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TURNING POINT: The Second SONA: A Mere Scratch on the Surface

Adan

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 26 July) — What to do with the gasping nation was the message of the first State of the Nation Address (SONA). The second SONA reports on what the President had accomplished after a year in office. 

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) reported a glorious year for the country.

Under his watch, the adopted macroeconomics fundamentals have been working, accordingly well, reviving the economy and saving the nation from catastrophe. Revenue regeneration and tax collection have greatly improved. Inflation rate has been reduced from 8.7 to 5.6 curtailing, thus, the spiking prices of critical commodities. Moreover, his foreign trips yielded an estimated total investment value of 71 billion US dollars, or 3.9 trillion pesos, which may generate 175,000 jobs. All these and public and consumer spending made the Philippines one of the fastest growing economy in the Asian region and the world.

But have these achievements and developments trickled down to the ground to benefit and alleviate the suffering of millions of Filipinos who are still hobbling from the scourge of the pandemic? 

PBBM is aware that they have not. That is why his body language does not seem to jibe with his scintillating report. He looks tentative and unconvinced.

Although there was a slight reduction in rate from 4.5 in October to 4.2 percent in November 2022, the magnitude of unemployment remained staggering at 2.18 million, and the underemployed Filipinos remained woeful at 7.17 million, an increase from 6.67 million for the same period, according to the Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority. The country’s unemployment rate further increased to 4.8 percent in January 2023.

The 9.35 million Filipinos who are jobless or underemployed are dirt poor and are definitely hungry. Add to that figure their dependents, the poor and hungry may more than double the count.

Without job or with an inadequate job, one cannot be certain of a continuous roof over his head and access to water and power; may have extreme difficulty in feeding his family, no matter if basic commodities are made reportedly cheaper by consumer-friendly Kadiwa stores.

But there are only 14 Kadiwa ng Pasko stores in the entire country. Eleven stores are in Metro Manila, with one in the Visayas, and two in Mindanao.

These few Kadiwa stores  can only offer so much, only a  “patikim”- a kind of test taste; their supplies are immediately exhausted at no time at all. It means nothing to the people even if they have food-money.

The concept of eliminating the middlemen between the farmers and the consumers is laudable. While proven doable, is it sustainable? 

First, maintaining it requires heavy government intervention in farm production to delivery of the products and storage. In this respect, the government has to compete with the moneyed and ever-present  middleman who advances loans to farming families for production inputs, provides funds to underwrite household expenses, including tuition and school expenses, wedding, baptismal and other family events. It is doubtful the government can penetrate deep and meet the farmer’s needs the way the middleman does. However, the intention, tight government restrictions in public fund disbursement is already an impediment to delivery of expectations. This is not yet to mention corruption that often times undermines the delivery of government service.

But PBBM is bent on spreading the Kadiwa stores across the archipelago as one strategy in poverty alleviation. This is probably the reason why he is not leaving the post as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, not until the aggie middlemen-hoarders and smugglers are locked up in jail. 

Of course, locking them in prison can be done because some, in fact, have exposed themselves, such as the members of a sugar cartel that failed to cover their track in the scandalous importation of sugar last year. Why no one was thrown to prison until now is an issue of political will. We might yet wait for the next SONA to determine whether PBBM has inherited or not the iron will of the ousted dictator. It is hoped that he will not wait for the amendment of the anti-smuggling law before taking decisive action. The solution to smuggling and the manipulation of the economy or any other problems for that matter is not in the amendment of existing laws but in the execution of political will.

Likewise, the solution to the devastation of our marine and fishery resources will not be found in the amendment of the Fisheries Code but in its honest-to-goodness implementation of the Code, particularly in law enforcement.

The President ought to be aware that there is a growing pressure from commercial fishers to reduce the border of the municipal waters – the 15-km distance from the shoreline or to allow them to fish in said waters, as if they have not yet done it (illegally). To yield to the pressure will greatly disadvantage the coastal fishers and will aggravate the destruction of the coastal resources. 

Meanwhile, he harked on science-based approach to food security. In fisheries, this means restoring the productivity of our sea. This can be accomplished by reducing  fishing pressure in coastal waters, the formation of  more marine protected areas, coral restoration and mangrove rehabilitation, all of which have been recommended by experts during the last three decades. 

Yet, the Department of Agriculture led by PBBM himself continues to stick to the policy of resource extraction and doesn’t show commitment to conservation and protection. Instead of limiting, for instance, the fishing population, it encourages expansion with its continuous distribution of fishing boats and gears to fishermen under its food security program, rather than to help them engage in land-based livelihood.

In his campaign against illegal drugs, I give credit to the President for giving emphasis and importance to the rehabilitation of drug users rather than in snuffing their lives or in clamping them in jail. He is so unlike his trigger-happy predecessor who is now a subject of the prosecution of the International Criminal Court on account of his deadly hunt of drug users and pushers.

But PBBM should not stop at simply accepting the resignation of officers of the Philippine National Police who are found coddling drug personalities or are involved in the commerce of drugs. Not the drug users and the pushers but the coddlers and partners of drug lords are the real scums of the earth that ought to rot in jail. 

“…the state of the nation is sound, and is improving. Dumating na po ang Bagong Pilipinas.”

Not so fast. Nothing is new. Nothing has really changed.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental)

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