Speech of PNoy at the Singapore Business Forum

Mr. Noynoy AquinoImage via WikipediaSpeech of His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the Singapore Business Forum

[Delivered at the Shangri-La, Singapore on March 11, 2011]

The first question any government asks itself is “What would we like to achieve?” Vision is a prerequisite for good leadership, and I think that despite the many different paths toward its fulfillment, every nation aspires for one thing: the betterment of the lives of its people.

Yesterday I met with your business leaders inside the Fullerton, and learned that it was once a post office building. But rather than let it fall into disrepair and neglect, you have transformed it into one of your country’s prime hotels.

Seeing what was done with the Fullerton inspired me; it made me realize what my job entails. I see myself as a sort of building administrator, tasked to look after a building in a state of disrepair. I lead a nation that has for so long been neglected. My job is to fix the things that need fixing, so that the building—my nation—may perform to its fullest capacity, and my people may live better lives.

The challenge is to find the things that need to be fixed; the need to redesign, retrofit, and enhance the building while the occupants continue to use it, while at the same time making their occupancy more comfortable while reconstruction is ongoing.

Simply put, this means making sure that no one goes hungry; that the welfare of the people is treated as a priority; that each citizen is granted the opportunity to fulfill his potential and no one gets left behind.

This is not an impossible feat. Your nation has shown the world that good leadership translates into progress. We intend to join your ranks among developed nations; the next question, then, is how?

Growth rates are a clear indication of how far into the path of progress a nation is. My nation has been held back in this path due to wrong governance. I am committed to addressing the challenges that have hampered our growth for quite some time now.

To extend my metaphor, redesigning the building of state means redesigning the culture of governance. I was elected President based on a platform of alleviating poverty by curbing corruption; and I intend to abide by this principle.

Reforms have been set: In the military, where faulty procurement practices have robbed our soldiers of decent equipment and dignified living standards; in the judiciary, where Lady Justice’s scales have tipped toward the privileged few; and all across the bureaucracy, where a lack of integrity and competence has been the norm, rather than the exception.

We are likewise addressing the challenges rooted upon a lack of infrastructure that will make the Philippines a more attractive investment destination. In other words, this means retrofitting efforts to existing challenges in order to come up with solutions.

My administration is pursuing its thrust of greater cooperation between the public and private spheres, and by the end of this month, we expect to bid out five Public-Private Partnership projects as testament to our willingness to engage and empower the private sector.

There is renewed optimism and enthusiasm among our people and the government. For instance: Our department of public works has committed to concreting all national roads by the end of my term, while saving at least ten percent of each year’s budget. We are also in the process of expanding handling capacities of a number of airports in the country in order to accommodate what we expect to be an influx of tourists and business travelers in the country. This will include increasing the capacity of the airports in Cebu, Bohol and Palawan. To go back to my original analogy, this means enhancing what we already have in order to make the steps we are taking more potent.

There is likewise the challenge of using the meager resources at our disposal so that we can meet our goal of a progressive Philippines sooner rather than later. Your own water reclamation facilities serve as an inspiration to us in this regard. You were faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem: how to provide water for all your needs, with so little work with. Other people might have cursed their luck or given up. But you persevered, and committed to a vision, nurtured an economy that can fund the necessary structure, you refused to be victims of circumstance. And you overcame. Thank you for setting an example for us.

The inefficient use of resources has added on to the leakages due to corruption, and this has robbed our people of services and opportunities. In the past eight months, we passed a national budget on time for the first time in the past 11 years. Our Department of Budget and Management generated more than P250 million in funds by terminating more than ten agencies and programs that were no longer delivering intended outcomes.

Already our efforts are bearing fruit. The Philippine growth rate of 7.3 percent is its highest in the last 30 years. Continued growth in my country will be fuelled by investments that are already coming in from both domestic and foreign sources. In particular, the Business Process Outsourcing and Electronics industries in my country promise to take us further on the path to progress. Recently I was pleased to be informed that we already have the fourth largest Shipbuilding industry.

Other initiatives to improve the business environment in the Philippines are also underway. As I have mentioned, many investors have already expressed interest in our tourism industry.

In response to this, we are addressing the restrictions on foreign carriers that have been extant for decades. We are finalizing the details of an executive order that will liberalize the entry of foreign carriers in a way that will not decimate our local carriers, for we need these local carriers to address the needs of our overseas workers in case of emergencies such as those happening in the Middle East today. Under this order, we will allow foreign carriers to fly into key destinations in the Philippines.

Beyond that, we are also addressing technical and regulatory issues that have been allowed to worsen in the previous decade. This led to the banning of Philippine aviation into Europe and the downgrading of Philippine carriers to category 2 under US FAA regulations. The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has been given a year to resolve these issues so that Philippine carriers can resume flights to European destinations and that we will be removed from Category 2 under FAA regulations.

Once these bottlenecks have been resolved, we will embark on an aggressive marketing campaign that will brand and sell the Philippines as a key tourist destination in the outside world.

My administration is also keen ensuring that progress is felt by all, and not just by those atop the economic ladder. We are committed to ensuring that economic gains redound to the majority of our people—in other words, with the redesigning, retrofitting, and enhancement, we remain committed to the welfare of our occupants of the building that is our state.

We strengthened an existing conditional cash transfer program by more than doubling its budget, from P10 billion pesos to P21.2 billion pesos. We have allocated P8.89 billion for 2011, an almost 60% increase compared to the 2010 budget of P5.6 billion for education. This will pave the way for the construction of 11,926 additional classrooms—which will ultimately pave the way for a better-educated workforce that can power industry.

In the past decade, hope has been hard to come by in my country. Even after the overwhelming mandate handed to me in the last elections, there still exist a few naysayers and cynics. For too long a time, my people have been deprived of hope. They birthed, fuelled, and supported my campaign, resulting in a mandate, and a renewed sense of hope and commitment.

And now, no one doubts the simple truth that we are addressing the core obstacles toward national advancement. We may face many challenges, but my country now has a government with a strong mandate and an even stronger commitment to address these challenges. We are here, and are ready to reclaim our rightful place in the community of nations.

The Fullerton stands tall and proud as a beacon of what can be done. You have proven this, and we invite to be part of our own reconstruction. Your government has already signified its willingness to help a brother nation reach the same heights that you have reached; I invite the Singaporean business community to take part in this wonderful opportunity as the Philippines rises to the sky. Partnering with us holds both tangible and intangible rewards; it means also a commitment to lifting the lives of a people who only recently had learned how to dream again.

I am grateful for the support of the Singaporean government and its private sector in our quest to make it known to the region and to the world that the Philippines is finally on the path toward progress.

Thank you and good day.