Marcos Jr.’s first SONA: Big on economy, silent on HR and corruption

ANG PANGARAP niyo ang pangarap ko.” This was Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s assurance to the nation last June 30 when he delivered his inaugural speech as the 17th President of the country. It was a significant message, words that carried the weight of the past, spoken by the second Marcos to lead the country.   

On July 25, Marcos’ first State of the Nation Address (SONA) was an opportunity to move beyond the campaign and present the much awaited plan for the nation which he will pursue in the next six years. Government officials, legislators in Congress and the public look to this speech for direction, and ordinary people wanted to know what the President would do to help them deal with a most uncertain future. 

Leading the country during a most difficult time, Marcos is confronted with high expectations for relief from the multiple crises caused by the persistent pandemic and the global fuel shortage that has inflated the cost of living for all. His speech was awaited with more than just public interest, but with deep and widespread concern. 

As every SONA is a must-cover event for the media, TV newsrooms in particular have to worry about capturing and then holding media attention; the latter being more difficult to do in the current media landscape. Covering a live event, however, holds them to show what they see and hear in real time. 

CMFR looked at the July 25 special coverage of ABS-CBN, CNN Philippines, GMA-7, and TV5. CMFR also checked post-SONA reports by online media Rappler,, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Bulatlat.

Production and presentation 

TV newscasts had anchors in place in network studios wearing Filipiniana or Barong. Reporters were also fielded in several locations: the Batasang Pambansa Complex, rally sites and the streets to interview ordinary citizens. 

All the networks retained their regular morning programs as scheduled, but shifted to live streaming  events during the opening of Congress.

Journalists said it was the first time for Philippine legislators to gather in person at the Batasang Pambansa for a full face-to-face event since the pandemic began and that the last two SONAs of Duterte were hybrid events, with only a small portion of legislators physically present. Teleradyo anchor Alvin Elchico noted that most of those in attendance were not wearing masks; field reporter Johnson Manabat said since COVID tests were made mandatory, the attendees probably felt confident about not doing so.

Opening of Congress

The Senate and the House of Representatives began their first session at 10 AM, a few hours before Marcos’ SONA. The opening of the 19th Congress and the nominations for Senate President and Speaker of the House were aired and reported live on all channels. 

All networks were limited to live streams hooked up with RTVM’s broadcast stream. The Duterte and Marcos administrations have retained control over production and presentation and placed these in the hands of state media. 

The practice of allowing only state-run media to record the event on site was started by the previous administration. Marcos has stuck to this denial of direct access by private media, which with their own cameras can choose to roam the scene and select their subjects for close ups, among other editorial decisions. 

Media noted how both the leaders of the upper and lower chambers of Congress were Marcos’ allies and family members. Media allotted ample airtime on the nominations, proceedings, and speeches of the two leaders after their election to the posts.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri of the Uniteam senate slate was unanimously elected Senate President after his nomination by six out of 24 senators. Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros, the two-member minority bloc, abstained from voting. Siblings Pia Cayetano and Alan Peter Cayetano did not participate in the voting and opted to form an “independent bloc,” but media did not say whether this practice had a precedent, or if Senate rules allow the formation of independent blocs. 

Meanwhile, a supermajority of 283 members of the House of Representatives elected Rep. Martin Romualdez, Marcos’ cousin, as the chamber’s next speaker, with no opposition to his nomination. There were four abstentions, and one nay vote. Twenty-two representatives had no vote. 

Romualdez received endorsements from major political parties in the larger chamber of Congress, including previous Duterte’s PDP-Laban, the National Unity Party, the Nacionalista Party, and the Party-list Coalition Foundation Inc., among others.

Noting these political alliances, anchors correctly raised concerns about the supermajority overwhelming the opposition, a condition that does not favor democratic debate and discussion. Studio guests at Teleradyo, Professors Dennis Coronacion and Froilan Calilung agreed that Marcos’ legislative proposals could pass without much discussion, but that limited and does not bode well for democracy.

Not all channels aired the nominations for deputy speakers. ABS-CBN, TV5, and GMA kept live streaming until former president and Marcos ally Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected senior deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. Arroyo initially committed to attend but tested positive for COVID-19, and thus joined the event virtually.

