President Bongbong Marcos Jr., shook the hands of those in the gallery of the Batasang Pambansa after delivering his State of the Nation Address. (Photo from Bongbong Marcos Official Facebook.)

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s 85-minute state of the nation address (SONA) started yesterday by revisiting the plans he presented a year ago, which are aimed to enhance the country’s economy, generate job opportunities for Filipinos, simplify business processes, reform the educational system, reduce and rationalize energy expenses, improve healthcare, and promote agricultural growth, among other goals.

President Marcos stated that after a year in office, his administration can point to a number of accomplishments and challenges that the Filipino people continue to face.

He highlighted that inflation emerged as the most significant economic challenge confronting the Philippines, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic’s peak. However, it is essential to note that the country was not alone in facing difficulties; the global economy also grappled with the impact of both COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine.

Many nations worldwide experienced the ripple effects of these events, further complicating economic conditions and adding to the complexities of recovery.

“Pinalala pa ito nang pagbabawas ng produksyon ng mga bansang pinagkukuhanan natin ng langis. Nang tumaas ang presyo nito, nagsunuran na rin ang presyo ng iba’t ibang bilihin,” he said. “Sinuri nating mabuti ang sitwasyon — sa tulong ng mga ekonomista nakapagbalangkas tayo ng mga polisiya na magsisilbing pundasyon ng ating ekonomiya sa mga susunod na taon.”

According to the President, the Medium-Term Fiscal Framework, which received support from Congress, includes provisions for empowering different sectors of the economy through the implementation of various strategies.

Economic growth
In spite of the unfavorable global situation, President Marcos emphasized that the Philippine economy accomplished a growth rate of 7.6 percent in 2022, marking the highest in 46 years. The first quarter of this year also recorded a growth of 6.4 percent, which, according to him, stays on track within the targeted 6.7 percent.

He said the Philippines remains one of the “fastest growing economies” in Asia and in the world, which is a testament to “our strong macro-economic fundamentals.”

The President said the country’s financial system, which serves as the core of its economy, remains resilient and steady. He said banks have strong capital and liquidity positions, and the easing of pandemic restrictions has further boosted transactions, including the flourishing of e-commerce activities.

“The digital economy contributed 2 trillion pesos, the equivalent of 9.4 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP),” he said, which indicates that the economy has been rejuvenated.

He said the World Bank has forecasted a six percent overall growth rate for this year, aligning well with the target set by his administration. The foundation of this growth is rooted in increasing local demand, consumer spending, and supported by the robust BPO industry, steady remittance flow, and ongoing job market recovery.

“What this means is that despite all the difficulties, we are transforming the economy. We are stabilizing the prices of all critical commodities. According to the Bangko Sentral, inflation is expected to ease further by the close of the year, and projected a 2.9 percent by 2024,” he said.

He emphasized the significant contribution of the Malampaya project to the nation, describing it as a beneficial factor that energizes a considerable portion of Luzon’s power supply.

“The Malampaya project has been a boon to our country, energizing 20 percent of Luzon. The renewal of the contract guarantees continued revenues and energy production for another 15 years,” he said.

Apart from the Malampaya project, PBBM also expressed his commitment to promote gas exploration in other regions of the Philippines to bolster energy production further and reduce dependence on other sources, ensuring the nation’s long-term energy security.

Since May, major parts of Luzon have been experiencing blackouts and power outages due to increased electricity demands and some power plants tripping off.

The Malampaya gas project has been a crucial asset in the country, providing clean natural gas to five power plants: the 1,200-megawatt Sta. Rita power plant, the 500-MW San Lorenzo power plant, the 1,200-MW Ilijan power plant, the 414-MW San Gabriel power plant, and the 97-MW Avion power plant, which supply a substantial portion of Luzon’s total power requirements.

Since its discovery in 1989 and operational debut in 2001, it has become a vital contributor to the country’s energy security.

The initial license for the Malampaya project was scheduled to expire in February 2024, making the timely renewal of the contract last May a pivotal moment for energy stability.

