Rjay Zuriaga Castor

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. concluded his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, stating that he believes the nation is in a sound state and showing signs of improvement. Notably, he added the term "improving" to his speech after the first year of his six-year term in office. 

Photo Courtesy of RTVMalacanang/Youtube/Bongbong Marcos/Facebook

“I know that the state of the nation is sound, and is improving. Dumating na po ang Bagong Pilipinas,” he ended.

Marcos started his speech by speaking about inflation — which according to him, is the “biggest problem” that confronted him as he led the country to a post-pandemic economic recovery.

Citing his administration’s Medium-Term Fiscal Framework and various economic approaches, he proudly announced that the country’s economy achieved a remarkable 7.6 percent growth in 2022, marking the highest growth rate since 1976. He continued that the economy maintained its positive trajectory in the first quarter of the current year, with a growth rate of 6.4 percent, which remained within the government’s target of 6 to 7 percent for 2023.

“Sa mga nakalipas na buwan, nakita natin ang pagbaba ng presyo ng bilihin sa iba’t ibang mga sektor,” the President shared.

Marcos said, “inflation rate is moving in the right direction.” Based on the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, inflation stood at 8.7 percent in January 2023, then slightly eased to 8.6 percent in February, and continuously slowed for the fourth consecutive month, reaching 5.4 percent in June.

Despite easing inflation, prices are still rising quite sharply. In June this year, the PSA reported that the retail prices of rice in Metro Manila have jacked up by about P2 per kilogram. This increase is attributed to the higher production costs faced by farmers.  

Based on the Department of Agriculture’s (DA’s) price monitoring, locally-produced rice is sold at P34 to P60 per kilogram. In contrast, it was sold for P38 to P50 per kilogram a year ago.

During the second phase of June 2023 (June 15 to 17), prices of red onions also saw an increase of P0.13 to P25 per kilogram in six trading centers compared to the price levels in the first phase of the same month.

The average retail prices of vegetables, including carrots and tomatoes, have also increased in most trading centers with up to P12 and P20 per kilogram, respectively.

Since the beginning of 2023, the Department of Energy (DOE) has also monitored that as of June 20, there have been price hikes per liter for different fuels — with gasoline experiencing an increase of P6.35, diesel rising by P4.05, and kerosene also going up by P6.35.

Economic think tank IBON foundation said minimum wages nationwide are below poverty wages. In June 2023, the monthly minimum wage across all regions averaged P8,902, far below the monthly poverty threshold of P12,030 and way short of the P23,260 monthly family living wage for June 2023.

Marcos also boasted the continuous rise in the country's employment rate, reaching 95.3 percent or 48.58 million individuals employed in March 2023. 

“[A] clear proof of the improvement from the severe unemployment that we experienced during the height of the pandemic,” he remarked. 

However, the Department of Health (DOH) noted a need for more physicians and nurses in the country. To meet the demand, the Philippines needs a minimum of 178,000 nurses and 114,000 physicians.

Healthcare workers are also urging the government to increase the entry salary for Salary Grade 1 public health employees to P33,000 and raise the minimum pay for private health workers to P1,100 per day. 

Currently, workers in private hospitals earn around P12,000 per month, while those in government-run institutions receive Salary Grade 15, which is slightly over P35,000. Pay is generally lower in areas outside Metro Manila.

At least 58 bills seeking a substantial wage hike for both public and private workers are also pending in both chambers of Congress. 

Preliminary results of the PSA Labor Force Survey (LFS) showed that the proportion of unpaid work is increasing. The PSA defines an unpaid family worker as someone who works without pay in their family-operated farm or business but lives with another family member in the same household. Non-cash incentives like room and board are not considered compensation for this worker category.

In March 2023, the PSA reported that of the 4.324 million workers who worked without pay in their family-operated farm or business, approximately 2.72 million were women, and 1.61 million were men. This figure increased by 424,000 compared to March 2022, indicating a concerning trend of unpaid work.

Marcos also left out several pressing issues of the country in the bin, including human rights, corruption, and wage increase.

Although he mentioned that the campaign against illegal drugs would continue with a different approach from his predecessor, Marcos did not discuss the country's human rights situation. 

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has recently decided to proceed with a preliminary investigation into the country’s drug war, despite the government's appeal against the resumption of the court's probe into the killings.

He also did not specifically talk about the maritime tensions with China in the West Philippine Sea. But was only firm on the country’s independent foreign policy — “a friend to all and enemy of none.”

Marcos passed over the details of his measures to battle corruption in the government. He only stressed that the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund will be “guided by principles of transparency and accountability” and “absent [of] any political influence.” 

Concerns were raised by lawmakers and progressive groups about the proposed investment fund using pension funds, potentially jeopardizing retirement plans. The funding for the P500-billion investment fund would come from various sources, including the Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines, dividends from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and share earnings from the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp.

Marcos also failed to take some hint on the push for the institutionalization of a national minimum wage.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri has expressed determination to pursue a P150 wage hike through legislation. 

A recent Pulse Asia survey showed 44 percent of Filipinos considered it the second most urgent national concern after controlling inflation.