CNN Philippines went back to its studio discussion earlier to review the speech of the newly-elected leaders and to note the political alliances formed.

SONA as main event

The SONA is a key component of the annual opening of Congress, the main event within an event. ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo, GMA-7, and CNN Philippines started their special coverage at 2:00 PM. While ANC and TV5 started theirs at 3:00 PM. 

Before Marcos’ speech, anchors in the studio read from scripts what the public could expect from Marcos’ SONA and received live updates from field reporters.

As was the custom in previous SONAs, the media paid attention to the arrival of VIPs and red carpet fashions. Since the pandemic, however, the media have diminished the fashion notes and this year’s coverage observed the same restraint. Media correctly focused on interviews, asking legislators and other guests what they expect or would like to hear from President Marcos. Media also noted the absence in person of all former presidents in the event. 

After one hour and 14 minutes of Marcos’ speech, the media noted the contrast between Marcos’ style of public speaking to Duterte whose speeches even for formal occasions were peppered with curse words, off-the-cuff remarks, and rambling. They noted that Marcos was very technical in providing numbers and using economic jargon.

ABS-CBN, CNN Philippines and TV5 invited political analysts to their studios to discuss Marcos’ promises, what was left out, and what the tone of his speech was, while GMA provided a synthesis after the speech.

Focus on numbers 

Julio Teehankee in ANC said Marcos gave a “too detailed” speech. The first part, he noted, sounded like an economic report by the NEDA. Tony La Viña in CNN Philippines said that because of the technical terms in the speech, it seemed like it was addressed to policy makers, diplomats, and investors, rather than ordinary Filipinos. 

Antonio Contreras in TV5 praised Marcos’ plans to increase the government’s finances. He added that research and science were prominent in the speech, noting plans for the economy and agriculture. Calilung on Teleradyo agreed that the focus on agriculture was a welcome development, although Marcos lacked details re the implementation of programs in this sector. 

A glimpse of Marcos Sr.

ANC’s Karmina Constantino correctly noted the “emancipation of farmers’ loans” was a cornerstone of Marcos Sr.’s programs. Teehankee also called the event  a “throwback afternoon” because of the numerous programs from Marcos Sr.’s playbook. He said that the son should learn from the mistakes of his father and previous administrations.

Misses, omissions

Guest analysts underlined notable omissions. Richard Heydarian in TV5 and La Viña in CNN Philippines said the President did not discuss federalism or constitutional change, the fate of the PCGG, human rights, or the drug war. Meanwhile, Rogelio Singson told ANC he was waiting for any anti-corruption statement and a reference to Masagana 150 as previously announced by the agriculture department. 

Heydarian said “omission matters.” He noted that Marcos had avoided “explosive, divisive, or controversial” issues to focus on his constructive agenda. 

Discussions correctly pointed out that his most applauded statements were about the health crisis and the country’s ongoing maritime dispute with China: bringing health facilities beyond the Metro and not surrendering “even a square inch” of the country’s territory in the West Philippine Sea. But he stated clearly that the Philippines will be a “friend to all, and an enemy to none.”

TV channels went back to their regular primetime newscasts as early as 5:30 PM. The reports recalled the events of the day and early reactions from different experts. 


On the same day, July 25, some of the media published notable reports online that provided analyses from individual experts and groups.

  • CNN Philippines, PCIJ, and Rappler listed the issues Marcos had left out in his SONA such as human rights, security, and peace processes, and cited experts on those subjects.
  • Bulatlat also cited groups which pointed out red-tagging, political imprisonment, and freedom of the press as some of the issues Marcos did not mention.
  • highlighted the fact that despite many mentions of environment and climate issues, the president remained mum on the challenges faced by environmental defenders. The following day, July 26, the news outfit also issued a similar effort to compile the many issues missed.

Media coverage recorded the general agreement among resource persons that Marcos’ speech presented plans and directives to the Cabinet. But they also noted that the SONA did not say enough to assure the public that they can weather the severe crises facing the country. 

Media’s next steps are clear however– reports must follow up on what plans and strategies Marcos Jr. presented in his first SONA, in the first year of his presidency.