Speech of President Aquino at the 2010 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas

His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 2010 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals  and Organizations Overseas (PAFIOO)
[December 14, 2010, Rizal Ceremonial Hall, MalacaƱan Palace]
As president, I have many duties and responsibilities. One of those that I enjoy most is speaking before gatherings like this. This is a chance to pay tribute to twenty-four recipients of the Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas (PAFIOO). Composed of seven Filipino organizations, thirteen kababayans, three foreigners, and one foreign group, our recipients today are testaments to the enduring spirit of Bayanihan. To all our awardees: thank you for your compassion, diligence and hard work for Filipinos both here and abroad.

We have a teacher who, with her book—and I quote—”And God Smiled Back,” has inspired both Korean and Filipino students at the Catholic University of Korea. We also have a Pinoy organization in Israel which has been a loyal partner of our embassy in responding to calls for assistance from distressed Filipinos. We even have with us today a Filipino designer who is bringing honor and distinction to our country through the beautiful shoes and bags he has been creating for everyone around the world. (Unfortunately none are available for sale to people like me who are challenged to provide Christmas gifts to significant others.) From a police officer advocating the rights of the Filipino workers, to a visual artist committed in promoting Philippine arts and culture; from an NGO providing shelter and legal assistance to Filipinos suffering from maltreatment, to dance groups devoted in interpreting Philippine history through their art, this diverse group of awardees have devoted the best of their lives to their calling, as well as to those who are in need. As we celebrate the Month of Overseas Filipinos and the International Migrants’ Day, it is my fervent hope that you continue your dedicated service and efforts toward the advancement and improvement of the lives of Filipinos.
You have probably heard these numbers before, but it’s always worth reminding people of the important contributions Filipinos overseas make to their families and their country. Over 8.5 million of our people live or work abroad. Last year, they remitted 17.3 billion dollars, which is the equivalent of 10.8 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. As we near the end of this year, remittances will be even higher. Just going about their work and living their lives, overseas Filipinos are already helping others.
But like those of you gathered here tonight, they look for ways to do more. For example, through the Lingkod sa Kapwa Pilipino Program, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) received almost P8.4 million in cash donations amounting to 91,000 dollars in 2009. In 2010, various overseas Filipino communities and organizations raised more than 23,000 dollars. These donations were used to provide assistance to the victims of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.
I want to encourage more of these donations.
Unknown to many donors abroad, there is a “special facility” for the processing and granting of duty and tax-free privileges on donations to be used in government relief and rehabilitation programs in calamity-affected areas. During a state of calamity, the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) is authorized to issue the Memorandum Order 36 Clearance form to the Bureau of Customs, which grants duty and tax-free privileges to donations and importations intended for calamity victims. In short, a procedure to exempt taxes on overseas donations does exists. We have the capacity to get these donations through the administrative maze, and to the right people: the victims of calamities. So, if I could propose a deal: If you can help increase the amount of donations during calamities, PMS will be more than willing to issue more of these clearances, and to coordinate with other agencies that will help make sure that these donations do reach their intended beneficiaries at the quickest possible time.
I know how hard you, and others like you, work to build a better future for your families and communities. And I know I’ve just asked you to do even more. But I want to assure you that your government is also doing everything it can to bring about a Philippines that is more fair, more just, and definitely more prosperous. As part of our social protection package, it is important for us to strengthen our basic education and improve our health services. This is the reason why we have increased the budget for education in 2011 by 16 percent to P271.67 billion. The funding for rural health facilities and for immunization was also increased to P7.14 billion and P2.4 billion, respectively. We have also strengthened the Conditional Cash Transfer program by increasing its 2011 budget to P21 billion. These will provide the impetus needed by our reform agenda designed to significantly improve the lot of our people, especially the most disadvantaged.
If we all do our part, I have no doubt that together we can leave a legacy for our country that we can all be proud of. When I leave office in less than six years—thank God—we will be able to say that we left the Philippines in a much better state than we found it.
I know that I can count on you who are constantly ready to provide a helping hand to those in need. You stand out as a testament that we will never run out of men and women who will dedicate their lives toward the welfare of our countrymen. To tonight’s awardees: I congratulate you, not just for your awards, but also for your spirit of bayanihan. May you continue to wield the flaming torches of excellence, dedication, and nationalism. Together, let us keep the light of our country’s resurgence burning brightly, enough for the entire world to witness.
And before I end, let me share with you more good news. In my trips to both America and Japan, I was the beneficiary of further education: in California we already have a solar testing company established by Filipinos—they test solar panels. So it’s not true we are beneficiaries of transfer of technology. It seems we have expertise already recognized abroad. They also make solar panels, in that they translate ideas into actual products.
In Japan I was fortunate to meet a company called the Japan Gas Corp. They employ 70 engineers in Japan, 800 in the Philipines, and what they do is build refineries, among other plants, on a scale that doesn’t even exist in this country. But their talents are so recognized that their talents are so recognized that they have really such a big entity in this Japan Gas Corp.
In the Philippines, we have always thought that the semiconductor industry—our market leader for exports—was primarily there as an original equipment manufacturer. It turns out that a lot of the designs to further shrink these microprocessors is already being done in the Philippines because they feel they have a better chance of evading industrial espionage in this country, and the talent exists to further improve the semiconductors that are already being used in so many devises around the world.
Daily—well perhaps not daily but every so often—I am asked how is it that I am not as stressed as some of the other people in my cabinet, and I tell them it’s because since the buck stops with me a lot of the good news gets to me first, and I intend to share it with them. So we do expect to be responsible stewards of the trust that the people has bestowed upon us. We really are committed to making significant changes, enough that everybody can say by 2016—and I look forward to June 30 noon—that definitely we will be leaving something a lot better than what we found.
Thank you and good evening.