MANILA, Philippines – When he spoke for the first time as president, Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. made a bold promise to the nation: “You will not be disappointed. So do not be afraid.”
It was a heavy statement coming from the second Marcos president, who entered Malacañang both with the promise of the first post-EDSA majority-win and the baggage and legacy of his father, who held the same post before him.
A little over a month since Marcos took his oath, he addresses the nation again on Monday, July 25, this time with the 19th Congress as his primary audience.
The 2022 State of the Nation Address (SONA) is not only Marcos’ first as president, it’ll also be the first time for Philippine legislators to gather in person at the Batasang Pambansa for a full face-to-face event since the pandemic began. The last two SONAs of former president Rodrigo Duterte were hybrid events, with only a small portion of legislators physically present.
More importantly Marcos will, for the first time, expound on his plans for the country.
Despite a landslide win in the May 9, 2022 elections, Marcos and his Uniteam running mate Vice President Sara Duterte were generally sparse in the details of their platform and proposed programs. Their main campaign promise – as their coalition name suggests – was “unity.”
And while neither Marcos nor top officials in Malacañang have gone into the details of Marcos’ speech, the President’s first three Cabinet meetings and sole media conference have made it clear that at least three things are top of mind: food security, the economy, and the return to face-to-face classes, according to Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez.
At least two of the three priorities are directly under the supervision of the winning Uniteam tandem. Marcos, citing the need to “urgently address the looming food crisis,” is himself the agriculture chief. Vice President Duterte, daughter of the former president, will head the education department in its plan for the country to return to full face-to-face classes by November 2022. Earlier in July, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the administration’s “Medium-Term Fiscal Framework” would be unveiled in full during the SONA.
There are other major issues Marcos is expected – and needs – to address. The country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is among the most urgent.
“With the face-to-face opening of this coming school year, it’s all about COVID response. And when we speak of COVID response, it’s not only about health. It goes all the way to the entire cycle of economy, not just health, you go to economy, you go into education, and so on and so forth,” said Rodriguez.
Health department officer-in-charge (OIC) Maria Rosario Vergeire had earlier announced a plan to change the structure of the country’s current pandemic task force, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vergeire, an undersecretary who also acted as spokesperson for the health department during the Duterte administration, also comes in as interim chief just as the World Health Organization declared monkeypox an “urgent global health emergency.”
The administration has also yet to expound its plans on other top issues in the country, such as the ongoing transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the country’s plans for the environment and climate change.
Marcos has also yet to explicitly say where his administration will go on the issue of his predecessor’s bloodiest legacies: the so-called “war on drugs.”
Speaking to media the Friday before the SONA, Rodriguez – who early on was the subject of resignation rumors – said Marcos himself will be writing his speech.
“This [Friday] afternoon, he has devoted it, until the weekend, until morning of Monday (June 25) to finalize his SONA message,” said Rodriguez in an interview with select Palace reporters.
Rodriguez also said that Marcos wants a “digitalized governance and digitalized PBBM administration.” “Rightsizing” has been another major buzzword in the first few weeks of the Marcos administration.
More than 1,300 guests are expected to attend the SONA in person, barring the off chance that they test positive for COVID-19. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a member of Marcos’ administration coalition, is among those who will be skipping the event after testing positive for COVID weeks after she was first diagnosed.
Continuing a new practice that his predecessor started, Marcos’ SONA will be directed by an entertainment figure: director Paul Soriano, First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos’ nephew.
House Secretary General Mark Llandro Mendoza earlier said that the SONA would be “simple and very traditional.”
Tradition and history hang heavy in most of Marcos’ first engagements as president. His inauguration was held at the building that once housed the country’s legislature and where he, as a young boy, would wait for his father, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, to finish work.
The tradition of delivering the SONA during the opening session of Congress on the fourth Monday of July started under the first president Marcos. He did so on June 12, 1978, according to the Official Gazette. That SONA was delivered six years after the older Marcos placed the Philippines under Martial Law on September 23, 1972. Months later, the late dictator padlocked Congress as it was due to begin session on January 22, 1973 – or when that year’s SONA was originally scheduled.
But this year’s SONA deviates in other ways from the ones that came before it.
For starters, over 20,000 police personnel will be deployed to secure both the immediate area surrounding the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City, as well as Commonwealth Avenue, the road that leads to the complex.
In contrast, only 10,000 police were deployed to secure the late president Benigno Aquino III’s first SONA. Marcos’ immediate predecessor Duterte deployed even less during his first SONA – only 6,720 police personnel manned the area. Activists have called the 2022 SONA deployment “overkill.”
Officials have also deployed a “mobile jail” for “rowdy” protesters, according to an article posted on the government’s official site for the SONA.
Police had also barred protests along Commonwealth Avenue, although Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte later said the protesters will be allowed along Commonwealth Avenue (eastbound) up to the corner of Tandang Sora Avenue. This area still puts protesters a considerable distance away from the Batasang Pambansa.
The strangest among the deviations, perhaps, is the House’s decision to not allow “wearing of clothes with political messages.” While some use the SONA as a chance to flaunt their tastes in fashion, progressive lawmakers usually show up making literal statements on major political and societal issues.
Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel said in a tweet: “This is the first time in recent history that an explicit prohibition is issued. Bawal ang protesta, bawal din ang mensahe sa damit kasi takot na takot sa art? Martial Law yaaarn?”
(Protests aren’t allowed. Statements on clothing aren’t allowed because they are afraid of art? Is this Martial Law?)
In the morning, both chambers of Congress will open the first regular session of the19th Congress at the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively. When session begins, each chamber will elect its new set of leaders.
In the Senate, Uniteam slate member Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri is set to be elected Senate President while in the House, Marcos’ cousin and Vice President Duterte’s co-campaign manager Leyte 1st District Representative Martin Romualdez is set to be House Speaker.
The President himself is expected to arrive at the Batasang Pambansa at 4 pm then deliver his SONA shortly after. The administration then has 30 days after SONA to submit its proposed budget for the coming year before Congress. – Rappler.com