There’s no stopping change.
Halfway through his six-year term, President Aquino on Monday exhorted Filipinos to discard all lingering doubts about the sincerity of his administration in completing the tasks, including achieving inclusive growth, it set out to do three years ago.
Facing a joint session of Congress to deliver his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona), the President said the strategy to achieve inclusive growth was to maximize opportunities for all, especially those most in need.
In his speech, the President asked: “Is there any space left for doubt? Especially now that we are achieving things we never thought we could achieve, especially now that we have made progress—that our shared goals are within reach? My bosses: ‘Is this really the time to have doubts?”’
Aquino said inclusive growth was the principle that was driving every initiative, action and decision of his administration. “Widespread opportunity is key to comprehensive and sustained progress. The only ones who may be left behind are the ones who did not seize the opportunity,” he said.
The President was apparently responding to critics, especially Catholic bishops, who said that the benefits of economic growth that his administration had been crowing about were not trickling down to the poor. They pointed out that the country was recording jobless growth.
Aquino said it was clear that Filipinos were the ones who would shape this growth. “(Y)ou are the ones who will determine whether the fruits of our labors become sweet and ripe for the picking, or if you will let them rot away, and waste the chances that this new chapter in our history has given us.”
He, however, did not mention any blueprint to generate jobs for the millions who are unemployed or underemployed.
He said there were no more roadblocks to treading the straight path.
“Once, I was told: Noynoy, just begin the change. So we did, and we can all see how far we have come. Now, my countrymen, let us continue to stand arm-in-arm. Together, let us foster, accelerate and expand the transformation of society. I am Noynoy Aquino and I proudly say to the world: ‘I am a Filipino. How wonderful to be a Filipino today,’” said the President.
He did not take credit for this transformation, saying the business of “good, honest governance” was “brought about by the millions of Filipinos who have, in their own ways, big and small, pitched in and transformed the country.”
Aquino credited these unsung heroes for this change, but said:
“The road ahead of us is long; and we never said it would be easy—or that we could tread this path free of challenge. But I do not doubt our capacity to overcome any obstacle. We did not achieve our current success by chance. Let us not allow this transformation to be temporary; let us seize this opportunity to make the change permanent.”
In straightforward manner, he reported a harvest of notable accomplishments, with infrastructure projects even reaping huge savings for the government.
He said this efficiency in managing funds had freed up much-needed resources that were channeled to education, health, social services and modernization of law enforcement agencies, to name a few.
It took the President one hour and 42 minutes to describe the benefits to the people of projects that had been completed, under construction, or in the pipeline. His speech was interrupted more than 90 times with applause.
Continuation of agenda
Looking ahead toward his retirement in 2016, the bachelor Chief Executive appeared hopeful, saying the next presidential election was not the end but rather the continuation of the agenda for change.
“There are those who always ask: What will happen in 2016? What will happen when you step down? Will that be the end of good, honest governance? Will we have reached the end of the straight path?”
“My bosses, let us remember: Where did we begin? If you have doubts now, compare them to the doubts we all carried in 2010. Were we not happy enough then just to see the darkness end? Was it not enough for us to be able to replace those in power?” he asked.
He said Filipinos were already experiencing change. “Change that has sprung from the seeds of kindness, solidarity and goodwill; change that was brought about by the millions of Filipinos who have, in their own ways, big and small, pitched in and transformed the country.”
‘I trust you’
After three years and less than a month as President, Aquino declared that this “straight path” mantra of leadership had not only led to efficient management of resources, but also convinced even the ultra-traditional skeptics—the Moro rebels—that change was afoot.
Said Aquino: “Just look at where working together as one people has brought us: Did anyone imagine that peace would be within reach for a region that has, for the past 40 years, been torn apart by conflict? Who else could be responsible for this but the Moros who laid down their arms and said: ‘Come. Let’s talk. I trust you’? Who else but the common Filipino citizen who said: ‘Brother, we are all Filipinos. Let us put an end to this conflict.’”
He was referring to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has signed a framework agreement with the government.
The President noted that when the expansion of the coverage of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program (4Ps, or conditional cash transfer program) was initially proposed, there were many questions about spending taxpayers’ money to alleviate the plight of the poorest of the poor.
‘Did anyone imagine?’
“Did anyone imagine that in just three years, we will have expanded the scope of our project to cover four million household beneficiaries? And isn’t it they themselves who continue to help this program succeed? Each mother who wakes up early to send her child off to school? Each child who studies hard?” he asked.
He said good governance also led to increased chances of achieving rice self-sufficiency.
“Did anyone imagine that a country known as the ‘Sick Man of Asia’ would, within three years of good governance, reach investment grade status? Who would have thought that all the social interventions the government is providing right now would be doable without raising taxes, apart from the sin tax? And did they not have a part in this? Each accountant, each doctor, each lawyer who now pays the right taxes? Didn’t we all have a part in this?” he said.
“For every Filipino who believes in the strength of small acts of kindness: You made this transformation possible. This is your Sona,” Aquino said.
‘This is your Sona’
He extended the same recognition to the often unheralded contributions of teachers, police officers, wise voters, students “and to all who roused their fellow citizens from apathy, those who challenged the cynics in our midst, and those who made the stubborn see reason: This is your Sona.”
He said that when he was a congressman, the people of Tarlac were his strength. “When I became a senator and until now, in my presidency, the people of our country have been there. To the Filipino people, you are my strength. As we continue doing our part—and as we continue placing faith in our fellow men and in God—I tell you: ‘It will still be you who will make certain that what we have begun here will continue; you will be the ones who will make sure that we will completely eradicate corruption; you will be the ones who will make sure that we will never again stray from the straight path,’” he said.
The President reported achievements to prove that the benefits of good governance and robust economy were starting to be felt by many sectors.
Besides, the 7.8-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the first quarter of the year—the highest recorded GDP in East and Southeast Asia—the country had two consecutive 10-place jumps in the global competitiveness rankings of the World Economic Forum.
“For the first time in history, the Philippines was upgraded to investment-grade status by two out of the three most respected credit ratings agencies in the world, and we are confident that the third may follow,” he said.
He said his administration had maintained the price stability of consumer goods and continued to reduce the portion of the national budget for paying debts, while increasing the funds for social services.
“We are now considered a rising tiger by the World Bank; the ‘brightest spark,’ according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, among other accolades that allude to the transformation that is sweeping our nation,” he said.
“From the prudent expenditure of funds to the effective collection of taxes; from infrastructure development to the transparent conduct of business that generates jobs, our message to the world could not be clearer: the Philippines is ready to ride the tides of progress,” he added.