Press Release
July 22, 2023

Expectations on the President's SONA on July 24, 2023
By Senator Koko Pimentel

During the President's SONA, it is my hope that he will discuss the real situation of the Filipino People at the household level.

It is okay to mention macroeconomic figures like GDP growth rate, GDP per capita, and others, but this should only be in passing. What I propose should be concentrated on are the microeconomic matters which concern and affect the lives of the ordinary Filipino.

Mahal ang presyo ng pagkain at iba pang bilihin at patuloy pa rin ang pagtaas ng mga ito. Isama na natin riyan ang tubig, kuryente, renta, at transportasyon. Alam ba ni President Marcos ito? Kung alam naman pala ay ano na ang solusyon ng gobyerno? Bakit umabot sa katakot takot na presyo ang sibuyas at asukal sa ilalim ng gobyernong ito? Sana mapaliwanag kung ano ba talaga ang nangyari.

The cost of living is very high. The income of the typical Filipino family is not enough for their basic needs and for their decent existence as a family of human beings. Those who are employed are not paid "living wages". Many are unemployed and many more are underemployed.

The many with low or no income and no assets of significant nature are technically bankrupt as each one of the 110 million Filipinos has a debt burden of more than P125,000 due to our more than 14 trillion pesos in national debt.

In short, life is very difficult for the average Filipino, for most Filipinos, for tens of millions of Filipinos.

There is no time to lose. Let us focus on what is truly important to the life of the average Filipino.

To prepare our Nation for the future, we must focus on education. Education is the great equalizer; therefore, education should truly enjoy the highest budgetary priority. Both the "software and hardware" of our educational system must be modernized, strengthened, and supported. I suggest too that computer-coding be included in the curriculum at the earliest possible level.

To generate both jobs and food, and at the same time fight inflation, let us concentrate on agriculture. Produce more food. Increase the yield of our land. Productivity is the answer.

We need to legislate a new national minimum wage which will give all workers a just living wage.

To help our senior citizens, we should establish an apex geriatric hospital which will develop expertise among our doctors on the unique age-related illnesses and health concerns being experienced now by our aging population.

We should also go out of our way to help those with mental health conditions or problems. Many of them were born with this condition. This was not and never was self-caused.

To generate jobs for the Filipino People, we should make the Philippines an entrepreneur-friendly place. Micro and small entrepreneurs together with our Creatives Industry must be given full support and other incentives. Assist them too in taking full advantage of RCEP and other free trade arrangements. We should also enact laws which improve trust in and the reliability of online transactions. The Internet Transactions Act (ITA) is one example and this has the added value of protecting our delivery riders from hoax orders and other scams.

To help attract long-term foreign direct investments, there should be a one-stop shop established to guide and assist these long-term foreign investors.

The weather phenomenon El Niño is already upon us. Government must have immediate as well as long-term plans for this. I therefore propose the creation of a Department of Waters which should have jurisdiction over water resources and bodies of water from "ridge to reef".

We know that taxes are the lifeblood of the State. But they are at the same time also a burden on the People. Taxes and complicated hard-to-follow regulations also have the power to destroy businesses. Hence, tax reform must be pursued. And the imposition of new taxes must be seriously studied.

The proposed new taxes on food products which use sugar and salt must be studied very well as it is the poor who patronize these items not because they desire these products but because of lack of purchasing power. I recognize the health angle of the proposal but the revenue generation angle must not be directed at the poorer segment of our society.

Also, it is about time to discuss abandoning the VAT System of Taxation which is complicated and full of leakages in favor of a much simpler to administer and monitor Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Regarding what is happening on our part of the world, President Marcos must explain to the Filipino People why he expanded the number of US Military Bases under the EDCA. We have heard some people describe the Philippines as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. We should not be happy about this. The people who use these terms are not Filipinos. They live safely very far away from here.

The Philippines is our home. We live here. We have children here. Day care centers, schools, playgrounds. There are no elementary schools in aircraft carriers.

We should think of the Philippines as the home of the Filipino People. We should not think of the Philippines in military hardware terms.

As a responsible member of the community of nations, we should do our role as a friendly people. Instead of hosting foreign military forces and bases which could be interpreted by other nations as directed against them, why don't we instead host talks which improve the relations between and among nations? Host talks not bases.

In a democracy the People deserve explanations for official actions. The President should also therefore tell the Filipino People the following, among others:

1) Why in less than a year, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) has been rocked by two scandals already? Why refined sugar price has reached P138 per kilo in February 2023?

2) Why within a few months of his term the price of onion reached P800 per kilo in December 2022?

3) Why inflation also reached a record high of 8.7% in January 2023?

4) Why is there still POGO?

5) And why is the entire Executive Branch going loco over LOGOs?

The Philippines faces a lot of problems and challenges. The Filipino People have different difficulties and varied interests. I am sure the President cannot cover all of them in the SONA just as I have not been able to discuss all of them in this list of expectations.

But at least there are things that are clear:

We need to get our acts together as problem-solvers.

We need to act in good faith out of love for country.

We need to want a just, fair, and safe society.

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