“The state of the nation is sound, and is improving. Dumating na po ang Bagong Pilipinas,” declared Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, 2023.

It seemed deliberate on his part to end his speech with the “Bagong Pilipinas” (New Philippines) pitch because the intention was to promote a new brand rather than present a report on how well the nation is doing. Clearly, we’re not doing well. With the new logo, the SONA climax was more of a “re-branding.”

His father’s dream for a “New Society” never materialized, as the late dictator only made sure that the wealth of the nation be swept into the hands of the first family and their cronies. In 1986, Marcos Sr. fled the Philippines—one of the most advanced countries in Asia before his rule—deep in debt, its economy and institutions in shambles, and its people divided.

That New Society left no golden age. Marcos Sr. left only 21 years of badly and autocratically ruled nation.

Today, the “Bagong Pilipinas” pitch does not look back to that old era to convey a new brand. The new branding is based on a misplaced belief that something great happened in the first year of the second Marcos—something that doesn’t ring true for ordinary Filipinos.

Screenshot from RVTM.
Snapshot from RVTM.

Napatunayan natin na kayang maipababa ang presyo ng bigas, karne, isda, gulay, at asukal,” the President claimed.

The people, through social media, exploded in disbelief: “Sana all, where in the world is that!”

Expectedly, the reaction was spontaneous because most of the people—the 45% who consider themselves poor in the recent SWS survey—experienced the opposite. The President himself reported that only 1.3 million Filipinos benefited from the subsidized operations of Kadiwa centers. In other words, the cost-of-living crisis in the Philippines is harsher outside of Kadiwa, a sharp contrast to what is being portrayed by the Marcos government.

Marcos Jr. also left out any mention of a wage hike or some other form of relief for workers in the second SONA. This means that the current minimum wage levels will stay in the face of the announcement by manufacturers that they are planning to raise the prices of at least 43 products. Oil prices rose at least P6/liter in just a matter of two weeks two weeks after SONA, while millers in Bulacan bared steep hikes in rice prices as a kilo of palay is expected to increase further to P36-P38/kg. Likewise, spikes in the prices of imported rice are expected this year due to supply problems in the rice exporting countries. Prices of vegetables also escalated after floods from typhoon Egay left agriculture devastated, particularly in the Central and Northern Luzon regions.

In terms of another basic human right, that is the right to decent shelter, the President promised that by the end of his term, six million homeless Filipinos will get their own houses under the Pambansang Pabahay Para sa Pilipino or 4PH. But the price tag of P1.2 million-P1.5 million per unit is significantly higher from the current loanable amount for socialized housing of P750,000; this will therefore translate to higher amortization rates as government subsidy only covers 1 percent of the interest rates. For the poorest of the poor and the minimum wage earners whose take-home pay is below the poverty threshold of P12,000 per month, a housing amortization of P4,000 to P6,000 will be unaffordable.

The West may regard the Philippine economy with optimism. It may look at the country as not only surviving the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic but also as having the best chance of recovering fast and achieving more in the ASEAN region.

The Philippines’ economic managers are flaunting the country’s 6-percent economic growth rate as a major achievement in the time of pandemic hangover and growing inflation. And in his many travels, Marcos Jr. repeats this piece of good news before world leaders and investors in the hope of drawing in foreign capital.

Foreign capital has become very cautious about investing their money in Europe, where they see no end to the Ukraine war, or in the US, where investment opportunity is overcrowded. So to draw foreign investments, the Philippines needs to sell incentives other than GDP numbers; it needs to tack in freebies such as a free investment regime, a vibrant market, lower power cost, flexible labor market, high level of infrastructure, and good governance.

Absent these, the Philippines’ remaining selling points are cheap, flexible, and English-savvy labor and extractable minerals from land and forests for mining money. But apparently, these are apparently not enough to attract more capital to our shores.

On July 5, the United Nation’s World Investment Report 2023 shows that the 2022 flow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) to the Philippines fell by 23 percent. FDI flows to Malaysia grew by 39 percent, Vietnam by 14 percent, Singapore by 8 percent, and Indonesia by 4 percent. Inflow to the Philippines also dropped almost 20 percent (19.6 percent) in the first quarter of 2023. In short, the best economy in the world is not the best FDI destination in the ASEAN region.

A frequent flyer since his term began on June 30, 2022, Marcos Jr. has already made 12 international trips to 11 countries. In fact, he flew to another country right after his SONA. And for the year 2024, the Office of the President has proposed a P3.8-million-a-day budget for travel; meaning, he will travel more.

A year has passed since the Philippines’ new chief executive was sworn into office, but the high prices of goods and the low salaries have barely moved—unlike the President na makati ang paa.

Wilson Fortaleza is a fellow at Center for Power Issues and Initiatives (CPII), and LEARN. He is also the deputy secretary general of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM).