Wrapped: A Look Back on Marcos Jr.’s 1st Year of Presidency

One Down, Five to Go: Marcos Jr.’s First Year of Presidency Wrapped

Twelve months have passed since President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, 2022. In his maiden SONA, Marcos underscored his administration's foci for the next six years, including, among others, the economy's recovery from the pandemic, food security and the continuance of the agrarian reform program, the expansion of former President Rodrigo Duterte's Build, Build, Build program, the energy sector, and his initial 19 priority bills to Congress.

Yet glaring, also, was his silence on several chief issues: the human rights situation in the country, the war on drugs and extrajudicial killings, his plans for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, graft and corruption, and the dashed peace talks between the government and the Philippine Left.

Whether the president would finally tackle these issues head-on in his second SONA this Monday, July 24, remains up in the air. What we can look forward to and be certain of, at least, are less to zero expletives from Marcos than that of his predecessor.

Still in the honeymoon period of his presidency, Marcos enjoyed a high approval rating in a survey by Pulse Asia in April 2023, with 78% of the 1,200 respondents interviewed from March 15-19 reporting they were satisfied with his performance. In the report via Inquirer.net on April 12, only 5% of the respondents expressed their dissatisfaction, whereas 16% were undecided.

Now, with just a few days left before Marcos' second SONA – here's a look back on the year that's been.

Economy and Agriculture

Inflation hit 6.1% in June 2022 and 6.4% the month after — figures that have not been seen in three and four years, respectively. When inflation soared to 8.1% in December 2022, it was believed to have been the "peak," only to be unseated by the inflation in January 2023, which surged to 8.7%, the fastest increase since November 2008 (9.1%). 

Marcos' first year was rocked by the soaring prices of food staples. According to a report by Rappler on June 26, Marcos, who had appointed himself acting secretary of the Department of Agriculture, faced crisis upon crisis as the price of sugar surged, followed by the price of onions and eggs, with onions costing at least P500 or more around the end of 2022.

Meanwhile, as far as campaign promises go, the vow to bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo remains in the imagination — even with the president as agriculture honcho. 

According to a report by The Philippine Star on March 17, Marcos assured during the launch of the Kadiwa ng Pangulo program in Camarines Sur that the administration is nearing its P20-per-kilo rice dream. However, in an ABS-CBN report on July 17, Marcos was quoted as saying that this dream has yet to be realized, although the administration is doing all it can. Rice at Kadiwa outlets is being sold at P25 per kilo.

Marcos also highlighted macro-fiscal stability as one of his administration's goals. Under this, he outlined measurable objectives through headline numbers, including 6.5% to 7.5% real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2022 and 6.5% to 8% real GDP growth between 2023 and 2028.

This was exceeded, with the country's GDP expanding by 7.2% in the fourth quarter of 2022 and, thus, resulting in a 7.6% full-year growth for the year, as reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on Jan. 26.

The wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles; financial and insurance activities; and the manufacturing sector were identified as the main contributors to the fourth quarter's expansion. The 7.6% GDP growth of 2022 is also deemed the country's strongest since 1976, when the GDP growth was logged at 8.8%, as per National Statistician Dennis Mapa.

Labor, Wages and Poverty

When it comes to the labor force, the country's unemployment rate dipped to 4.5% in April 2023 from 5.7% in April 2022, according to the PSA's April 2023 Labor Force Survey released on June 9. The employment rate in April 2023 was recorded at 95.5%, surpassing April 2022 (94.3%) and January 2023 (95.2%) estimates. This means 48.06 million people are employed as of April 2023, up from 45.63 million in the same month in 2022 and 47.35 million in January 2023. The underemployment rate was also recorded at 12.9%, lower than the reported rates in April 2022 (14.0%) and January 2023 (14.1%).

On June 26, the National Capital Region (NCR) Wage Board issued Wage Order No. NCR-24. This granted a P40 hike on the daily minimum wage in the capital from P570 to P610 for workers in the non-agriculture sector and from P533 to P573 for those in the agriculture sector, service and retail establishments with 15 or fewer workers, and manufacturing establishments with less than 10 workers.

Nevertheless, it is an increase that may be hardly felt. The PSA has set the poverty threshold income to P12,030 per month for a family of five based on the 2021 Family Income and Expenditure Survey released in August 2022.  About 3.5 million families, or 13.2%, were living below the poverty line in 2021. However, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey released on May 7 showed that about 14 million Filipinos, or 51%, considered themselves poor. 

