By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

Coming into the halls of the Plenary Session Hall of the Batasang Pambansa Complex armed with figures and statistics, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) devoted his one hour and 14 minutes tackling his administration’s plans, promises, and priorities on the country’s economy, pandemic response, agriculture, education, and food security. 

Photo Courtesy of GMA News / / Philippine News Agency

Opening his spiel with the economy’s recovery plan, the chief executive forefront his administration's “sound fiscal management” and tax administration reforms to increase revenue collections in the midst of a protracted fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Inheriting a wider budget deficit and ballooning debts from his predecessor, Marcos also vowed to realign the country’s expenditure priorities, improve its spending efficiency, and promote productivity-enhancing investments. 

Capitalizing on the CREATE Law and the economic liberalization laws such as the Public Service Act and the Foreign Investments Act, the Marcos administration hopes to put the country into the pedestal of becoming “an investment destination”. 

To cope with the rapid developments of the digital economy, the president also underscored the adjustment in the tax system through an imposed value-added tax (VAT) on digital service providers, which he argued to bring an initial revenue impact of around P11.7 billion in 2023 alone. 

Marcos further posed a promise on simplifying tax compliance procedures and to pursue actions that will identify the possible undervaluation and trade misinvoicing in imported goods.

Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFF) 

To attain short-term macro-fiscal stability and promote medium-term fiscal sustainability while the country is on its way to economic recovery, Marcos highlighted his administration's medium-term fiscal plan that is currently pitched for confirmation of the two chambers of Congress. 

Under MTFF, the Marcos administration forecasts to achieve a 6.5% to 7.5% economic growth this year and a 6.5% to 8% real gross domestic product (GDP) growth annually between 2023 to 2028; a 9% or single-digit poverty rate by 2028; 3% National Government deficit to GDP ratio by 2028; a reduced national government debt-to-GDP ratio to less than 60% by 2025; and Filipinos in an upper middle-income status by 2024. 

Though the country’s economic growth momentum remains firm as shown in the 8.3% GDP growth of the first quarter in 2022, the chief executive admitted that the “recovery process from the impact of the pandemic is still on-going amid elevated uncertainty in the international economic environment”, which he posited has reeling effects on the country’s inflation rate, foreign exchange rate, and goods and services imports growth. 

Agrarian reform, assistance to agri sector

The president believes that the agricultural sector is the major driver for the country’s employment and economic growth, which he vowed to address through financial assistance, increasing its production by strengthening the value chain between producers and consumers. 

“Ipaprayoridad natin ang modernisasyon ng mga sakahan sa pamamagitan ng mga makabagong teknolohiya para sa ating mga magsasaka. Ating palalawakin ang mga palaisdaan, babuyan at manukan. Lahat ng ito, gagamitan ng siyensya para tumaas ang produksyong agrikultural,” Marcos added. 

Marcos also remarked that the agrarian reform must continue, saying it “is not only about acquisition, but also about support services and distribution.” 

In fact, Marcos also mentioned his intention to issue an executive order to impose a one-year moratorium on the payment of land amortization and interest payments as provided under the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. 

“A moratorium will give the farmers the ability to channel their resources in developing their farms, maximizing their capacity to produce, and propel the growth of our economy,” he noted.

Marcos also urged the Congress to amend Section 26 of Republic Act 6657, or pass a law that will condone the unpaid amortization and interest of agrarian reform beneficiaries. 

“The condonation of the existing agrarian reform loan will cover the amount of 58.125 billion pesos benefiting 654,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries and involving a total of 1.18 million hectares of awarded lands,” Marcos said. 

No more lockdowns

While he admitted that the COVID-19 is still lurking around, Marcos stresses that Filipinos can no longer endure another lockdown, which he promised will no longer be imposed under his administration. 

“[Hindi] na natin kakayanin ang isa pang lockdown. Wala na tayong gagawing lockdown,” he reiterated. 

Marcos said the government is closely monitoring the COVID-19 hospital admission and in its heightened approach in the vaccination rollout. 

“Sa ganitong paraan, kahit pa tumaas muli ang bilang ng mga COVID cases, mananatiling mababa ang bilang ng mga maospital at bilang ng mga namamatay. Sa pamamagitan nito, unti-unti rin tayong masasanay na nariyan ang virus pero hindi na seryoso ang banta sa ating buhay,” he reckoned. 

