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Marcos Jr.’s First SONA: Expectation vs. Reality

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jul 20, 2022 4:57 pm

“Let me now resume the recounting of the woeful state of our nation.”  

The nation’s report card in January 24, 1966, the day former president Ferdinand E. Marcos swung his breakthrough State of the Nation Address at the Legislative Building, was anything but reassuring. The President preached before the legislature a mere 25 days after his inaugural on Dec. 30, 1965 as the 10th President of the Republic. 

The message was a mesh of figures that told of a downward spiral. Think of a household in the 1960s whose vegetable garden had already shriveled, loans accruing to P1,018.1 million, with a large sum coming from the International Monetary Fund, and where “the crime clock indicates murder and homicide every hour; theft every 30 minutes; robbery every hour; sexual offense, estafa, and falsification every two hours.” It had all the accoutrements of a Netflix dystopian documentary minus the Kettle Korn. 

Reading between the lines, the household’s former occupant, erstwhile president Diosdado Macapagal, father to former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, seemed to have failed in proving his worth as an economic manager.   

The surrounding neighborhood wasn’t much to look at either. Threats coming from conflict zones such as South Vietnam and Malaysia had tested the readiness of the Philippine military to face the odds of another clash, to say nothing of internal tensions – and smuggling – to brighten up everyone’s idle breakfast of Nutribun.  

If you recall, the 1960s – dubbed by Quijano de Manila as the “Seething ‘60s,” weren’t all free love, nudist rock concerts, and flower power. Unrest marred our streets, hunger our back alleys and farmlands.  

Quijano de Manila summed up the state of the peasant in these words: “A peso in the hands of a peasant is only a hundred centavos; in the hands of a potential Rockefeller, it’s a wealth-producing wand, the wand of a wizard.” 

The economic playing field was as unevenly sandy as Manila Bay’s dolomite beach. The values people back then attributed to wealth depended not only on skill, but a character flaw on both sides of the poverty divide.  

Marcos Sr.’s first step in mounting an economic offensive? By bolstering agriculture.  

A man unloads sacks of rice at Dagupan St., Tondo, Manila. July 16, 2022.

“Self-sufficiency in the production of food, especially rice, must be attained in the shortest possible time. We must also improve and diversify our production of export crops so that we can develop Philippine agriculture into a reliable earner of foreign exchange,” Marcos Sr. said. 

As a tactic, you’d think it was an idea whose time has come. And why not? Practicality requires that for a people to be robust, possessed with a strong sense of self-sufficiency, food security trumps all other must-haves.  

We see Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. echoing his father’s strategy at the start of his career as the 17th President by heading the agricultural department – for now. I’m almost certain this issue would take more than a meager share of his coming State of the Nation Address set on July 25, 2022. 

In his first SONA in 1966, Marcos the Older found fault in having to accrue too many loans, a blotch in economic management which he himself fell into during the course of close to two decades of martial law.  

No debt-driven economy has ever survived the cold cruelty of capitalist greed: think Sri Lanka. I would presume that the P12-point-something-trillion loans of the Rodrigo Duterte regime are giving the younger Marcos gastrointestinal sleepless nights, enough to include it in his first SONA.  

Commuters endure long lines as they queue for the "Libreng Sakay" program. July 18, 2022.

Lately, it was proposed that inflicting additional taxes on an already careworn public is the best strategy to pay off such an obscene amount of debt. Fiscal reforms of such nature do not bode well for a nation already besieged by corruption and inflation. 

Marcos Sr. himself proposed the same as a way to claim “nobility” or “greatness”. I find his statement an attempt at dark comedy all because no man would ever think of drowning as noble or great. 

Roughly 56 years after Ferdinand E. Marcos delivered his first SONA, would his son be any different? Or will July 25 be another bad sequel, as sequels are wont to go? We’ll soon find out.

Will Marcos the Younger conduct an investigation into these loans? Will justice be served in this arena? Perhaps, give the issue some tolerable, if not altogether acceptable closure?

While Marcos Sr. gave healthcare a little more than a passing glance in his first SONA, I believe it would be wise for the younger Marcos to give the issue all he’s got in his address. New COVID-19 variants are again wreaking havoc elsewhere, with infection rates running the gamut of media mileage. Marcos Jr. himself has been infected twice, which should be more than enough reason for him to know the score. 

Members of the Manila Police District remind citizens to wear face masks and observe anti-COVID-19 health protocols. June 16, 2022.

I am concerned that Marcos Jr. might dedicate a considerable portion of his address to continuing the drug war. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency urged him as much, and this the agency probably based on a statement made by Marcos in 2021, albeit focusing, allegedly, on prevention.

Problem with the State lexicon is that one is hard-pressed to define certain words according to the interpretation of the State. For Duterte’s Oplan Double-Barrel, “prevention” clearly means extermination at all costs and by whatever means.

All across several administrations, there had been no shortage of State hysteria over what is deemed the state of the nation – the “nation” being the State, not its people. Even a cursory reading of all SONAs all across the decades will reveal very little as to how people feel based on current economic and sociopolitical deficits, almost refusing to make it a human problem. 

A tarpaulin bearing the words "Tara Na Magkaisa Para Sa Bayan" is seen attached on an overpass along Commonwealth Quezon City. July 15, 2022.

But as the late great Quijano de Manila said, “[A] nation is not its politics or economics. A nation is its people. And a nation changes only when the people change.” 

Problem is, Marcos Jr. never stood in the same breadline as the people. Would he even think of living outside his father’s shadow?  

Roughly 56 years after Ferdinand E. Marcos delivered his first SONA, would his son be any different? Or will July 25 be another bad sequel, as sequels are wont to go? We’ll soon find out.