SONA 2023

LIST: Issues Marcos missed during SONA 2023, according to opposition lawmakers

Dwight de Leon

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LIST: Issues Marcos missed during SONA 2023, according to opposition lawmakers

SPEECH. View from the second gallery in Batasang Pambansa when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivered his second State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2023.

Dwight de Leon/Rappler

Opposition lawmakers enumerate key issues that President Marcos failed to mention during his State of the Nation Address, and challenge some of the claims he made

MANILA, Philippines – The opposition in Congress under the current administration is minuscule, but it’s still there, and these lawmakers are airing their suggestions and frustrations in the wake of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA).

In the House of Representatives, Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman wrote his own “counter-SONA” and sought to deliver it in the plenary on Tuesday, July 25, a day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s, but the House leadership deferred his request until Wednesday, July 26.

Lagman is a statesman, a House veteran respected by his colleagues despite being on the other side of the fence for years now due to the very little political capital of the Liberal Party, where he sits as president.

The Makabayan bloc, a three-member, left-leaning formation in the same chamber, also issued separate statements criticizing Marcos’ speech.

Here are the points they raised. This story will be updated once other opposition figures present their own “counter-SONA.”

LIST: Issues Marcos missed during SONA 2023, according to opposition lawmakers
On the economic situation

Marcos pointed out that inflation has eased, when comparing June figures from January. (It is important to note though that a slowing inflation rate does not mean a a drop in prices of goods, just that prices continue to increase but at a slower pace.)

But Lagman asked: what policies did the government enforce to achieve the lowering of inflation?

“What magic wand did you wield to ease the inflation? Or the inflation waned as a result of normal economic dynamics without much government intervention,” Lagman said.

Marcos also cited the 7.6% gross domestic product in 2022 as proof of the country’s recovering economy, but Lagman said economic growth must be measured not solely by traditional economic indicators, but by the Human Development Index.

The HDI – which according to the United Nations Development Program averages countries’ achievements based on a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living – puts the Philippines at 116th place out of 199 countries, with a score that’s below the Asia Pacific average.

READ: Economy takes center stage in Marcos’ SONA 2023

On the labor situation

Lagman, giving “credit where credit is due,” lauded the administration for keeping the unemployment rate below 5% in the first five months of 2023, which Marcos pointed out in his speech.

But he said many issues in the labor sector remain untouched: ending contractualization, enhancing security of tenure, and strengthening unionism.

ACT Teachers Representative France Castro said protesters’ call for a livable wage was ignored.

“A wage hike, according to a survey, is the second top priority of our countrymen,” she said.

READ: Without context, Marcos’ SONA 2023 figures warp economic reality

LIST: Issues Marcos missed during SONA 2023, according to opposition lawmakers
On the Maharlika Investment Fund

Lagman strongly opposed the establishment of the Maharlika Investment Fund, interrogating its proponents for hours when the measure was still in the House.

Now that it’s already a law, Lagman conceded he has no choice but to accept it, but told Marcos that should it fail, economic advisers’ heads must roll.

Marcos guaranteed that the structure of the fund would protect it from any political influence, but Gabriela Representative Arlene Brosas is not convinced.

“It’s not true that the MIF will not be tainted by politics, when a Marcos has the say on who will manage the fund,” she said.

The new law names the finance secretary – a Cabinet member who reports directly to the president – as chairperson of the fund in an ex-officio capacity.

READ | [ANALYSIS] Maharlika fund: New law, new lies

On agriculture

Marcos touted the government’s Kadiwa program, saying 1.8 million Filipinos benefited from cheaper agricultural commodities sold in around 7,000 stores across the country.

But Brosas said that even if the administration sets up a Kadiwa store in every barangay, it would not be enough to address the high cost of agricultural products.

“Despite Marcos Jr.’s repeated vows to bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo, he did not mention in his speech that there has been no significant progress in achieving this goal. He has no concrete plan to boost local production and the rice and food industry,” she claimed.

“We need comprehensive, long-term, and sustainable solutions that focus on boosting agricultural production, supporting local farmers, and ensuring food security for all,” Brosas added.

On the West Philippine Sea

Marcos did not explicitly mention the West Philippine Sea dispute in his speech, and only boasted about the country’s independent foreign policy, which he said is effective.

Last year, however, he promised not to let go even a square inch of the Philippines’ territory to foreign power.

Lagman said the government has yet to recover an inch of territory “arrogantly occupied by China,” and suggested that the Philippines host a conference with other nations to force Beijing to honor Manila’s victory in the arbitral tribunal.

On the drug war

Marcos said the anti-narcotics campaign made highly infamous by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte has a new face, focusing on rehabilitation and education of illegal drug users.

But Lagman sounded the alarm on the hundreds of drug war-related deaths recorded during the first year of the Marcos presidency.

READ: Hundreds killed in drug war during Marcos’ 1st year

LIST: Issues Marcos missed during SONA 2023, according to opposition lawmakers
On the ICC probe

Marcos did not mention the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe into the killings under the Duterte administration.

The ICC already junked the administration’s appeal, essentially enabling the court to push through with its investigation.

Lagman said the Philippine government must give its full support to the ICC probe, even though its appeal was junked by the court.

Doing the opposite would “make a mockery of the appellate process and becomes a rebel against the international order,” according to the congressman.

READ: ICC ruling a win for victims, also opens options for PH gov’t

On the overall human rights situation

Brosas said Marcos’ recent SONA is “eerily silent on the abysmal state of human rights under his reign,” citing issues that he failed to mention such as the crackdown against activists, and the supposed militarization and forced displacements of communities across the country.

Lagman, citing civil society watchdog CIVICUS, said human rights violations (HRVs) go unpunished in the Philippines, from the attack on journalists to the red-baiting of critics.

The lawmaker claimed this shows not just Marcos’ apathy towards current HRV victims, but victims from his father Marcos Sr.’s martial law era.

“How can there be accountability when the President obstinately refuses to even recognize the existence of these violations?” Lagman said.

READ: No mention of press freedom, media issues in Marcos’ 2023 SONA

On ‘Bagong Pilipinas’

Marcos ended his speech with the line, “Dumating na ang Bagong Pilipinas (A new Philippines has arrived),” in reference to his administration’s new branding.

Lagman dismissed it as a copycat of his dictator father’s “Bagong Lipunan” tagline during the martial law years.

“We do not need a recycled discredited slogan. If we play with words, we play with fire,” he said –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.