A SONA for all

The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is always imbued with optimism, lofty goals and aspirations for the nation. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. did not disappoint—he inspired Filipinos with a dream of a better country.

The President unveiled a six-year economic agenda in his first SONA on July 25 with defined targets that can be measured annually. The speech earned the respect of economists, businessmen and ordinary Filipinos, who hope the President will accomplish his noble intentions.

The President needs all the support in his quest to lift more Filipinos out of poverty and generate jobs for the unemployed. His ambition, as spelled out during the 74-minute SONA, should be our national agenda.

It will require the cooperation of everyone to meet these goals and rise above the current challenges, such as the lingering pandemic, natural disasters like the recent Abra earthquake, and high commodity prices triggered by geopolitical tensions and supply chain issues overseas.

I am certain that we will attain these economic targets, as we have highly competent Cabinet officials who can do their job well. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, who heads the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), believes we are on track to becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2024 if we sustain our current growth level.

Neda estimates that our gross national income (GNI) per capita will reach the minimum of $4,250 in 2024, enough to make the Philippines an upper middle-income economy.

While this goal was delayed by about two years amid the pandemic, it is heartening to know that we are regaining our economic momentum, which puts us back to the ranks of rapidly-growing emerging economies. The government expects the GDP this year to expand between 6.5 percent and 7.5 percent, following the 8.3-percent expansion in the first quarter.

The government also wants the economic growth to be more inclusive, which means more Filipinos, especially the poor, should enjoy the benefits of the expanding economy in terms of more high-quality jobs and livelihood opportunities. This is possible if we improve productivity in the agriculture and fishery sector, create more jobs in the manufacturing sector and ensure that inflation stays within target, to prevent the erosion of the purchasing power of the Filipino consumers.

The development of the rural sector is the key to a faster GDP growth. The sector, which employs nearly a third of the labor force, has been lagging behind the services and industry areas for many years. In the first quarter of 2022, for example, the industry sector expanded 10.4 percent year-on-year, while services grew 8.6 percent. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, on the other hand, managed a paltry growth of 0.2 percent.

To address the perennial problem of the agriculture sector, which is highly vulnerable to extreme weather, the President wants to reinvigorate it with the use of modern technology to enable farmers and fishermen to increase their harvests and withstand weather disruptions.

Overall, the government seeks to bring down poverty incidence to a single-digit level by 2028, manage the government budget deficit at a maximum of 3 percent of the gross domestic product and reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio to less than 60 percent by 2025.

These are all measurable goals that can be tracked annually and provide the business sector a sense of direction in terms of what to expect in the years ahead. We hope that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) will also stick to its inflation target of 2 percent to 4 percent in the medium term and manage the volatility of the foreign exchange rate.

I also welcome the President’s pronouncement that the government will avoid imposing another nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19 despite the rising cases in recent days.

“We cannot afford to have another lockdown. We will no longer have lockdowns,” the President said in his SONA.

We support the President’s vision of having a stronger health-care system by establishing more specialist hospitals and health-care centers in the countryside as well as improving the working conditions of doctors and nurses.

The President also wants schools to reopen starting August so that learners will have a chance to make up for the two lost years of proper education. Again, the key to the reopening of in-person classes is the massive vaccination of students, educators and education-related service providers. We hope that the Department of Health will make sure that the vaccine doses purchased by the government and the private sector will be fully utilized for the protection of the qualified recipients.

To finance government socioeconomic programs and manage the public budget, the President underscored the need to modernize tax administration to capture the contribution of the growing digital economy and find the right size of the bureaucracy for its most efficient operations.

Last but not the least, President Marcos vowed to sustain the infrastructure projects started by the Duterte administration, including airports and railways. This means government funds will be spent on concrete projects that will benefit present and future generations in terms of improved quality of living. Infrastructure spending will draw the attention of foreign investors, who are looking for modern cities with thriving workforce.

The President’s focus on the economy in his first SONA signals that he will roll up his sleeves to get his job of nation building done, and enable the Philippines to move, in his own words, at “full speed ahead.”

For comments, send e-mail to mbv_secretariat@vistaland.com.ph or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph