MANILA, July 25 (Reuters) – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Monday outlined ambitious plans for his six-year term in office that focus on fiscal management, infrastructure upgrades and turning the long-neglected farm sector into an engine of growth.
The Philippines is beset with numerous challenges, from soaring prices, food shortages, poverty and inequities in education, but Marcos, the son of the strongman overthrown in a 1986 revolt, said he was optimistic.
“We live in difficult times brought about by some forces of our own making, but certainly, also by forces that are beyond our control. But we have, and we will continue, to find solutions,” Marcos said in a speech to Congress.
Marcos, who began his term on June 30, won a landslide victory in May capping off his wealthy family’s decades-long quest to regain the presidency and rehabilitate its image after it was driven out of power.
The elder Ferdinand Marcos ruled for two decades from 1965, almost half of it under martial law, during which time thousands of his opponents were jailed, killed or disappeared, and billions of dollars of state wealth were plundered. The Marcos family denies embezzlement.
Chanting “Never again to martial law!”, hundreds of activists held a rally a few blocks away from the parliamentary building ahead of Marcos’s address, demanding an end to a “crisis in wages, jobs and rights”.
Marcos, who has taken the agriculture portfolio, said he would create jobs and support growth by modernizing agriculture, to boost food production and cut imports in the face of a global food price crisis.
Among his first acts as president would be to suspend farmers’ debts, he said. Agriculture output currently accounts for a tenth of GDP.
In a 78-minute speech, Marcos promised to expand his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte‘s infrastructure program, with a renewed focus on building and upgrading the country’s aging rail transport systems.
He assured investors he would not suspend any of the projects that previous governments started, and that infrastructure spending would be sustained at 5% to 6% of GDP.
Marcos also said he was committed to boosting investments in renewable energy. He said he was also open to adding nuclear power in the mix of the country’s energy sources, a plan started by his late father in the 1970s.
Marcos Jr also promised the Philippines, a US defense ally that has recently become closer to China, would remain independent in its foreign policy even as he vowed he would not lose a square inch of Philippines territory to any foreign power, drawing lengthy applause.
His administration would implement sound fiscal policy management, including introducing new taxes, to help finance investments in technology, health care and education, as he sought to make the country an investment destination.
Marcos said his government would work towards keeping classrooms safe amid the pandemic so teachers and students could resume face-to-face classes, and he promised to improve education.
“Our children must be equipped with the best that we can provide,” he said.
(Reporting by Karen Lema, Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie)
This article originally appeared on reuters.com