Joemar Yubokmee

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the late dictator's son, continued his infamous ways of dodging essential issues in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Cartoon by Maurice Gimena

Although the President mentioned the current state and his plans for reviving the economy, agriculture, health, infrastructure, education, and even his foreign policy, he deliberately ignored some essential and relevant points that many of us deserved to hear. Here are they:

LGBTQ+ Rights and SOGIE Bill         

Despite pronouncements of support for gender equality, the PresidentPresident decided to be mum on his stance on protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) for the second straight year.

The SOGIE Bill has languished in Congress for more than two decades, leaving gender minorities subjected to prejudice and discrimination in the workplace, schools, and even in their homes.

The PresidentPresident could not envision a 'bagong Pilipinas' without considering the plight of the LGBTQ+ sector. This new Philippines could not provide quality, equitable, and complete basic education without addressing the cases of bullying and harassment against students who do not identify with their biological sex. The new Philippines could not have a healthy workforce and build up on human capital as long as gender minorities continue to fight off generations worth of prejudice and harassment for simply being who they are.

Acknowledging the intersectionality of the hardships faced by the LGBTQ+ community and the country's dilemmas in the education and labor sector is paramount.  Only then could the government cater to the specific needs and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in education and the labor market with regard to the existing disparities and discrimination based not only on gender and sexuality but also race, social status,  and other factors. Recognizing intersectionality allows for a more accurate assessment of these disparities and facilitates efforts to reduce and eliminate them.

PUV Modernization Program

The controversial PUV Modernization Program and the subsequent phase-outing of traditional jeepneys were not tackled by the President in his second SONA. Although he mentioned the 8.3-trillion peso 'Build Better More' project, which includes physical connectivity infrastructure – such as roads, bridges, seaports, airports, and mass transport, the dictator's son did not give time to the thousands of affected jeepney drivers.

Numerous transport groups have already signified that they are not opposed to PUV modernization. Still, they claimed that the country is not prepared to modernize traditional jeepneys due to the high price of foreign buses that are used as their replacements and which operators cannot afford because they cost 2-3 million pesos. 

The exclusion of the PUV Modernization Program from the President's SONA has left numerous affected jeepney drivers and operators feeling unheard and marginalized. While the aim of modernizing the country's public transportation system is essential, it must be carried out with careful consideration of the livelihoods of those directly affected. 

A successful transportation sector is not merely about the infrastructure but also about inclusive development that takes into consideration the welfare of traditional jeepney drivers. While building and upgrading physical connectivity infrastructures are essential for a modern and efficient transportation system, it is equally important to address the livelihood and well-being of PUV drivers, who play a crucial role in providing public transportation services. 

Inclusive development should encompass policies that ensure fair compensation, social protection, and opportunities for skill development and transition to modernized vehicles, particularly for traditional jeepney drivers facing financial constraints and challenges during the modernization process. By recognizing and supporting the needs of PUV drivers, the transportation sector can foster a more equitable and sustainable ecosystem that benefits both commuters and the drivers who serve them. It is crucial for the government to engage in meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders and provide appropriate support and solutions to ensure a more inclusive and sustainable modernization process.

Upholding Constitutional Rights 

Marcos's brief mention of his support for the judiciary's efforts to improve the justice system and protect constitutional rights seems hollow and insincere in light of the glaring human rights violations committed by his own family and political allies. His eerie silence regarding these issues speaks volumes about his lack of accountability and willingness to confront the injustices perpetrated by those close to him. The deafening silence from Marcos in the face of ceaseless attacks against press freedom and the unjustified barrage of libel cases against journalists further erodes any credibility he may claim in defending constitutional rights.

Moreover, his lack of response to the plight of political prisoners and developmental workers wrongly labeled and red-tagged as enemies of the state, suffering in prisons under trumped-up charges, highlights a stark contrast between his words and actions. It is difficult to take his claims of supporting the justice system seriously when his administration and allies have repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for due process and the rights of individuals.

Marcos' administration's role in reducing the independence of the judiciary is deeply troubling. The unconstitutional removal of a sitting chief justice, the weaponization of the judiciary to silence journalists through libel charges, and the illegal detention of a senator based on fabricated and recanted testimonies all undermine the very principles of justice and constitutional rights that he claims to support.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s second SONA can be characterized as another failed report on the true state of the nation. While he touched on various economic, agricultural, health, infrastructure, education, and foreign policy topics, he deliberately ignored significant issues that deserved attention.

The omission of crucial matters, such as LGBTQ+ rights and the SOGIE Bill, the PUV Modernization Program and its impact on jeepney drivers, and the blatant violations of constitutional rights by his administration and allies raises serious concerns about the sincerity and commitment to justice and inclusivity. Actual progress can only be achieved by addressing the intersectionality of hardships faced by marginalized communities and upholding constitutional rights for all citizens, without which any claim of a "Bagong Pilipinas" or the new Philippines remains hollow and unfulfilled.