Aquino: We’ve proven the impossible possibleBy Karen Boncocan, Katherine Evangelista
“We have proven the impossible possible; now, our task is reform towards true justice that continues even after our administration,” Aquino said in his third State of the Nation Address before the joint session of both houses of Congress at the House of Representatives.
Aquino, however, admitted that there are still many flaws in the system, “and repairing these will not be easy.”
“I am aware of the weight of your mandate. But this is what our people tasked us to do; this is the duty we have sworn to do; and this what we must do,” he said.
He also turned down calls for him to forget the sins of his predecessor so that the country can move forward because he strongly believes that the Philippines would suffer if he let those who enriched themselves plundering the country go unpunished.
“I find this unacceptable. Shall we simply forgive and forget the ten years that were taken from us? Do we simply forgive and forget the farmers who piled up massive debts because of a government that insisted on importing rice, while we could have reinvested in them and their farmlands instead? Shall we forgive and forget the family of the police officer who died while trying to defend himself against guns with nothing but a nightstick?
He said with reforms in public spending, the time was now ripe for the government to implement high-profile projects, invite more tourists in the area, spend more for education and health care. He vowed to parlay the robust economic confidence into economic gains and into higher wealth for his “bosses.”
“Nothing is impossible because if the Filipino people see that they are the only bosses of their government, they will carry you, they will guide you, they themselves will lead you towards meaningful change,” he said.
“It isn’t impossible for the Philippines to become the first country in Southeast Asia to provide free vaccines for the rotavirus. It isn’t impossible for the Philippines to stand strong and say, “The Philippines is for Filipinos—and we are ready to defend it.” It is not impossible for the Filipino who for so long had kept his head bowed upon meeting a foreigner—it is not impossible for the Filipino, today, to stand with his head held high and bask in the admiration of the world. In these times—is it not great to be a Filipino?” the President said.
Open for business
The President also declared that the country is now truly open for business.
Citing information that the Philippines was now enjoying positive credit, he told the nation that the stock exchange index now no longer went below 5000 from the earlier 4000, earning him applause from the audience.
Aquino said that what was once the sick man of Asia “now brims with vitality,” noting that the Philippines was once the debtors.
“Now, we are the creditors, clearly no laughing matter. Until recently, we had to beg for investments; now, investors flock to us,” said the President.
He cited testimony from foreign investors and analysts calling the Philippines as “Asia’s Next Tiger” and that “the Philippines is no longer a joke.”
“Last year, I asked the Filipino people: Thank those who have done their share in bringing about positive change in society. The obstacles we encountered were no laughing matter, and I believe it is only right that we thank those who shouldered the burdens with us, in righting the wrongs brought about by bad governance,” Aquino said.
The President thanked the members of his Cabinet for their dedication in implementing reforms.
“The Filipino people are lucky that there are those of you ready to sacrifice your private and much quieter lives in order to serve the public, even if you know that you will receive smaller salaries, dangers, and constant criticism in return,” he said.
He said growth in the economy is reaching the masses through the government’s “Pantawid Pamilya” (conditional cash transfer) program which has more than 700,000 beneficiaries.
By 2013, Aquino expressed hope that the government can provide the poor with 3.8 million more housing units.
The President said his reforms have taken root especially in the health sector with 85 percent of Filipinos now covered by PhilHealth after starting at 65 percent, or an additional 23.31 million more Filipinos covered under his watch.
Aquino is targeting full coverage within his term limit and he is planning to use additional revenues from the pending tax reforms on alcohol and cigarettes for this and other health care reforms
“We can easier fulfill all these goals, if the Sin Tax Bill—which rationalizes taxes on alcohol and tobacco products—can be passed. This bill makes vice more expensive while at the same time raising more money for health,” said the President.
The President said his job generation strategy was anchored on building and interconnecting the country’s infrastructure with completion of airports, railways and expressways in the country within his term.
”We will not build our road network based on kickbacks or favoritism. We will build them according to a clear system. Now that resources for these projects are no longer allocated haphazardly, our plans will no longer end up unfulfilled—they will become tangible roads that benefit the Filipino people,” said the President.
Catalyst for tourism
The President said that the infrastructure development program would be the catalyst for more tourist arrivals in the country. From 3.1 million tourist arrivals in 2010, the President said foreign visitors were on track to hit 4.6 million by the end of this year. “In two years, we would have had a bigger growth in tourist arrivals, compared to the increase charted by the previous administration in their nine years. But Secretary Mon Jimenez is still not satisfied. He says: if 24.7 million tourists came to Malaysia in 2011, and around 17 million visited Thailand, would it be too far-fetched to have ten million tourists visiting the Philippines annually by 2016?” said the President.
Aquino said when he came into office, the unemployment rate was 8 percent, but as of April 2011, the rate dropped to 7.2 percent and as of the first half of 2012, it has been reduced to 6.9 percent.
He said that some 3.1 million new jobs were created in the past three years of his administration. In the BPO industry alone, 638,000 people have been given jobs and this has infused $1 billion in our economy in 2011. The BPO industry has also generated many other indirect jobs, he added.
According to Aquino, the Armed Forces of the Philippine will receive many equipment and aircraft by early 2013.
By the end of the year, he said, the AFP will receive 21 refurbished UH-1H helicopters, four combat utility helicopters, radio and other communication equipment, rifles, mortars, mobile diagnostic laboratories and station bullet assemble.
He added that by January 2013, BRP Ramon Alcaraz– the country’s second Hamilton Class cutter– will arrive in the Philippines. With a report from Gil Cabacungan