THE first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. takes place on Monday. If he delivers his message in the same fashion as his inaugural address, we might expect the SONA to be, as our language teachers are wont to say, succinct as it is well-written.
By all indications, FM Jr. sees the value of good writing and, unlike his predecessor, the importance of staying on script. The lore of his father’s oratorical prowess might also weigh heavily on him thus he is constrained to perform as well and measure up to his namesake in the public speaking department. The lore was, of course, perpetuated by the Marcos fan base embellishing the fiction that the elder Marcos’ perorations were extemporaneous and unscripted.
The elder Marcos was an orator, why not. After all, he cut his teeth at legislation (in the House and in the Senate) in the tradition of Recto, Laurel, or Sumulong, and was in chambers with the likes of Salonga, Manglapus, or even his archnemesis Benigno Aquino, Jr.
But it will be a stretch to advance the notion that Marcos Sr. spoke from the top of his head. Yes, he was good, but not that good. The reason is that the technology of the teleprompter was already invented in the 1950s and we can infer that by the time he ascended to the presidency in 1965 and throughout the duration of his strongman rule, he appropriated this technology for convenience and ease of use.
The difference, however, was that at that time, awareness of this technology likely has not caught on with a larger viewing demographic, and thus the hype that Da Apo’s speeches were extemporaneous was allowed to gain that much traction.
I belabor this knowing that the other side of the political divide will accuse me of speaking from points of bitterness and rancor. However petty this might seem, if we do not correct the record, it will only engender more lies as with the supposed “golden age” of martial law and some other nonsense, including praises for FM Jr.’s inaugural speech as reminiscent of his father’s extemporaneous speeches despite the obvious presence of two clear glass teleprompters on either side of the podium.
No, FM Jr. is not an orator nor is he erudite. Or why do you think he chickened out in the presidential debates? But for sure the teleprompters will provide much coherence to this SONA and if FM Jr.’s delivery is spot-on like his inaugural, then I expect we would not be parsing so much from his words unlike Duterte who had the benefit of a teleprompter but decides on bluster and rant anyway.
For this presidency, FM Jr. cornered the agriculture portfolio obviously because he wanted to control the narrative of food security which is the cornerstone of his campaign with his infamous promise to lower the price of rice to twenty pesos per kilo.
Considering the absurdity of the proposition, it is not the cost of rice but food security that is actually material in his discourse. Past the distraction of his campaign promise, how will he define food security amidst the certainty that the Philippines will continue to import rice, and the farmers that cultivate rice continue to languish at subsistence levels.
On the one hand, many experts agree that the Philippines can never achieve full rice self-sufficiency because agricultural lands are not that vast to cultivate rice at lower inputs. And because the Philippines cultivate rice at higher production costs, it affects the market price so much that it cannot compete with imports.
One of the long-drawn propositions when it comes to rice importation is that import tariffs should accrue on farmers to lift them up from subsistence living to enhance their quality of life. Rural poverty drives up the poverty index in the Philippines and affects human development so much that the growth numbers do not really mean much to the poor.
Can the tariff on rice imports then be appropriated to subsidize farmers in the Philippines so that they may perhaps engage in the cultivation of so-called cash crops in order to alleviate their conditions? We have known that historically, the reason why rice has never been the object of attention in the agricultural economy is that cash crops are more lucrative as export commodities. These traditional cash crops include sugar, hemp (abaca), and coconut raw material (copra).
The windfall from these exports does not trickle down to the farmers, however. They remain in the coffers of the landowners and the business elite. The only way farmers could benefit from the cultivation of cash crops is when they own their land. This boils down to agrarian reform. Will secretary Conrado Estrella III be able to move the needle on agrarian reform considering the massive conversion of agricultural lands to real estate to circumvent the mandate of agrarian reform?
The gold standard for economic development is industrialization. But to achieve this, there has to be a structural shift from agriculture to industry modeled by Asian industry powers such as Taiwan and South Korea. The Philippines never realized an industrial economy. What we have is a service economy buttressed by remittances from overseas workers. We remain import-dependent.
Infrastructure spending exemplified by the “Build, Build, Build” policy of the Duterte administration, while it promotes growth in the economy, is never enough to steward the country towards industrialization nor did it alleviate poverty from among society’s fringes (yes, laylayan). Will FM Jr. take a shot at industrialization? We will know on Monday.
These are things that I would want to hear from the President’s SONA. I’m sure you would like to know more, such as foreign policy or state security. All told, this will define his administration’s agenda in the next six years. Are we going to move forward or languish in incoherence as in the past administration?