‘The state of the nation is sound’

After every presidential election, no schedule in the new president’s political calendar is more anticipated than the first State of the Nation Address. The SONA is a constitutional obligation, required by Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution: “The President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”

For President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., his first SONA yesterday gave him an opportunity to announce to the nation the administration’s recovery program “to address economic scarring brought about by the pandemic,” including 19 priority legislative measures that he urged Congress to pass.

At least 1,300 guests were invited to hear the President’s first SONA at the newly renovated Batasang Pambansa. The speech, which lasted more than an hour, was interrupted 70 times by applause and two standing ovations—when he declared “no more lockdowns” and “I will not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.”

Talking in English when discussing economic and investment programs, the President spelled out policy items, such as the need to level up energy production, universal connectivity across the country’s 7,600 islands, and giving high priority to infrastructure projects through Private-Public Partnerships, among others.

When he wanted to address ordinary Filipinos, including the OFWs, Mr. Marcos used Filipino. He vowed to help farmers by modernizing agriculture and providing inputs and loans.

Like his predecessor, President Marcos is charting an independent foreign policy. “With respect to our place in the community of nations, the Philippines shall continue to be a friend to all. And an enemy to none,” he said. “We will be a good neighbor—always looking for ways to collaborate and cooperate with the end goal of mutually beneficial outcomes.”

Mr. Marcos pushed for the passage of bills that would help improve government services. The proposed National Government Rightsizing Program (NGRP) seeks to enhance the government’s institutional capacity to perform its mandate and provide better services, while ensuring optimal and efficient use of resources.

His proposed Budget Modernization measure will institutionalize the Cash-based Budgeting System, explaining that this would ensure that every peso budgeted by the government would lead to the actual delivery of programs and projects. “The full implementation of the CBS is timely and vital as the government executes response and recovery plans post-pandemic,” the President said.

Other legislative proposals include the creation of the Virology Institute of the Philippines and the Department of Water Resources. The creation of the Medical Reserve Corps and the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control, which will be attached to the Department of Health.

On tax reform, he asked lawmakers to pass the Tax Package 3: Valuation Reform Bill and the Tax Package 4: Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act. The Valuation Reform bill seeks to establish real property values and valuation standards across the country, as well as the development of Real Property Information System that provides for the database of all real property transactions and declarations in the country. The proposed PIFITA, on the other hand, aims to introduce reforms to the taxation of capital income and financial services by redesigning the financial sector taxation into “simpler, fairer, more efficient and a revenue neutral tax system.”

Other proposed measures include the Internet Transaction Act or E-Commerce Law, as well as the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery. The E-Commerce Law aims to establish an effective regulation of commercial activities through the Internet or electronic means. The GUIDE bill, on the other hand, seeks to provide financial assistance to distressed MSMEs critical to economic recovery through programs and initiatives that will be implemented by the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines and Philippine Guarantee Corp.

The President acknowledged that Filipinos have been struggling for two years under the pandemic. But he painted an optimistic portrait of life for Filipinos after the pandemic. Mr. Marcos ended his speech on a positive note: “We will endure. Let the Filipino spirit remain undimmed. The state of the nation is sound.”