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Philippine President Marcos Jr vows no more COVID-19 lockdowns in his first State of the Nation address

Philippine President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr said in his first State of the Nation address that all students will go back to physical classes.

Philippine President Marcos Jr vows no more COVID-19 lockdowns in his first State of the Nation address
File photo of Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Jun 30, 2022 in Manila. (Photo: Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Monday (Jul 25) pledged that the country will no longer implement COVID-19 lockdowns, adding that it cannot afford to put one in place.

"With regards to issues of health, there is still the threat of COVID-19, especially with the discovery of new variants of the coronavirus," Marcos said in his first State of the Nation address.

"But we cannot afford to have another lockdown. We will no longer have lockdowns."

Marcos said that the country must balance the welfare and health of the people with the economy. He added that government agencies are cooperating with hospitals to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases to ensure that the healthcare system does not get overwhelmed.

The president also announced that full face-to-face classes will soon return for all students. Classes in the Philippines have been mostly conducted online since the start of the pandemic.

"The Department of Education is now preparing for its implementation in the upcoming school year, with the utmost consideration for the safety of students as we are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

"We must ensure that our classrooms are safe for teachers, for students and the entire academic community when they return to face-to-face classes."

Beyond the issues brought about by COVID-19, the need for a stronger healthcare system is also evident, he said. 

"We must bring medical services to the people and not wait for them to come to the hospitals and healthcare centres," he said. "We have utilised the big specialist hospitals like the Heart Centre, the Lung Centre, the Children's Hospital and the National Kidney and Transplant Institute.

"That's why it's clear that such institutions must not only be here, in the capital, but also in other parts of the country. It's clear that it is not only here in the capital that we must increase such healthcare facilities."

Healthcare services will also be deployed to hard-to-reach places a few times per week, so that people will no longer need to travel to town or regional centres to seek medical help, he added.

Marcos also pledged to improve working conditions for doctors and nurses.

TAX REFORMS

In his speech, Marcos also promised to overhaul his country's tax system and make it a destination for investment and tourism, promising also a big agriculture overhaul to boost output and reduce its heavy import reliance.

He said it was vital to implement reforms to bring in tourism and investment and maintain what was currently firm growth momentum.

He said the country is targeting 6.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent gross domestic product growth this year, and that growth momentum remained firm but the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was still ongoing.

The government will put in place tax administration reforms to increase revenue collection, as well as to realign expenditure priorities and improve spending efficiency to "immediately address the economic scarring of the COVID-19 pandemic", said the president.

He added that it was critical that the Philippines, a major importer of rice and other commodities, can boost its farm output and become more resilient to climate change.

Among the measures he would introduce was a moratorium on farmers' debts to allow them to channel resources into improving output.

"It will unburden farmers of their dues and be able to focus on improving farm productivity," he said, while stressing the need for an "infusion of fresh and new blood" and the use of scientific farming by a new breed of farmers.

Financial assistance to farmers and fishermen will be the "hallmark of his administration", Marcos said.

He also promised to improve education, healthcare and working conditions for doctors and nurses and boost infrastructure, including modernising airports.

More than 20,000 policemen, anti-riot contingents and troops were deployed to secure Marcos' address, which was held before a joint Congress session at the House of Representatives.

About 5,000 protesters also marched along a key road away from Congress, demanding a government aid and fuel subsidy amid the soaring cost of living, as well as justice for human rights victims under Marcos Jr's father, who was ousted in 1986.

Source: CNA/Reuters/AP/ga
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