July 31, 2023
MANILA – It is the unfortunate burden of Philippine presidents to be scored by their critics for their State of the Nation Address (Sona) year after year.
Sometimes, the naysayers find fault with these annual policy speeches for being peppered with motherhood statements, but sometimes for having too much minutiae that is better left to government subalterns.
Sometimes, the Chief Executive’s report to Congress is said to be full of flowery rhetoric or fiery speech, but sometimes they are panned for being too drab and clinical.
Discounting the praise from President Marcos’ political allies and his officials, last Monday’s Sona is no different, as it harvested a slew of commentaries from talking heads on media lamenting how it failed to capture the “true” state of the nation or for being boring and devoid of drama and inspiring oratory.
It is tempting to draw inevitable comparisons between Marcos Jr.’s nondescript style of public speaking with the stirring declamation of Marcos Sr. that often moved the audience to rapturous, rather than polite, applause. But it is more important to focus on the substance of the former’s speech rather than nostalgia for the latter’s delivery.
It is essential that everyone who has a stake in a better Philippines focus on the doable promises that the President made—commitments that can be executed with immediate effect—rather than on pie-in-the-sky goals that will only see fruition long after his administration has given way to the next one.
And, in this regard, it is of little surprise that Mr. Marcos’ policy statement that elicited some of the loudest applause and cheers is his promise to crack down on smuggling and hoarding which have added to the everyday burdens of Filipinos by increasing the prices of basic goods, especially food, at a time when everyone is still struggling with the aftereffects of the pandemic.
“It’s not just the farmers who get in trouble, but also us consumers,” he said. “So we will not allow this trend. The days of these smugglers and hoarders are numbered.”
This is an important statement to underscore his commitment to alleviating the plight of both ends of the production-to-consumption spectrum—farmers and consumers—who are earning less and paying more, respectively, while middlemen rake in unconscionable profits.
It is an important reminder to all people in government involved in combating this affliction—the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies—to build up and prosecute economic sabotage cases against the parties behind these schemes.
And it is an important reminder to businessmen to moderate their propensity for making profits at the expense of less fortunate Filipinos.
In theory, Mr. Marcos’ promise is easy to implement. But in practice, it will, for certain, encounter pushback from well-entrenched interests that include unscrupulous businessmen, their protectors in government, and corruptible law enforcers. Thus, it will be a crucial test of the President’s political will which has the potential to define whether his other orders will be followed fervently or unenthusiastically in the future.
As the President has made improving the Philippines’ food security a cornerstone of his economic policy, it behooves all members of his administration to redouble their efforts to help improve the agricultural sector in the country as well as make the national food distribution system more efficient.
To this end, it would be good for Mr. Marcos to end the untenable situation of running the Department of Agriculture himself while attending to other big-picture matters of state that require his utmost attention.
It cannot be emphasized enough that the country needs a full-time secretary of agriculture with technical know-how and tactical expertise to maneuver deftly within the complicated workings of the industry. The country needs a full-time president with vision and strategic thinking to maneuver deftly within the complicated power structures of the country that obstruct reform. Mr. Marcos should concentrate on the latter.
As we said earlier, there are many who feel the President’s first year in office is “not bad,” and last Monday, Mr. Marcos dedicated a substantial portion of his speech to confirming just that, laying down hard facts and numbers to show that the government is working, his administration is delivering, and that Filipinos’ lives are improving.
But the Philippines faces significant issues in many areas, with many internal problems to surmount and many external challenges to face. To do so successfully requires the President, his administration, and Congress to raise their game to the next level. The government must work harder to solve the old problems before a new Philippines becomes a reality.
“Not bad” is simply not good enough.