Waiting to see

By: Mahar Mangahas - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | July 23,2022 - 09:00 AM

A presidential State of the Nation Address (Sona) is a president’s version of the nation’s journey—where it is now, how it came this way, and where he plans to lead it.

A Sona covers whatever a president wants it to. A listener’s expectation of it depends on what the listener thinks the word “nation” means.

What is the state of the people? I think “nation” refers, above all, to the Filipino people. What our weather satellite sees about the people is the continued dominance of the pandemic in their lives. They are very hopeful about the future, but at the same time very nervous about the persistence of danger—“First Quarter 2022 Social Weather Survey: A record high 83% of Filipinos are hopeful the worst of the COVID-19 crisis is behind us,” with the subtitle, “Those worried somewhat or a great deal about catching COVID-19 remain at 88%,” www.sws.org.ph, 7/20/2022.

COVID is not all, of course. As a comprehensive guide for assessing the state of a people, I recommend the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (sdgs.un.org): 1. No poverty 2. Zero hunger 3. Good health and well-being 4. Quality education 5. Gender equality 6. Clean water and sanitation 7. Affordable and clean energy 8. Decent work and economic growth 9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure 10. Reduced inequalities 11. Sustainable cities and communities 12. Responsible consumption and production 13. Climate action 14. Life below water 15. Life on land 16. Peace, justice, and strong institutions 17. Partnerships to achieve the goals.

I think that poverty and hunger are intentionally the first two on the list, i.e., meant to take priority. I know for a fact that they are strongly and immediately harmed by inflation, but only mildly and in the long run relieved by economic growth.

Hence my advice is “Watch poverty, not economic growth,” and “Fight inflation, not prices” (5/21/22, 6/25/22). The historically worst inflation and the worst poverty happened in 1984-85, during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

What is the state of the new administration? The composition of the new Cabinet is gradually emerging, with many experienced and reputable technocrats, such as in finance, central banking, budgeting, economic planning, trade, and natural resources. I am confident that they know how not to worsen inflation. The University of the Philippines is well represented, particularly my alma mater, the UP School of Economics, of which former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is an alumna.

Will President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte truly handle the departments of agriculture and education themselves? I wonder why the departments of defense (DND) and of science and technology (DOST) only have officers in charge so far. How about someone from the Navy or Air Force, instead of the Army, for the DND? And someone from the UP Marine Science Institute for the DOST? And a social work professional, like the late Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, for the department of social work and development?

Will the Cabinet have any Marcos Jr. classmates? Or San Sebastian-Recoletos classmates of the vice president?

In general, it would be good to see Cabinet and near-Cabinet officials recruited from the Career Executive Service (CES), rather than from the retired military. The CES is the civilian counterpart of the military; it is a legacy of O.D. Corpuz, based on his Ph.D. dissertation on the Philippine bureaucracy.

I hope there will be no knee-jerk tinkering with the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. CCT is an intergenerational program—the support should last up to completion of senior high school, but certainly no less than junior high school, so that the children can get better jobs than their parents. SWS has done scientific surveys that show that CCT transfers do not go to parental alcohol or gambling—ask the Philippine Institute for Development Studies and the Asian Development Bank, which received and studied the data.

Now let us wait to see the state of the new president. If he had joined any debates during the election campaign, he might have given us a line comparable to former president Rodrigo Duterte’s “jet-skiing” to the Chinese outposts in the West Philippine Sea. So far, the only thing we remember is a promise of “P20 rice.”

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TAGS: Cebu Daily News, cebu news, COVID, COVID-19, economic growth, hunger, poverty, SONA, State of the Nation Address, waiting to see

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