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Advance the 9-point People’s Agenda for Change during Marcos Jr.’s first SONA

The following is a press statement issued by the People’s Summit on July 16, 2022. The People’s Summit was organized by think-tank Ibon, multi-sectoral group Bayan, the Makabayan Coalition of progressive partylist groups, and the Movement for Good Governance and Genuine Democracy, in cooperation with other groups such as CURE COVID, Rise Up and Kontra Daya. It sought to bring together the different people’s demands under a new administration and find ways to achieve these demands amid the worsening crisis in the country.

In his June 30 inaugural speech as president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. boasted that his administration is now drawing up a “comprehensive, all-inclusive plan for economic transformation” to address the current crisis faced by the nation. He vowed to revive agriculture and promote food self-sufficiency, and address our country’s reliance on imported fuel. He said he will improve the situation of health care workers and teachers. He will continue the previous government’s infrastructure program, as he promised that “no part of the country will be neglected” and that “progress will be made wherever there are Filipinos.”

Marcos’ economic managers also boasted of reducing poverty and the country’s debt to GDP ratio, even as they looked towards imposing new taxes to pay for the massive debt left by the Duterte regime. Inflation is expected to reach 7% by year-end while the peso is now at its weakest since 2004. Due to rising prices, thousands of commuters spend hours in line daily to avail of limited free rides. Targeted subsidies have proven insufficient as oil prices continue to rise, and with prices of other commodities also affected by rising transportation costs.

A recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 57% of Filipinos believe that controlling inflation is the most immediate concern that should be addressed by the Marcos regime. This was followed by a wage increase, reducing poverty and job creation. The economic crisis is indeed the most pressing concern faced by tens of millions of Filipinos today.

Yet there are other important concerns raised by the Pulse Asia survey including the need to fight graft and corruption, equal application of the law, fighting criminality and promoting peace in the country.

For all these issues and concerns, both short-term and long-term, we have yet to see Marcos Jr. come up with a concrete plan of action. He has promised to unveil something during his first SONA. If his choices for cabinet posts as well as his track record in government are to be the basis, there seems to be little hope that there will be a radical rupture from the policies that have plunged the country into endemic poverty, underdevelopment, gross inequality and conflict.

Because of the urgency of the issues faced by the people, various sectors and organizations came together for three days to craft a People’s Agenda for Change that will serve as both fighting demands and an outline of the basic reforms that need to be undertaken to address the systemic roots of the crisis. The People’s Agenda covers the areas of the economy, social policy, human rights and peace, sovereignty and foreign policy, governance and freedom of expression. The urgent demands and proposals shall be submitted to relevant government agencies, institutions, and more importantly, to the people, so as to galvanize their involvement in shaping government policies that affect them.

We will bring up these issues during Marcos Jr.’s first State of the Nation Address and use the People’s Agenda as one reference point in evaluating the so-called “comprehensive, all-inclusive plan” that will be unveiled by his administration. We shall actively monitor the implementation or non-implementation of these demands and proposals, well into the first 100 days and the six years of this administration.

The People’s Agenda for Change can be summarized into 9 points that need immediate response by the Marcos administration, both as a matter of national survival and as a path towards genuine pro-people and pro-Filipino development.

1. Address rising prices now, by suspending taxes on oil products, imposing restrictions on harmful deregulation policies, supporting a national minimum wage and ending contractualization, and providing adequate aid for the economically displaced during the pandemic.

2. Revive local agriculture and make domestic food production a priority by suspending conversion of agricultural lands, providing P15,000 subsidy for Filipino farmers and fisherfolk, allotting 10% of the national budget for agriculture and ending reliance on importation of agricultural products starting with the repeal of the Rice Tariffication Law.

3. Make land reform and national industrialization as the foundation of pro-people economic development, support Filipino-owned industries, ensure local job creation, allot at least 1% of the national budget for scientific and technological research and development, re-nationalize power assets previously owned by the government including the national grid, and address the mass transport crisis by providing more government-owned and managed mass transportation.

4. Make the defense and promotion of human rights a key commitment of the Philippine government, abandon the failed Duterte “drug war” and counter-insurgency drive, abolish the NTF-ELCAC, hold accountable the worst human rights violators of the past regime, free all political prisoners, allow and cooperate with international mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court and the UN Special Rapporteurs for independent investigations, provide indemnification for the human rights victims including those under the Marcos dictatorship, repeal the Anti-Terror Law and stop the weaponization of the law against government critics, end gender-based violence especially those driven by State forces, end the continuing military operations and IHL violations in the countryside, surface the disappeared, and resume the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations to address the roots of the armed conflict and pave the way for a just and lasting peace.

5. Adopt a clear government policy to fight disinformation, protect freedom of expression and press freedom, including preventing the use of official government platforms for disinformation, red-tagging and other forms of hate speech, and revoke all Duterte-era orders and actions that undermine freedom of expression and press freedom, including the NTC order to internet service providers to block websites of media and other groups.

6. Institute a democratic, ethical and accountable governance. Adopt a zero-tolerance policy against corruption and other forms of unethical governance starting with the filing of cases against officials involved in the Pharmally scam, conduct a special audit of emergency procurements made during the pandemic, ensure effective public participation in the budget process, remove all forms of pork barrel funds, whether in the executive or legislative departments in the national budget, promote freedom of information, transparency and accountability in government, and protect government employees from unjust termination as a result of government plans to downsize the bureaucracy. Reform the current electoral system to one that is democratic, transparent and fraud-free.

7. Provide free health care and basic social services for the people by realigning funds for untimely and unwarranted “build-build-build” infrastructure programs, pork barrel spending, destructive militarization campaigns, and other non-productive, wasteful expenditure items towards health, education, housing, and economic aid for the people, allocating 10% of the GDP for health and COVID response, enacting a Free, Comprehensive and Progressive, National Public Health Care System Act, suspending the increase in Philhealth premiums, increasing benefits for health care workers, allotting the equivalent of 6% of the GDP for education and ensuring the safe return to face-to-face classes in the upcoming school year.

8. Uphold national sovereignty and an independent foreign policy that will place national interest above any foreign dictates or agenda, starting with the assertion of the Philippines’ legal victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in relation to the West Philippine Sea, a thoroughgoing review of all lopsided military agreements with the US towards renegotiation or abrogation, a review of questionable China-funded projects, the suspension of foreign military exercises in the Philippines and a commitment to supporting the demilitarization of the South China Sea, towards achieving non-alignment, peace and stability in the region.

9. Ensure environmental protection, rehabilitation and balanced use of the country’s natural wealth, the conservation of the country’s natural resources and the full exercise of national sovereignty over these, by stopping the revival of the BNPP, stopping destructive open-pit mining operations and destructive reclamation projects, promoting marine biodiversity and sustainable livelihood for the people, protecting indigenous communities who are the stewards of the environment, and demanding loss and damage compensation from polluter nations and corporations for climate justice.