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Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first State of the Nation Address: What was (deliberately?) left unsaid

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jul 26, 2022 1:47 pm Updated Jul 26, 2022 1:52 pm

If I may borrow the words of the English novelist Angela Carter: “Rarely, if ever, has such a tragedy proved so successful.”  

The line from the book titled Expletives Deleted pretty much clarifies why the recent State of the Nation address, which tilted towards being a Shakespearean tragedy, has proven successful along certain points of interest, at least, in my observation. 

As the title suggests, the SONA of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. had none of the epic uncouthness which had marked former president Rodrigo Duterte’s SONAs. To me, that has become something of a cause célèbre. The whole performance was well-rehearsed, or seems like it, down to the highly cooked-up cheers and ovations. The fewer than a handful of spills and missteps can easily be dismissed as human error. 

The introductory video and the playing of Pilipinas Kong Mahal, composed by Francisco Santiago in 1931, provided the president a metaphorical spotlight which followed him from the backstage to Congress’ plenary.   

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Deliver his first State of the Nation Address during the joint session of the 19th Congress at the House of Representative, Batasan complex, Quezon City on Monday, July 25, 2022.

One could’ve easily missed the veiled humor in that scene, if you’ve failed to recall another event in Nov. 2018 where Xi Jinping laid a wreath at the monument of José Rizal with the same song playing as backdrop. Imagine that. 

Foreseeable was the fact that Marcos Jr.’s SONA kicked off with a rather extensive unboxing of the Philippine economy. He flung several figures to an eager crowd of lawmakers and dignitaries like they were frisbees: from the 6.5%-to-7.5% growth rate of the gross domestic product to an expected 4.0% inflation by 2024 to 2028.  

The Philippine STAR had earlier reported on a study showing nearly the same forecasts:  

“Meanwhile, inflation is expected to settle close to the upper end of the target in 2023 before decelerating in 2024,’” said Zeno Ronald Abenoja, managing director of the Department of Economic Research of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.  

However, forecasts such as these, when set side by side with the government’s total outstanding debt of P12.76 trillion, peeves like dust in the eyes.

As for agriculture, a department Marcos is keen on leading, nothing has been said that has already been said since his father’s regime, with the possible exception of two things: freeing farmers from the agrarian reform debt burden, and giving war veterans, police and military personnel first dig on the 52,000 hectares of unused agrarian land, among others. 

What has not been said is that anything offered by government by way of subsidy will be shouldered by taxpayers, not the pockets of political figures. “We need a new breed of farmers” was his rallying cry, the kind that is ready and trained to face a world where technology is fast developing and climate change is just about ready to pounce on our food supply.  

However, Marcos’ refusal to address the murders of farmers under Duterte – “274 documented killings of peasants, farmworkers, and fisherfolk related to land dispute cases and agrarian reform advocacy since President Duterte took power in July 2016” according to the Oakland Institute – should give us pause.  

No shot at rehabilitating the Marcos name would be complete without including the world of culture and the arts. This was Imelda Marcos’ holy grail during the martial law years. Her son Bongbong this time took the cup, and said: “We require an institutionalized creative industry that will advance the interest of its stakeholders.” 

Let us park this one here for a second.  

The nature of art, be that literature, theater, music, dance, the visual arts, tells us it must remain free and borderless. To consign artists to the care and protection of an institution, places them oftentimes at the mercy of institutions subsidizing their work, leaving them trapped. I have said this before and I will say it again: any help extended by government institutions to artists must be bereft of anything that would even remotely suggest the artist’s endorsement of the powers that be.  

Don’t get me wrong. I totally grasp the idea of artists having powerful patrons, not the least Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, and even Ludwig van Beethoven. But in today’s world where oft-repeated diktats of powerful personages mar the freedom of the artist, there surely is cause for concern.  

Any speech empty of any discussion on the war on drugs as only Duterte had invoked it may be uplifting. But not within the context of what Marcos had said even prior to the 2022 presidential campaign: to pursue it with the same vigor but different approach. How this will pan out in the years to come is anybody’s guess. 

I think the highlight of the address (putting aside the proposed bills as all this remains to be seen) was Marcos’ pitch on the subject of foreign policy: 

“I will not preside over any process that will abandon even one square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.” These were fighting words. Or were they? 

Duterte’s six-year pivot towards the People’s Republic of China moved with such fainthearted fashion that these words from the younger Marcos merited sighs of relief. That is, until a closer examination of his words proved otherwise.  

How can the state of the nation be sound when Marcos refused to divulge information or raise any discussion on the crumbling state of human rights in the Philippines? 

What does he mean by “I will not preside [emphasis, mine] over any process?”  

He should’ve said, “I will never allow any foreign power to seize even one square inch of the territory belonging to the Republic of the Philippines”. That would’ve been a braver tact.  

He ended with these words: “I know this in my mind, I know it in my heart, I know it in my very soul: The state of the nation is sound.” 

My question: how can the state of the nation be sound when Marcos refused to divulge information or raise any discussion on the crumbling state of human rights in the Philippines? 

Marcos’ silence could either be one of two things: the subject of human rights is irrelevant given the economic and healthcare problems we are facing, or that he wouldn’t dare raise a finger against Duterte, whose “legacy” of crushing due process has courted the eye of the International Criminal Court. 

But the state of the nation is the state of its people. If the recent multiple murder case at the Ateneo wasn’t an indication of how brittle the state of human rights has become, I don’t know what is. 

Multi-sectoral groups march to Tandang Sora, Quezon City during SONA 2022 of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. July 25, 2022.