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Philippines: Marcos Jr. vows recovery, quiet on human rights

July 25, 2022

The new Philippine president has set out an ambitious economic and social blueprint for his six-year term. However, his family's chequered past and the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic pose significant hurdles.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address, in Quezon City
Marcos Jr., nicknamed Bongbong, won an election landslide last monthImage: Jam Sta Rosa/REUTERS

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday offered a extensive list of goals during his first State of the Nation address since taking office after a landslide election victory in May

After inheriting an economy ravaged by COVID-19 lockdowns and inflation, the new president promised to slash poverty and rein in soaring food prices, adding that "our country must become an investment destination."

He avoided contentious issues like human rights and pervasive corruption and, unlike his pugnacious predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, stuck to the script.

Marcos Jr. lays out ambitious policy agenda

Marcos Jr. tried to remain positive.

"I do not intend to diminish the risks and challenges that we face in this turbulent time in global history," he said. "I see sunlight filtering through these dark clouds."

With the "best Filipino minds" working in his administration, "We will endure," he said.

It is a tough ask in a country where inflation hit 6.1% in June, the highest level in nearly four years.

In addition, the Philippines endured a long and strict coronavirus lockdown , which sent the economy in 2020 towards its worst recession since World War II and increased poverty, unemployment, hunger, and the country's indebtedness.

Lawmakers applaud Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as he delivers his first State of the Nation Address
In a 78-minute speech, Marcos promised the Philippines would remainindependent in its foreign policy Image: Aaron Favila/REUTERS

Marcos Jr. said he would implement a medium-term macro-economic and fiscal policy that aims to achieve strong economic growth of between 6.5% and 7.5% this year, and up to 8% annually from 2023 to 2028, and 9% or a single-digit poverty rate by 2028.

He promised tax reforms and to expand infrastructure while pledging to transform agriculture to drive growth and reduce reliance on food imports, using scientific methods and an "infusion of fresh and new blood."

Marcos Jr. also vowed the Philippines would be "a friend to all" but would remain independent in its foreign policy.

In reference to the Philippines' historic run-ins with Beijing in the South China Sea, Marcos Jr. said he would "not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of territory."

Philippines whitewashes history as Marcos Jr. takes office

Marcos critics remain 

As an ousted dictator's son, Marcos Jr. is hamstrung by history and daunting economic headwinds.

His inauguration last month marked a stunning comeback for the Marcos political dynasty, which was ousted after a popular revolt in 1986.

His speech on Monday "suffers from a crisis of clarity, direction and vision," the left-wing Akbayan group told the Associated Press, adding Marcos Jr. offered "nothing new, bold or extraordinary" to confront the country's multiple crises.

About 5,000 flag-waving protesters marched ahead of his speech.

They issued a range of demands, from government aid and fuel subsidy to justice for human rights victims under Marcos Jr.'s father.

More than 20,000 policemen, anti-riot contingents and troops were deployed in Manila to help secure Congress.

lo/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)