The self-rated poverty threshold – or the minimum monthly budget that self-rated poor households require so they don't consider themselves poor – jumped from P15,000 in December 2022 to P20,000 in March 2023. Even with the wage hike, think tank Ibon Foundation was quick to point out in its own analysis on June 30 that P610 is "still 47% short of the living wage of P1,160 that a family of five members should have."

"It is still a 'poverty wage' as the now-monthly P13,420 is still lower than the official poverty threshold of P13,741 in the NCR," the Ibon Foundation said. Some senators have also expressed concerns about the hike, acknowledging that the P40 increase is inadequate to sustain workers' needs.

It's crucial to note that fishermen and farmers, who fall under Agriculture Secretary Marcos' direct responsibility, are the poorest sectors in the Philippines, along with individuals living in rural areas and children. This is based on the PSA's estimates of poverty statistics in 2021, released just in March this year.

Human Rights Situation

Marcos made no mention of the human rights situation in the Philippines during his first SONA. If anything, it's telling which issues he considers priorities and which he regards perhaps as afterthoughts. The Dahas Project of the University of the Philippines' Third World Studies Center has kept a careful tally of the drug-related killings under Marcos, which persisted despite his "more holistic" approach to the drug problem. 

According to the Dahas Project via a report by Vera Files on June 14, one of these initiatives was the establishment of the Buhay Ingatan, Droga'y Ayawan (BIDA) Program in November 2022. However, the group reported that a total of 309 people had been killed in connection with illegal drugs as of May 31, almost a year since Marcos was sworn in as president. This figure was higher than the drug-related killings recorded in Duterte's last year as president (302). 

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said on June 28 that Marcos had "done little to improve human rights protections" and "address pending human rights issues." It added that Marcos should cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation.

The ICC's Appeals Chamber just junked on July 18 the Philippine government's appeal to block ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan's investigation of Duterte's bloody war on drugs. Marcos has made it known in the past that he has no plans for the country to rejoin the ICC. 

As per Inquirer.net's report yesterday, July 20, Solicitor-General Menardo Guevarra said that Marcos agreed with him about a full disengagement from the ICC and that "no further steps [are needed] as far as the state is concerned."

Laws Enacted

Marcos has signed seven pieces of legislation after one year as president. Of these seven laws, only four were among the 42 bills identified as priority measures by Marcos and his administration's Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC). These are the SIM Registration Act, An Act Postponing the December 2022 Barangay and SK Elections,

Amendments to the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Fixed Term Law, and the controversial Maharlika Investment Fund Act.

None of these four laws were among the 19 priority bills that Marcos mentioned in his maiden SONA. What do these laws entail?

Maharlika Investment Fund Act 

The Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF), which has a P500 billion authorized capital stock, has garnered widespread criticism since its filing in November 2022. It is the Philippines' first sovereign wealth fund, which will tap into the country's underutilized and surplus reserves for the government to use for investments in the promotion of economic growth.

The fund's initial capital will be sourced from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (100% dividends), the Land Bank of the Philippines (P50 billion), and the Development Bank of the Philippines (P25 billion). Despite debates over the MIF bill, it sped past both chambers of Congress and was signed into law just this week, on July 18, ahead of Marcos' second SONA. Less than 10 lawmakers voted against the MIF. 

When it comes to the public, sentiments about the fund are divided. An SWS survey released on July 6 showed that only 20% of adult Filipinos feel sufficiently informed about the MIF. 

Thirty-three percent reported only having a little knowledge about the MIF, whereas 47% said they have almost no or no knowledge at all about it. Fifty-one percent also said they expect little or no benefit from the MIF, while 46% said they expect much benefit from the fund. Even more, 31% said they have much confidence that the MIF will not end up in corruption, while 38% and 29% were undecided and had little confidence, respectively.

SIM Registration Act

The SIM Card Registration Act was passed into law in October 2022 and was the first law that Marcos signed as president. The law, according to then-Office of the Press Secretary Officer-in-Charge Cheloy Garafil via Inquirer.net on Oct. 10, aims to provide "accountability in the use of SIM cards and aid law enforcers to track perpetrators of crimes committed through phones."

While the law's goal was to safeguard the privacy of SIM card users, the SIM registration process was riddled with problems. Many users, upon registering their SIM cards, encountered various privacy and data concerns, such as text scams and spam, so much so that the police had to warn the public of such cybercrimes.

Postponement of Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Elections

Marcos Jr. signed on Oct. 10, 2022, Republic Act (RA) No. 11935, or the law postponing the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in December 2022.

