MANILA, Philippines — It’s all about the economy and the “entire cycle” of challenges facing the Philippines.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will devote his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday to key issues he believes Filipinos care deeply about, especially the economic recovery program, the government’s pandemic response, the return of face-to-face schooling, and the food security crisis, according to Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez.
“It’s all about our economy, the economic plans. 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,” he told reporters on Friday.
“[So it’s] not just health, you go into economy, you go into education, and so on and so forth,” Rodriguez said.
The president had planned to burn the midnight oil over the weekend to fine-tune his speech to be delivered before Congress at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. He was intending to work on the draft “until morning of Monday to finalize his SONA message,” the Malacañang official said.
Rodriguez claimed that Marcos had been personally writing his own lines.
The official said digitization or the adoption of digital technology by the government to improve efficiency and promote innovation would also figure prominently in the Sona. “In terms of governance, he [Marcos] wants to see a ‘digitalized’ governance and ‘digitalized’ administration,” Rodriguez said.
Another subject the president plans to spend some time discussing is food security and sovereignty, he said.
“That’s why he took head-on the portfolio of the Department of Agriculture because he is aware of the impending food price crisis and probably food supply crisis,” Rodriguez said.
“But for now, we are really confronted with the food price crisis. For the supply, except for the supply chain, I hope we will — under his leadership — be able to institute measures to mitigate its impact on us,” he said.
Marcos also wants to highlight the need to achieve food sovereignty, “meaning we don’t have to rely on much importation anymore,” said Rodriguez, adding: “If we can feed ourselves as a nation, and if we can feed ourselves as Filipinos, I think we are on our way to where we want to be, much like where our neighbors are.”
Rodriguez did not identify any specific bills the president would ask the Senate and the House of Representatives to prioritize, but Biñan City Rep. Marlyn Alonte on Sunday said she hoped Marcos would push for legislation on local vaccine production amid an upswing in COVID-19 cases.
She said she would be joining the move in the House for the establishment of a Center for Disease Control and of a Virology/Microbiology Institute, as well as proposed measures on the medical, nursing, and medical technology professions.
According to Alonte, “local production of vaccines can create new jobs for graduates of health professions and engineering courses. We have the ecozones and industrial estates here in Biñan and in different parts of the country where vaccine production can be done.”
She noted that the Department of Trade and Industry announced last year that the Board of Investments was in talks with seven local firms for the production of vaccines and plans to set up a full-scale vaccine manufacturing facility.
After his speech, according to Rodriguez, Marcos will busy himself with the proposed 2023 budget, which must be submitted to Congress within 30 days after the opening of its session in accordance with the Constitution.
Some 22,000 law enforcers have been deployed for Marcos’ first SONA, including police officers and force multipliers from other agencies, such as the Bureau of Fire and Protection, Presidential Security Group, and Metro Manila Development Authority.
On Sunday, police officers were told to exercise maximum tolerance, even as Philippine National Police director for operations Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon warned that “unruly” protesters would be arrested.
“There is no sense in any unnecessary confrontation. We fully respect the rights of some groups to assemble and air their grievances but we also expect them to respect our personnel on the ground who will be deployed to ensure peace and order for everybody,” De Leon said.
On Saturday, the PNP set up random checkpoints under Task Force Manila Shield as part of security preparations ahead of the Sona.
As of midnight Sunday, at least nine individuals had been arrested and six firearms and weapons confiscated under a gun ban that is in effect from July 22 to 27, PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo told dzBB radio.
The PNP said it made adjustments to its security plan after the Quezon City government allowed progressive groups to hold protests along Commonwealth Avenue, earlier designated as a “no-rally zone.”
With the decision of City Hall to grant a rally permit, anti-Marcos groups shall be allowed to assemble and march from Elliptical Road up to the corner of Tandang Sora Avenue.
Pro-Marcos demonstrations, on the other hand, shall be permitted along IBP Road in Batasan Hills, much closer to the Batasang Pambansa complex.
“We have already completed some recalibration of our security measures as a result of the decision to allow some groups to hold their activities in some portions of Commonwealth Avenue,” De Leon said.
The tight security measures prompted the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Sunday to remind the police to “exercise maximum tolerance during peaceful protests” as the country listens to Mr. Marcos’ first SONA.
In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said the authorities must protect the public’s right to peaceful protest in the same manner that it seeks to maintain order.
As such, the commission “strongly advised” the police not to use water cannons or firearms during expected protest actions, and to disperse mobilizations in compliance with human rights standards.
“The use of force must be avoided and restricted to the minimum extent necessary when handling nonviolent protests,” De Guia said, adding that the CHR would dispatch its own investigators and lawyers to monitor SONA rallies for any abuses.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, FRANCES MANGOSING AND KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING