MOST Filipinos seem pleased with the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., especially for the broad attention given to the economy. He gave details of what needs to be accomplished. And hopefully, that will be enough to shield the country from serious headwinds coming from abroad.

External threats have wreaked havoc here and around the world. Among the more recent ones is the war in Ukraine, which is fiercely fending off Russia's invasion. The conflict there is blamed for the high inflation plaguing the world after the United States, Western Europe and other countries imposed economic sanctions on Russia for its actions. However, Russia just happens to be the world's third-largest oil producer. So, as consumers here noticed, pump prices are expensive despite recent rollbacks.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on Monday, July 25, 2022. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his first State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on Monday, July 25, 2022. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

The moves by the US to tame its inflation has impacted here as well. The dollar is stronger against all other currencies because of the interest rate hikes imposed by the US Federal Reserve, their central bank. That includes the Philippine peso.

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Last week, Philippine central bank governor Felipe Medalla was again telegraphing that the monetary board will likely raise local interest rates when it meets again this month. On the positive side, he and the other economic managers are still confident about their forecasts for recovery from the pandemic, another threat that originated abroad and likely to remain a fixture in everyone's daily life.

The global impact in Eastern Europe has also raised concerns about global food security, which is apparently why Mr. Marcos has decided to be hands-on at the Department of Agriculture. Ukraine is a leading supplier of wheat, and because of the war there, Filipinos are seeing higher prices of their local breakfast staple, the pandesal.

Regional issues

Evidently, the war in Ukraine is also having repercussions in several regional issues. For one, the conflict seems to be pushing China closer to Russia. That was evident when Moscow announced that it supports China's position on Taiwan amid the controversial plans of the US House speaker to go there when she visits Asia this week.

The Philippines recognizes Taiwan as part of China by virtue of the "One China" policy. But when tensions flare-up between the mainland and its "breakaway" province, locals worry about the 160,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) there. Some claim that number might actually double, if undocumented OFWs are also counted.

Of course, the Philippines has other issues with China, which claims most of the South China Sea region in its so-called nine-dash line. But as Mr. Marcos said in his SONA, the Philippines will fiercely protect every inch of its territory. He even added, "We are jealous of all that is Filipino."

That said, people are eager to hear details of the new administration's independent foreign policy. The plan to be a friend to everyone, and an enemy to no one will likely be tested when China takes a hardline stand on its disputed territorial claims. Parts of the territories in the nine-dash line area are also claimed by the Philippines, as well as Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

For now, Mr. Medalla and the Marcos economic team are confident that the country's fundamentals can withstand external pressures. But none of them would probably want that tested by worsening complications from the external threats mentioned here and others not included.

As said before in this space, we hope that Mr. Marcos succeeds because that will benefit the entire country. Fortunately, his economic team is working in tandem with career diplomats, led by Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, to address external threats that raise domestic concerns. No offense to political appointees, but Mr. Manalo is off to a good start in selecting a team composed of career diplomats.

Indeed, many people have praised the Marcos government for appointing technocrats and other professionals. The challenges they face, especially in getting the Philippines back on an economic growth track, are formidable.

Despite the external and internal threats, the state of the nation is sound, as Mr. Marcos proclaimed. But keeping it that way will be trickier to pull off.