“There shall be synchronized Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE), which shall be held on the last Monday of October 2023 and every three years thereafter,” the law reads.

The term of office for Barangay and SK officials commenced on November 30, following their election. Ex officio members of the Sangguniang Bayan, Sangguniang Panlungsod, or Sangguniang Panlalawigan will continue to serve until the next elections. Comelec Chairperson George Garcia said they will comply with the law by postponing the BSKE. Hence, the one-year postponement will also give way for Comelec to resume voter registration, ensuring a higher voter turnout.

Law Amending AFP Officers' Fixed Term 

Marcos signed Republic Act 11939, amending RA 11709, which prescribes fixed terms for key officials in the AFP. The enacted law strengthens professionalism and fosters policy stability and modernization efforts in the military forces.

The amended law states that the AFP chief of staff will have a maximum tour of duty for three consecutive years, while service commanders of the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, and Philippine Military Academy will have a two-year term of office.

Military officers must have at least a year remaining in active service before compulsory retirement. The maximum tenure of military officers holding the rank of brigadier general or commodore increased from three to five years, while a colonel or captain now has a maximum service period of 10 years.

International Presidential Trips

Detailed expense reports of Marcos’ frequent travels have yet to be released to the public, but the Palace has told the media to refer to the expenses as return on investment instead. Marcos explained that even a single Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would compensate for all the trips he had, Rappler reported on Jan. 24.

Meanwhile, Filipino broadcaster and economist Solita "Winnie" Monsod published a blog post titled "The Cost-Benefit Analysis of [Marcos'] Davos Trip," in which she estimated that P65.35 million was spent on Marcos’ (and 18 delegates’) transportation, lodging, and food.

Here’s a rundown of some of Marcos’ international trips in the past year, including pledges and agreements gained abroad:

During the first seven months since assuming the presidency, Marcos has recorded eight foreign trips that generated P3.48 trillion in investments, according to a report from the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) on Feb. 16, 2023.

These foreign investment commitments were from Indonesia (P468.96 billion), Singapore (P361.67 billion), the United States (P212.74 billion), Thailand (P255.53 billion), Belgium (P121.68 billion), China (P1.34 trillion), and Japan (P719 billion).

Of the overall pledges, P239 billion has been fulfilled through various project implementations across the country. There are also projects with a combined value of P1.7 trillion with signed MOUs or Letters of Intent that have yet to break ground. Additionally, the planning phase has been initiated for confirmed projects with a total value of P1.5 trillion.

Approximately P4.8 billion worth of investment pledges are anticipated to be acquired in 2023 as a result of Marcos’ travels abroad, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said via a POC news release on July 12.

During Marcos’ trip to Indonesia, which took place from Sept. 4-6 in 2022, he met with President Joko Widodo, who made a commitment to work toward strengthening the defense, trade, and other partnerships between their respective neighboring countries.

Following his visit to Indonesia, Marcos held his inaugural visit to Singapore on Sept. 7, 2022. While there, he had a bilateral meeting with Singaporean President Halimah Yacob. The two heads of state signed five deals, including the development of Clark, Pampanga and agreements on counterterrorism, personal data protection, water resource management, and digital cooperation.

On Sept. 20, 2022, in New York City, Marcos spoke before the 77th United Nations General Assembly about climate change and the economic gap between industrialized and developing nations.

Together with other international leaders, Marcos participated in the 29th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting, which took place from Nov. 16-19, 2023. During the summit, PBBM focused on issues relating to food security, energy security, and the mitigation of climate change.

Before the end of 2022, the chief executive boarded a flight to Brussels, Belgium for the three-day Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-European Union (EU) Summit. He described his trip as “productive and successful,” following plans by European companies to establish strategic partnerships in the Philippine market.

Despite concerns over the worsening situation in China in January this year, Marcos pushed for his state visit to China. Potential investments in the electric vehicle industry, mineral processing, and agribusiness from Chinese investors have been discussed.

Japan is Marcos’ ninth official business trip, where he had a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. Both leaders reaffirmed their dedication to enhancing cooperation in the areas of defense and security relations, as well as agriculture and Information and Communication Technology.

Other trips the president took outside the country included one to Cambodia in November 2022, when he attended the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in Phnom Penh. 

On Jan.16, he also flew to Davos, Switzerland, to take part in the World Economic Forum. At long last, he made his way to the United Kingdom on May 6 to attend the coronation of Prince Charles III, who ascended the British throne.

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