Speech of President Aquino during the Regional Economic Managers’ Briefing in Bacolod

Speech of His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III

President of the Philippines

During the Regional Economic Managers’ Briefing

[Delivered at the L’Fisher Hotel, Bacolod City on March 4, 2011]

My speech starts with, “It is a pleasure to be in the City of Smiles again,” pero parang ang daming hong problemang ibinigay ni [previous speaker, Mr. Franklin] Carbon, na galit na siya. Can I just say that I’ll answer all of the points that you raised. But a fuel energy program—let me just say that part of the things that I inherited was a jathropa program, or biofuels. ‘Yung jathropa, as everybody knows, is not a proven entity anywhere in the world as an industry. So I inherited, primarily, a lot of wasted funds that were—there are loans that were taken up by various LGUs, and we have to sort that mess through. May I commence with the speech and I’ll answer the questions after the speech, ano?


[Salutations]

Maayong aga sa inyo nga tanan.

So, I will assume that it’s still the City of Smiles, it is really a pleasure to be back. The recent years have been very good to you, and they have given the people here plenty of reason to keep smiling. For one, your sugar industry has been doing very well. I understand the phrase, “Nagapala, nagapiko ang pera” is starting to make a comeback. Your call center industry also has been growing quickly, giving people jobs, and in turn stimulating several other industries here. And you have seen unprecedented growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises as well.

I was told on the way over here, by the way, that there seems to be a waiting list for purchase of vehicles raw in Bacolod. Is that correct? Siguro I should set up a hardware store for the “pala” and the “piko.”

A special example of this is, I understand there are the many coffee shops and bakeries around Bacolod, which in turn just reminds me that my sisters will be looking for the boxes of Napoleones that I am suppose to take home to them. If it will not be boxes, it will be a Napoleone, singular.

The bottom line is that your economy is booming—not least because of a clear vision and a citizenry that chooses to empower itself. And may I at this point, thank you for the overwhelming mandate that you gave me in the last elections. Likewise, our administration’s vision for the economy is very, very clear.

Our vision is to create an environment where businesses thrive so that the economy continues to grow. But we must make sure that the growth is more widely felt.

Simply put: Private sector empowerment plus a government that is committed to equitable progress is equal to continuous growth.

Your government is working overtime to make sure that we foster a business climate that allows for even more economic investment and growth. We want to make it easier for your businesses to grow. So we have reviewed and re-engineered the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s tax rulings process. Moreover, we have reduced the requirements for bidding documents at the Department of Public Works and Highways from 15 documents to just eight—effectively cutting transaction costs.

Of course, this is what we are doing for businesses on a very general level. But I know you in Bacolod are more concerned with specific areas in our priority sectors like sugar, biofuel, tourism, business process outsourcing, aquaculture, micro, small, and medium enterprises, water, and power. And we are working on it. For instance, the government has already expressed its support for the bio-ethanol industry. Energy Secretary Rene Almendras is consulting with ethanol producers to use more of our locally produced bio-ethanol in the production of e-gasoline. And we are doing this in a way that will benefit both producers and consumers. Likewise, in an effort to strengthen our priority sectors further, funds have already been channeled to effective postharvest facilities to be implemented by our Agri-Pinoy program. This program will provide for the rehabilitation of old irrigation facilities as well as the construction of new ones, while also establishing postharvest infrastructure such as drying and warehouse facilities. Through this project, we expect to produce an additional 1.56 million metric tons of palay every year, significantly increasing our annual production.

We are doing everything we can to sustain this growth. But as I said earlier, the favorable percentages we see in our economic reports are only fulfilled when our hungry children are fed, sent to school, and given sufficient opportunities to compete in the professional marketplace. Only then can we say that we claim that our vision has been fulfilled.

That is why economic growth is only one step in our agenda; the bigger, more important step is to channel your gains, and our gains, to ensure that the progress is equitable.

Already we have allotted a larger budget to our Conditional Cash Transfers program, which is doubling its reach from 1 million families last year to 2.3 million families by the end of this year. The concept is very simple: give a monetary lifeline to the poorest of the poor, in exchange for ensuring that their children are in school; that the babies are vaccinated; that the mothers go through check-ups. In short, it means giving them short-term relief in order to ensure long-term gains. It does not mean dole outs. There are requirements to avail the program.

We have likewise expanded the PhilHealth program to introduce universal health care, toward a Philippines where each and every person can see a doctor when they need to, unlike today, where 40 percent of our populace will never get to see a health professional. We have already targeted programs for the poorest 4.6 million Filipino families—and the plan is for PhilHealth to cover all these families within the next two to three years.

The message is clear: we refuse to feed our hungry with numbers, percentages, and economic jargon. This is an administration where growth is treated not as a statistic, but as a reality. I assure all of you present here today that as you continue doing your jobs, and as the Filipino people continue doing their jobs, your government is likewise doing its job to make certain that the economic benefits that spring from your hard work redound to the majority.

Isa kita kapungsod Pilipinas. We sing the same national anthem, we pledge allegiance to the same flag. We went through many eras of darkness together—through colonizations, through the injustices of martial law, and through governments that sought only to empower themselves and not the Filipino people. We have always found ways to unite to win back our democracy. We will keep it, we will fulfill its promise, and so help me God this administration will spend every waking hour working to ensure that our democracy works for everyone.

And before I end, may I just respond to the questions earlier propounded? In terms of water usage, you are correct, there has to be a national policy. In the LEDAC, we propounded to the Legislature the creation of a Water Resource Commission now which will be the central organization uniting the different and varied agencies into one agency to come up with a comprehensive plan on how we are to utilize our water resources—which is the next most important resource that is being challenged worldwide.

With regards to supporting the biofuel industry, allow me to study it a little further, but I understand my Secretary of Energy has already some comments. My understanding is, if it comes to ethanol, we have to import a significant portion of the ethanol requirements, because we are not producing it. Given the high prices of sugar at this point in time, farmers wanting their sugar to be sold as food rather than as ethanol is undoubtedly a part of the workings of the marketplace.

In terms of energy sufficiency, I am made to understand that there are several investors interested in putting up coal power-generating plants here in Negros, but this has met with resistance by the community.

Unfortunately, the proposal to shift to nuclear sources is something that has to be really, really well thought of; and I am sure there will be tremendous debates on that particular topic. The question is: When do we get the energy if we go toward that method? There are various other renewable sources of energy but are not yet fully economically viable, like solar and wind.

So, perhaps I’ll task again the Secretary of Energy to conduct further dialogues with you to ensure that your economic growth is sustained by the availability of reasonable rates of power that hopefully can have a significant mix of renewable sources. But at the end of the day, perhaps the first priority should be an adequacy and continuity, reliability of the energy supply.

Thank you. Good day.