Speech of President Aquino at the Philippine Economic Briefing, Cagayan de Oro City

Mr. Noynoy AquinoImage via Wikipedia
Speech of His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
During the Philippine Economic Briefing, Cagayan de Oro, and presentation of imperatives for Northern Mindanao by Region X’s Regional Development Council
[Delivered at the Mallberry Suites Business Hotel, Cagayan de Oro City on March 23, 2011]
During the campaign, we promised to the Filipino people a government of reform. We promised to put an end to the corruption that had been so prevalent in the years leading up to last year’s election. We promised a government that does its job; a government that is not allergic to the word “overtime”; a government that puts the interests of the Filipino people on the forefront of every single project. We are delivering on these promises, and this has redounded to significant improvements in many areas of concern, especially our economy.
Just recently, a study conducted by Citibank pegged us as one of the eleven countries with the most promising growth prospects per capita. We have also stretched out the maturities of some of our debts, from five years to as much as 25 years. As a result of this, credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s have upgraded their outlook for our credit rating, making it easier for us to tap the international capital markets. Collections of customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue are up, nationally by 17.7 percent and 9.6 percent, respectively. And Misamis Oriental has played a significant role in this. In the third quarter of 2010, your tax and customs collections increased by 22.4 and 25.2 percent, respectively. Likewise, total investments in your region have more than doubled. In a word, your economy is booming alongside our national economy, and this bodes well for all of us. For those of us working in government, these improvements only push us to work even harder.
We are continuing a number of initiatives to foster a business environment that attracts even more investments and leads to even more growth. We have been cutting the bureaucratic red tape that has plagued businesses in the Philippines for so long. Among the steps we have taken is the reassessment of the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s tax rulings process. We have likewise reduced the requirements for bidding documents at the Department of Public Works and Highways from fifteen documents to just eight.
But no matter how good things look on paper, what really counts is the change in the way our people live. Favorable macroeconomic numbers must lead to feeding the hungry, tending to the sick, and sending children to school. I am telling you now: We are doing that. Our job is to make sure that this growth is felt by each and every Filipino. It is as tangible as adequate food on the table, fully equipped hospitals that treat our sick, and accurately written school books that our children can read and learn from. It is this government’s job to make sure that these day-to-day signs of real growth are accessible to all.
We have allocated larger budgets to poverty alleviation projects such as conditional cash transfers, more than doubling its reach to now 2.3 million families. By helping families help themselves, we are ensuring that their children are going to school, their babies are vaccinated, and mothers are kept healthy through regular check-ups. Likewise, we have begun the expansion of the PhilHealth program so that, within three years, we can cover those who need it most. Already we have identified the poorest 4.6 million Filipino families, all of which we want to be beneficiaries of this program. In these disaster-prone times, I have ordered a review of our compliance with building standards to make our structures and dwellings more able to withstand tremors and quakes.
But despite these vital steps toward progress, much remains to be done. Thankfully, we have people like those of you present here today, who are willing to impart your talent, work ethic, and sense of nationhood to make our country work.
Cagayan de Oro is known as the City of Golden Friendship, and here today we are proving that your national government is your friend. Our efforts are ultimately premised on the same thing: that the entrepreneurs and the citizens of Cagayan de Oro and the rest of this country should be able to live better lives, look forward to better futures, and bequeath to their children a better Philippines.
We are working to eliminate corruption in our institutions. I know that corruption can seem easy over the short term—bribe the right people and you can get the deal. But look what happens to those who do this: Sooner or later, the anomalies are discovered, there is public outrage, and the deals are undone. In the end, the money invested, and the bribes spent on the project are wasted. Who hasn’t heard of NBN-ZTE, Megapacific, NAIA Terminal Three, and other deals that have unraveled? What a waste of private capital and taxpayers’ money. Adding insult to injury is that those who were caught are not prosecuted or allowed to plea bargain instead of being tried.
We are trying to create an environment where this does not happen, where no one questions the legitimacy of such deals, and where nothing needs to be undone later on. And part of creating such an environment is putting in place the right people who will prosecute those who do such things. That is why we called for the impeachment of the Ombudsman. We cannot have deals such as ZTE, Megapacific, or NAIA3 holding back the country any longer. The impeachment of the Ombudsman is the strongest signal we can send to you right now that we are trying to put in place the kind of level playing field for your businesses to survive and prosper in the long term. As the senate prepares to try the Ombudsman, I urge you to support this and other efforts to fight corruption.
Together, we can eliminate the dark elements that hinder us from the true and lasting change that we have long hoped for. Together, we can end the systematized corruption that has prevented our country from fulfilling its vast potential. We must continue tapping into this spirit of bayanihan that runs in our blood in order to finally lift this country together, as fellow Filipinos, back to its rightful place under the daylight.
And before I end, may I just really highlight some of the things that we have done? Earlier, we talked about moving the debt. In about two years’ time, there was a very big spike in terms of outlay to pay debt that we had inherited. Our finance team and our economic managers managed to push back that two-year maturing period to 25 years. And the beauty of it all was, they extended the maturation, they even managed to bring down the interest rates from 8-point-something percent to 6. There was a reduction of interest that we should pay by about 2 percent.
May I just respond also to a request earlier about El NiƱo coming back? I don’t want to lie to anybody, especially to the people, who I consider my bosses. We have problems with weather. We have problems with electricity in Mindanao. I’m sure all of you are aware that there was an exemption given by the EPIRA Law [Electronic Power Industry Reform Act] for Mindanao’s NPC [National Power Corp.] power plants not to be privatized. This produced a situation where we kept on selling electricity about three pesos when the actual charge of generation was five pesos. That of course is contributory to the debt that is now inherited by PSALM [Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp.], and the number is daunting—it is one trillion pesos already.
So, the long-term solution is not just to repair the existing power plants, but more so to encourage the private sector to come in and support the demand and electricity that will come in because of the growth of Mindanao, especially after we conclude the peace agreements.
So, toward that end, we are working on that. The exemption, I understand, is finished by this year. I beg for your understanding, but it does not make sense to continue producing any product and selling it at a loss to be passed on to other people. Is that not the case? And I’m sure you would want to do that which is right.
I cannot respond on an item by item basis on the wish list. Although, initially, I understand that most of these projects have been well thought of and are really needed by a vast majority of the people, especially here in Northern Mindanao. I will leave my Secretaries to discuss with you the details of all of these projects. They in turn will be the ones, from various fields, to advise us as to what has to be done.
Let me assure you of one thing: We will not deprive any community of that which it needs. We will be here to support you every step of the way. We ask for your cooperation. We ask for your understanding. But I am sure together the possibilities are to my mind limitless.
Thank you. Good day.