Aside from putting more health centers and hospitals, Marcos also revealed that his administration plans to establish the country’s own Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as a vaccine institute — which were also proposed in the time of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

The president furthered that he will set up clinics and rural health units where doctors, nurses, midwives, and medical technologists could visit once or twice a week to make it easier for sick people to get treatment without having to travel far. 

“One of the cornerstones of a strong healthcare system is the provision of competent and efficient medical professionals. We will exert all efforts to improve the welfare of our doctors, our nurses, and other medical frontliners,” he said.

About time for full in-person classes

From its two years of distance learning, the country’s chief executive argued that “it is time for our children to return to full face-to-face classes once again.” 

Marcos said Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte is considering several risks and factors ahead of the resumption of face-to-face classes for all schools on November 2.

“We must ensure that our classrooms are safe for teachers, for students, and the entire academic community when they return to face-to-face classes,” he said.

Marcos also highlighted the importance of getting a booster shot, which he mentioned that he directed the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to undertake another rollout. 

Aside from the administration’s commitment to full in-person learning in the upcoming school year, Marcos said “the condition and availability of school rooms for our students must also be addressed again”. 

While amidst talks to abolish the K to 12 program, the president quipped that the government is “giving this a careful review, and all necessary inputs and points of view are now being considered.”

Moreover, the chief executive stressed the “horror stories” on the poor quality of educational materials and supplies must end, adding that Filipino children “must always be equipped with the best that we can provide.”

‘Build better more’

Noting the infrastructure system as the "backbone of an economy”, Marcos promised to “keep the momentum” and to “build better more” from the Duterte-era Build Build Build Program.

“The infrastructure program of the Duterte administration must not only continue but, wherever possible, be expanded. We shall confidently build on this firm foundation established by my predecessor. As it is in building an edifice,” the chief executive said. 

Marcos also quipped that “infrastructure development will remain a very high priority” as it is “a necessary element to improve many other sectors — to include agriculture, tourism, general economic activity, and even to governance.” 

He noted, however, that it would only be possible if the private sector participates in the development of the government’s programs. According to him, the presence of public private partnerships or PPPs hold great potential for infrastructure development and for innovation.

While citing the development of the rail transport system as a missed opportunity, Marcos also vowed to rebuild and modernize the old railway systems.

“It is clear in my mind that railways offer great potential as it continues to be the cheapest way of transporting goods and passengers,” he noted. 

Marcos also mentioned his plans to improve the roads and transportation systems in key cities throughout the country through various projects such as the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit, Davao High Priority Bus System, Ilocos Norte Transportation Hub, and the El Nido Transport Terminal, which he has directed the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to have a “full speed” approach. 

Marcos’ priority bills

As he spoke before lawmakers at the plenary of the House of Representatives, the country’s chief executive enumerated his administration’s priority bills, expressing his hope that the supermajorities of the 19th Congress would heed his call to pass at least 19 of his priority measures. 

Here is the list of Marcos’ priority bills:
  1. National Government Rightsizing Program (NGRP)
  2. Budget Modernization Bill
  3. Tax Package 3: Valuation Reform Bill
  4. Tax Package 4: Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (PIFITA)
  5. E-Government Act
  6. Internet Transaction Act or E-Commerce Law
  7. Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE)
  8. Medical Reserve Corps
  9. National Disease Prevention Management Authority
  10. Creation of the Virology Institute of the Philippines
  11. Department of Water Resources
  12. Unified System of Separation, Retirement and Pension
  13. E-Governance Act
  14. National Land Use Act
  15. National Defense Act
  16. Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and National Service Training Program (NSTP)
  17. Enactment of an Enabling Law for the Natural Gas Industry
  18. Amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or EPIRA (Republic Act No. 9136)
  19. Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law

In the last minutes of his first SONA, Marcos admitted that the country is facing a difficult time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he, however, expressed optimism that the country can withstand its problems as his administration assembled “the best Filipino minds to help navigate us through this time of global crisis.” 

“I do not intend to diminish the risks and the challenges that we face in this turbulent time in global history, and yet, I see sunlight filtering through these dark clouds… We will endure. Let our Filipino spirit ever remain undimmed,” Marcos said. 

“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,” he concluded.