But nothing on drug-lords and Reds
PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. veered away from most of past presidents’ tack of using the occasion as performance theater — complete with slide presentations, video testimonies, speeches delivered in Filipino — to enhance their image.
Instead, Marcos has redefined the SONA in a technocratic way, with his speech essentially saying: “Here is the state of the economy and our urgent problems. Here’s what this presidency will do to solve these.”
Strangely, however, Marcos’ SONA is totally silent on two of the country’s most urgent problems, which his predecessor had spent much effort combating: illegal drugs and the communist insurgency.
Nevertheless, Marcos is the first president to grasp what the SONA really is, reverting it to its raison d’être that had been all but forgotten. According to the Constitution’s Article 7, Section 3, the SONA is a speech not to the nation but on the nation, addressed to Congress at its first regular session.
Marcos perhaps cleverly thought, why go through all the work of preparing for a speech addressing Congress, if not to ask them for something.
Thus he said in the latter part of his speech: “As I am here today addressing the legislature, allow me now to propose legislation that we would like you to pass in support of these programs.”
Then he lists 19 bills, “priority legislative measures,” which actually explain in more detail what he intends his administration to do. While other SONAs also discussed those presidents’ legislative agendas, Marcos is the first to give Congress such a long to-do list, which seems to be even an integral part of his reform program. Marcos obviously is confident enough to demand this from Congress, with the majority of the House of Representatives — his cousin Martin Romualdez is speaker — and a supermajority of 19 out of the 24 senators, behind him.
Marcos narrated what his administration intends to do in the early part of his speech on such aspects as agricultural productivity, agrarian reform, tourism, an expanded role of the social welfare and development department, containing the pandemic, education, energy, infrastructure, and others.
However, it is the laws that he listed which would institutionalize the reforms he thinks the nation requires. For instance, while he described his strategy to contain Covid-19 — “no lockdowns,” among others — he wants Congress to enact laws to create the institutions, among them, a National Disease Prevention Management Authority, the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the Virology Institute of the Philippines.
Marcos’ listing of bills he wants Congress to enact points to a crucial aspect of our republican system. While the Constitution and political science textbooks describe the executive and legislative branches of government as co-equal and independent, the reality is that it is the head of the executive branch who rules the land, as it were. But he can lead the nation only if he is able to get Congress — whether by coercion, bribery or persuasion is unimportant — to enact laws he thinks are required.
For instance, despite a vicious and strong opposition, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo managed to get Congress to pass the unpopular expanded value-added tax system in 2005. This law was crucial in raising revenues that strengthened the government’s finances, so that the country weathered the global financial crisis that started in 2008.
Similarly, after just a year in office, the Rodrigo Duterte administration got Congress to enact the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) Law, which lowered personal income taxes but raised consumption taxes. While not enough, the increased revenues from the Train Law armed the Duterte administration with the revenues required for the colossal financial requirements resulting from the pandemic.
“These are our problems, this is how we’ll solve them.” That’s a technocratic ethos this president is displaying. “And this is how Congress will help us solve these.” The proposed bills cover the gamut of reforms for all aspects of improving and strengthening the state, such as “rightsizing” the entire government machinery, fiscal reform and efficiency, “e-governance,” national defense, electric power industry reform, and amendments to the laws for private-sector participation in infrastructure.
I hope Marcos and his officials really studied each of these in the 30 days since their assumption of office. It will be a huge embarrassment for Marcos, resulting in a major dent in his political support, if some of these 19 proposals prove to be rush jobs that turn out to be impractical or even undoable.
However, in Marcos’ SONA of over 7,800 words in 21 pages, there is totally no mention of the words “illegal drugs” and “communist insurgency.” This is strange, as his predecessor President Duterte, in word and deed, pointed to illegal drugs and the communist insurgency as two of the biggest obstacles to the country’s prosperity.
Our borders are porous for the smuggling of illegal drugs and we are close to countries in Asia believed to be manufacturers of shabu. Despite Duterte’s huge success in his war against illegal drugs, no one believes this scourge has been vanquished.
We are the only country in the world with a still active Maoist insurgency, which continues to kill our soldiers and policemen, with mines — universally condemned — becoming the communist weapon of choice as it minimizes their casualties. The communists have maintained, even strengthened, their propaganda apparatus that their cadres dominate even the academic discourse in our top schools (UP, Ateneo and La Salle) and the world view in our media.
Perhaps Marcos has chosen a strategy of being silent about these two problems, while moving covertly to defeat and bury the communist and drug lords. But such a strategy is sending the wrong signals to his police and troops, who would, of course, readily look the other way, thinking that the new president — unlike Duterte — has changed course.’Not even a square inch’
Obviously referring to our territorial and maritime area disputes in the South China Sea, Marcos in his SONA declared that he will not “abandon even a square inch of the territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.” But hundreds, if not thousands, of hectares in such places as Surigao and Samar continue to be under the control not of the Republic but of the communist New People’s Army.
Marcos should be reminded that the nation’s state does not only involve its economic aspects. It involves the strength of its system of law and order, at times the most important problem to confront.
The Communist Party had been his father’s real nemesis. The US State Department convinced US President Ronald Reagan to let go of his dear friend and support an oligarchic clan’s widow by claiming that his father could no longer fight the insurgency.
I would have thought the father’s son would have vowed to go after the communists hammer and tongs.
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