Marcos said that sustainable communities would never be complete without action to mitigate the effects of climate change.

He said the economic agenda would not ever be incompatible without a climate change agenda.

“Climate change is now an important criterion in our national policies in planning, decision-making, up to the implementation of programs. The potential advantages of such policies extend the jobs and livelihood with the unlocking of the development of the green and blue economies. We have learned many lessons from past disasters,” Marcos said.

He said the administration had reorganized the response team to be more adaptable, adjunct, and effective in times of calamity and crisis.

“We remain committed to global decarbonization goals and the reduction of our carbon footprints. We preserve and protect the treasure that is our force; their value to the environment, to the ecology, and economy, is incalculable,” Marcos said.

He said that the government had adopted the concept of the “circular economy” using nature as a model.

Although Marcos did not mention anything about corruption in government, he would urge Congress to enact a new procurement law and a new government auditing code.

“Collaboration is the key between and among government offices, and between government and the private sector, between industries and the academe, between government and international partners, and most importantly, collaboration between and among our populace,” Marcos said.

He said that to become more effective and truly transformative, there must be cooperation between the three branches of government and the independent constitutional bodies.

“We have organized a private sector advisory council and national, local mechanisms to establish needed linkages. Once again, on this same principle, I urge the government to enact a New Government Procurement law and New Government Auditing Code,” Marcos said.

He said that he wanted to make government procurement and auditing more attuned to the changing times.

“We will give effect to the mandate of the Constitution and the Local Government Code as clarified by the Supreme Court very soon. Almost all the required transition plans of the LGUs are done to fully prepare them for optimum devolution. The necessary technical and financial assistance is being extended to our local governments,” Marcos said.

Marawi siege
Marcos said Marawi city would soon recover after five years of the Marawi siege.

“We are proud of the progress that the BARMM has taken. We will include the self-governing. It will be progressive. And it will be effective. But this was only made possible because of the cooperation of all key groups. We talked to the local governments, the royal families, the MNLF, the MILF, were all consulted and represented in this transition phase. The international community has also supported us in this smooth transition. Former adversaries are now partners in peace,” Marcos said.

Illegal drugs problem
To curb the illegal drugs problem, Marcos said that last year, they launched the “Buhay Ingatan, Droga’y Ayawan” or BIDA program and established 102 Balay Silangan reformation centers nationwide.

“We will relentlessly continue our fight against drug syndicates, shutting down their illegal activities and dismantling their network of operations.

“Unscrupulous law enforcers and others involved in the highly nefarious drug trade have been exposed. I will be accepting their resignations.

“In their stead, we will install individuals with unquestionable integrity, and who will be effective and trustworthy in handling the task of eliminating this dreaded and corrosive social curse. We cannot tolerate corruption or incompetence in government,” Marcos said.

On counter-insurgency, Marcos said that for almost half a century, some fellow Filipinos had taken up arms to make their views known and felt.

“We are now at the point in our history when their armed struggle has evolved. We are now progressing together towards peace and development,” Marcos said.

He said that incorporated capacity building and social protection into reintegration programs to guarantee full decommissioning of former combatants to community development and livelihood programs have been effective in addressing the root cause of conflict in the countryside.

“To complete this reintegration process, I will issue a Proclamation granting amnesty to rebel returnees and I ask Congress to support me in this endeavor,” Marcos said.

West Philippine Sea
On the issue of the West Philippine Sea, Marcos did not tackle it in his SONA as it is sensitive to the neighboring nations, but he stated that the country will protect its sovereign rights and preserve its territorial integrity.

“Our journey to progress requires not only unity and social cohesion among our people. It is also imperative that our nation remains intact and inviolable, our sovereignty preserved. We will protect our sovereign rights and preserve our territorial integrity, in defense of a rules-based international order. With our national interest paramount, we will always pursue constant dialogue and diplomatic approaches to the resolution of any issue that may arise,” he said.