Bongbong’s SONA short on objectives

by Perry Diaz

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s first SONA before the joint session of Congress lasted for an hour and 14 minutes.  It highlighted a 19-point legislative agenda.  However, it excluded human rights, justice, and peace — issues that have hounded the previous Duterte regime.

What was the message or what was he trying to avoid… or both? Why the sudden silence on the three most important issues that would determine the paths to be taken by his presidency? Or could it be that he isn’t prepared to elevate the priorities that he as chief steward of the ship of state to a level of highest importance?

At this point, we can only speculate just like when he refused to participate in the debates during the campaign. He probably surmised that by evading discussion of these important issues, the Filipino people would give him a pass just like before.

But skipping the debates is one thing and evading the issues is another. After he skipped the debates, it left his future direction uncharted.

He didn’t have to make promises on how to address the pressing issues like the Covid-19 pandemic, economic downturn, drug problem, inflation, unemployment, health care, rising prices of gas and rice, and recession.

Unlike his predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte, who said that he’d solve the peace and order situation and how he’d get rid of the drug and criminality problem in six months, Marcos did not mention them at all.

He did not talk about the issue of justice and rule of law, which Duterte pursued with vigor, eliminating 27,000 people as a result of the campaign against drugs, which was Duterte’s pet project. He did not talk about how he is going to fight corruption in government.

Needless to say, by not addressing them, he did not take responsibility and own accountability.

“Simplicity, economy, and efficiency”
He issued Executive Order No.1, which abolished the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) in the guise of achieving “simplicity, economy, and efficiency.”

But instead, it created another layer of bureaucracy, the Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs (DESLA), which has its hands already full of cases investigating internal and external legal matters.

He did not mention appointments to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) that is tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth of his family and their cronies.

The PCGG was formed in 1986 in the aftermath of the People Power Revolution that ousted the Marcos dictatorship and ushered in the government of Cory Aquino. It was tasked solely to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family and their cronies.

Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of human rights group Karapatan, also noted that there was no mention of “press freedom, disinformation, death penalty, and failed domestic accountability mechanisms.”

Justice and rule of law
Former Senate minority floor leader Franklin Drilon said the Marcos government should not “sweep under the rug” issues concerning justice and rule of law, saying that a strong justice system could also boost investors’ confidence.

But Marcos raised some concerns among business circles when he vetoed HB 7575 creating the Bulacan Airport Special Economic Zone and Freeport adjacent to the proposed airport city in Bulacan province. It is expected that his veto would drive foreign investors away. Not good for his fledgling presidency.

Marcos, surprisingly, included in his legislative agenda the revival of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. (ROTC). Surmise it to say, the ROTC could be called upon in cases of national emergency.

But short of invasion by a foreign power, the ROTC need not be activated and armed.  Unless of course, a civil war erupts between the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the Muslim separatists in Mindanao, in which case the ROTC could be armed and sent to the troubled region.

But between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police who have a combined strength of 250,000 armed personnel, I don’t think the ROTC needs to be deployed in the war zone.

Overkill
But that just shows Marcos’ paranoia of national turbulence.  A case in point was during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25, he ordered 21,000 armed personnel to guard the National Museum of Fine Arts where the swearing-in occurred.

It was overkill. It shows how he fears for his life. Besides, the protestors were not allowed near the building. They had to hold their rally miles away in Quezon City.

Many Filipinos are apprehensive about the prospect of martial law under Bongbong Marcos. Although it’s unlikely that he’d declare martial law soon, a lot of people are expecting him to gradually undermine the existing system by changing the law, little by little.

One of the laws that he needs to address is taxation. When he was elected, he commented that the government does “not have good collection on taxes,” citing the influence of corruption.

“The economy of the Philippines will simply not succeed, we cannot collect duties, tariffs, etc through the BOC and we do not have good collection on taxes both on the national and local level. Hindi talaga uubra. The numbers don’t match,” Marcos said.

He added, “So that’s why it’s very, very important and we have to at the very least reduce the corrosive influence of corruption in government as a general rule,” he added.

Marcos’ unpaid estate tax
Last March, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) confirmed that it sent a demand letter to the Marcos family to settle their unpaid estate tax worth P203 billion.

When asked about corruption in the BIR, Marcos Jr., consistent with the family’s historical denialism, said that past corruption in the agency would be forgotten. Hmm… Does that mean that he would not pursue the collection of the Marcos unpaid estate taxes? He said that it was not under his watch. “I was not in charge at the time. Now that I am governing, there shouldn’t be corruption anymore. Wait until the taxpaying people stop paying their taxes, then you can say that Mr. President.

At the end of the day, I believe President Marcos Jr.’s SONA was short on objectives.  I wish him all the best and may the good Lord guide him on the righteous path to governing the Filipino people.

PERRY DIAZ is a writer, columnist and journalist who has been published in more than a dozen Filipino newspapers in five countries.

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