Marcos vows focus on helping farmers, economic recovery

By Ali G. Macabalang

A screenshot photo of PBBM in his first SONA on Monday, July 25. (AGM)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Monday delivered his first State-of-the-National Address (SONA) before the joint session of the 19th Congress, highlighting the urgent need to revive the pandemic-gripped economy, and uplift the lives of marginalized farmers, debt-strapped agrarian reform beneficiaries, migrant workers and the poor.

The President, fondly called by supporters as PBBM, enumerated in his SONA speech 19 legislative measures that he asked lawmakers to pass in order to achieve his administration’s socio-economic goals.

The speech, which PBBM reportedly wrote personally, came in mixed English and Filipino, lasted for an hour and 12 minutes, drew applause 84 times, was broadcasted nationwide in major media networks and streamed live in social media as well.

The most applauded parts of the SONA were PBBM’s vow not to “abandon even an inch of (the Philippine) territory to any foreign power,” his plan to set up in the countryside “specialty hospitals” like the Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine Children’s Medical Center and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, and his pledge to focally help farmers and condone the P58-billion debts of agrarian reform beneficiaries.

PBBM acknowledged the hardships endured by the Filipino people in the past two years and their efforts to meet the prevailing challenges.

“I do not intend to diminish the risks and challenges that we face in this turbulent time in global history, and yet, I see sunlight filtering through these dark clouds. We have assembled the best Filipino minds to help navigate us through this time of global crisis,” he said.

“We will endure. Let our Filipino spirit ever remain undimmed. I know in my mind, in my heart, in my very soul that the state of the nation is sound,” he added.

Agrarian loan write-off

The president called on Congress to pass a law condoning more than P58-billion in loans owed by some 654,000 beneficiaries of the government’s agrarian reform program. To be covered in the write-off process are 1.18 million hectares of awarded lands, he said.

“In this [proposed] law, the loans of agrarian reform beneficiaries with unpaid amortization and interest shall be condoned. The aim of the law is to erase the loans that could not be paid by our farmers who are beneficiaries of agrarian reform,” he averred.

He said that agrarian reform beneficiaries who are still to receive lands under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program shall receive the same without any obligation to pay any amortization.

While waiting for the passage of an enabling law, he said, he would issue an executive order to impose a one-year moratorium on the payment of land amortization and interest payments, noting that such moratorium was provided under Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“A moratorium will give the farmers the ability to channel their resources in developing their farms, maximizing their capacity to produce, and propel the growth of our economy,” he said.

PBBM said he would also enforce Executive Order No. 75, series of 2019, by his predecessor, requiring government agencies, bureaus, departments, and instrumentalities to turn over agricultural lands to qualified beneficiaries.

He said there are about 52,000 hectares of unused agricultural lands of the government that would be distributed to landless war veterans, surviving spouses and orphans of war veterans, and retirees of the military and the police in accordance with RA 6657.

Under EO 75, agricultural lands would also be given to graduates of college degrees in agriculture who are landless, he said.

Revalidation for meaningful 4Ps beneficiaries

PBBM also promised continuing assistance to the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), saying though that he had directed the Department of Social Services and Development to “reexamine” the process and roster of 4Ps to ensure optimum benefits from the program.

Six-year fiscal plan

He said his administration will also introduce a Medium-Term Fiscal Strategy (MTFS) “to attain short-term macro-fiscal stability while remaining supportive of the country’s economic recovery and to promote medium-term fiscal sustainability.”

He urged Congress to adopt and concur with the MTFS by passing a concurrent resolution.

He predicted a 6.5-7.5 percent real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2022, and 6.5-8 percent between 2023 to 2028; 9 percent or single-digit poverty rate by 2028; 3-percent national government deficit-to-GDP ratio by 2028; less than 60 percent national government debt-to-GDP ratio by 2025, and at least $4,256 income per capita to attain upper middle-income status by 2024.

Once adopted, the MTFS will become an anchor for the annual spending and financing plan of the government and Congress when preparing the annual budget and undertaking related appropriation activities.

Tax system adjustment

“Our tax system will be adjusted in order to catch up with the rapid developments of the digital economy, including the imposition of value-added tax on digital service providers,” he said, adding that the initial revenue impact of this would be around P11.7 billion in 2023 alone.

Tax compliance procedures will be simplified to promote ease of paying taxes, he added.

Renewable energy push

PBBM said the government must build new power plants and push for the use of renewable energy to lower the price of electricity in the country.

“We must build new power plants. We must take advantage of all the best technology… now available, especially in the areas of renewable energy,” he said, receiving applause from the audience that included some members of the country’s business elite.

He said the government must examine the entire system of power transmission and distribution to lower the price of electricity to the consumer, hinting at a need to amend R.A. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001.

The President said the country has already begun to use wind power and was now expanding use of solar energy, which he noted “is practical almost everywhere in the Philippines all year round.”

He assured the business community that the government would provide investment incentives by clarifying uncertain policy in upstream gas, particularly in the area close to the Malampaya gas field in offshore Palawan.

He also pushed for the review of the possible revival and building of nuclear power plants in the country.

“We will comply of course with the International Atomic Energy Agency regulations for nuclear power plants as they have been strengthened after Fukushima,” he said, referring to the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

Continuing Infrastructure Projects

PBBM said he would continue the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte administration “but, wherever possible, be expanded.”

He said his administration will push for the building of more international airports and seaports in the regions not only to promote more tourist arrivals but also narrow down the growth disparity between the national capital region and the countryside.

He also announced intent to push for building of railways and the upgrading of existing ones in the country, citing the long-planned Mindanao railway system project and those in Panay and Cebu regions.

Because of the need for substantial funding, he said, efforts to push for mega infrastructures shall be pushed under the private-public partnership (PPP) system.

PBBM presented 19 priority legislative agenda of his administration for Congress to act on, namely:

·         National Government Rightsizing Program (NGRP)

·         Budget Modernization Bill

·         Tax Package 3: Valuation Reform Bill

·         Tax Package 4: Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act (Pifita)

·         E-Government Act

·         Internet Transaction Act or E-Commerce Law

·         Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE)

·         Medical Reserve Corps

·         National Disease Prevention Management Authority

·         Creation of the Virology Institute of the Philippines

·         Department of Water Resources

·         Unified System of Separation, Retirement and Pension

·         E-Governance Act

·         National Land Use Act

·         National Defense Act to amend the antiquated National Defense Act of 1935

·         Mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and National Service Training Program (NSTP)

·         Enactment of an Enabling Law for the Natural Gas Industry

·         Amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act or Epira (RA 9136)

·         Amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) Law

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