SONA ‘covenant’ with ARBs, OFWs highlights Marcos’ 1st 100 days

By Jose Cielito Reganit

October 4 2022, 10:30 am

<p>President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives plenary hall on July 25, 2022. <em>(File photo)</em></p>

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives plenary hall on July 25, 2022. (File photo)

MANILA – When President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), he promised, among other things, to sign an executive order (EO) imposing a yearlong moratorium on the payment of land amortization and interest payments of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and launch a One Repatriation Command Center (ORCC) for distressed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

True to his word, the President issued EO 4 on Sept. 13 -- which is also the day he celebrated his 65th birthday -- to unburden ARBs of their debts for agricultural lands distributed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“A moratorium will give the farmers the ability to channel their resources in developing their farms, maximizing their capacity to produce, and propel the growth of our economy,” said Marcos in his first SONA on July 25.

Marcos, in his EO 4, said “this Administration finds it necessary to provide continuing relief to agrarian reform beneficiaries in order to assist in the process of recovery and ensure food security in the country” amid the continuing disruptive effects of the pandemic, and the new challenges posed on the production of crops due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as well as the pernicious effects of climate change.

The one-year moratorium will now take effect following the signing of its implementing rules and regulations (IRR) by Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III and Land Bank of the Philippines president and chief executive officer Cecilia Borromeo on Sept. 28.

Land Bank serves as the collection agent of the national government for land amortizations from ARBs, pursuant to its mandate as the financial intermediary of the CARP. All collections are then remitted to the Bureau of the Treasury.

The IRR stated that the one-year moratorium covers the payment of the principal value and the annual interest due and payable by the ARBs. It also provides for the identification of beneficiaries qualified to avail of the one-year payment suspension.

EO 4 also serves as a precursor for better things to come for ARBs, as the one-year moratorium period will now provide the needed time for Congress to pass the law condoning the existing loans of current ARBs with unpaid amortization and interest.

In his SONA, Marcos urged Congress to “also pass a law that will emancipate the agrarian reform beneficiaries from the agrarian reform debt burden, thereby amending Section 26 of Republic Act 6657.”

The proposed law will also ensure that ARBs set to receive their awarded land will receive it “without any obligation to pay any amortization.”

ORCC for distressed OFWs

“Para sa mga kababayan nating naiipit sa kaguluhan, inaabuso, at nanganganib ang buhay, ikinagagalak kong sa ilalim ng aking pamumuno, ay ilulunsad natin ang One Repatriation Command Center o ORCC. Ilalaan natin ang isang social media platform ng Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) at ang hotline upang matulungan agad at mailigtas sila mula sa mas higit na kapahamakan (For our countrymen trapped in conflicts, being abused, and whose lives are in danger, I am happy to say that under my administration, we will launch the ORCC. We will put up a DMW social media platform and a hotline to immediately help and rescue them from greater danger),” Marcos said during his SONA.

True enough, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) has launched the One Repatriation Command Center (One-Repat DMW) for distressed overseas Filipino workers and their families wishing to be “rescued” and repatriated back home.

In fact, the ORCC was launched on July 20, even before Marcos announced it in his SONA.

With the ORCC, all the families of distressed OFWs need to do now is to call the One-Repat DMW hotline 1348, or OFWs can email to [email protected]. A team of case officers, welfare officers and medical professionals will assist them with their concerns.

The Command Center, located at the Blas F. Ople Building (formerly POEA building) along EDSA corner Ortigas Avenue in Pasig City, also allows walk-in requests for assistance.

The One-Repat DMW will integrate the assistance already being offered by various agencies such as the Overseas Welfare Administration (OWWA), Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs in one single hub.

In his SONA, Marcos noted that in the past, OFWs and their loved ones had to knock on the doors of several government agencies to ask for help, with families from the provinces traveling all the way to Manila and incurring needless debts and expenses.

“Ngayon, kami na ang tatawag sa mga magulang ng OFWs para sabihin sa kanila ang petsa kung kailan nila mayayakap at makakapiling ang kanilang mga anak (Now, we will be the one who will call the parents of OFWs to tell them the date when they can embrace and be with their children),” Marcos said.

Fiscal framework

The Marcos administration has come out with Medium-Term Fiscal Framework (MTFF) to guide the crafting of annual budget.

Also known as the medium-term fiscal strategy of the Marcos administration, MTFF seeks to attain short-term macro-fiscal stability while remaining supportive of the country’s economic recovery and to promote medium-term fiscal sustainability.

In his SONA, Marcos said measurable medium-term macroeconomic and fiscal objectives include 6.5 to 7.5 percent real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2022; 6.5 to 8 percent real GDP growth annually between 2023 to 2028; 9 percent or single-digit poverty rate by 2028; 3 percent National Government deficit to GDP ratio by 2028; less than 60 percent National Government debt-to-GDP ratio by 2025; and at least 4,256USD income (GNI) per capita and the attainment of upper middle-income status by 2024.

As called for by the President, the House of Representatives and the Senate immediately adopted the MTFF through a Concurrent Resolution, which made it “an anchor for the annual spending and financing plan of the National Government and Congress when preparing the annual budget and undertaking related appropriation activities.”

“It is therefore a forward-looking document that extends beyond the traditional three-year horizon to reach six years, coinciding with the six-year coverage of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023 to 2028. The MTFF also promotes transparency and credible commitment to pursue the indicated socio-macroeconomic goals that optimize the government budget,” Marcos said.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez hailed the adoption by Congress of the MTFF Concurrent Resolution “a historic one.”

He said it was the first time that legislators fully committed themselves to a medium-term fiscal plan that will serve as anchor for the annual spending and financing plan of the national government.

“This Medium-Term Fiscal Framework will serve as our guide in preparing the annual budget and in prioritizing other legislative measures for the next six years,” Romualdez said.

With the MTFF in mind, the House on Sept. 28 approved on final reading the first budget bill under Marcos, the PHP5.268-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) for 2023.

Once approved in the Senate and ratified by both Chambers of Congress, it will be sent to President Marcos for his signature. (PNA)