water Resource Management.

The proposed government agency would be tasked to ensure ample and clean water supply to Filipinos.

To date, there's a Water Resources Management Office under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Considering its fundamental importance, water security deserves our special focus," he said. "Our efforts must not be scattershot, but rather, cohesive, centralized, and systematic."