The State of the Nation
Message to Congress
Her Excellency Corazon C. Aquino
President of the Philippines
[Delivered at the Batasang Pambansa, Quezon City, on July 24, 1989]
Mr. Senate President; Mr. Speaker; members of both Houses of Congress; Mr. Vice President and the members of the Cabinet; the Chief Justice and the associate justices of the Supreme Court; Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps; distinguished guests; minamahal kong mga kababayan:
Pursuant to the Constitution, I have come to report on the state of the nation. This recurring event, however, has another significance today. For it comes midway in my term of office. It is time to review what has gone before, how things stand today, and what must be done tomorrow.
Three and a half years have passed since the revolution. Recalling the perils we passed, and the ground we have covered, I marvel at the kindness of God and the strength of our people—at the fortitude and ingenuity of a race that did so much with so little, and in so short a time.
We revived a dead economy and in three years had it well on the road to recovery. The figures are well-known and unimpeachable, yet some bear repeating.
Industrial capacity, idle for lack of capital, markets, and confidence under the dictatorship, has been fully utilized. In the past two years, investments have increased 25% annually. P30.97 billion was invested in 1988. Industry grew by 8.6% in gross value added last year, improving yet further on the already impressive growth of 7.7% in 1987.
The number of business enterprises increased by 38%, most of them small- and medium-scale and located outside Metro Manila.
More than 2.3 million new jobs have been created. Unemployment declined from 12.5% in 1985 to 9.6% in 1988.
Last year, we posted a 6.7% growth. This year, we anticipate less because of a slight contraction of the world economy and the shift from consumer-led to the more substantive but slower investment-led growth that we see as the safer course to take.
The economic upturn is reflected in the reduction of industrial actions. The exuberance of a suddenly liberated labor sector has made room for a deeper appreciation of the need for all sectors to work together—rather than against each other—for the general improvement. Let us not, however, use the reduction in strikes by itself as an invitation to more investments, but rather as a barometer of the more equitable distribution of the progress we are making. We are instructed by this welcome development to work towards even greater equity in the distribution of wealth as the surest means to social order and peace.
Our greatest investment in enhancing national productive capacity is in education—in developing the intelligence and the sinews of our people, as it were.
Thus, we have put 98% of school-age children in school; we are close to universal elementary education. The universal free high school program is also well under way. Ouantitatively, we are close to our targets; qualitatively we are far. A rigorous and high quality secondary education, the Japanese and German experiences teach, is the foundation of a modern economy.
Last year, 70.9% of all infants one year old or younger were immunized, representing 1,318,000 babies—a dramatic improvement over 30% in 1985; 7.7 million children were treated for various illnesses. Our aim, as we said, is sharper minds and sounder bodies for the next generation of Filipinos.
Economic Recovery and Poverty
Yet poverty remains prevalent. The lowest 30% of our population remains mired in unchanging misery. They think nothing has changed and I don’t blame them. Liberty is a poor substitute for food. The economic improvement we have experienced has had some impact on the incidence of poverty, which declined from 59% in 1985 to 49% in 1988. But the 500,000 families who crossed the official poverty threshold may not even be aware of it.
The economic recovery has restored old fortunes far more significantly than it has touched the lives of the vast majority of our people. For all that, we cannot downplay our economic progress. For it has spoken more eloquently to the world than words ever could. It has earned us tremendous respect throughout the world. This was shown in the Tokyo Consultative Group meeting which paid tribute to the country’s growth with low inflation, despite the debt. A similar respect was evident throughout my European visit. My hosts were clearly encouraged to support what they saw as a record of success against great odds. We have been working to translate this respect into concrete support to reduce those odds.
Yet nothing generated greater admiration than our political achievements.
In little over a year, we uprooted a dictatorship and planted the freest democracy in the world—with all its good and bad features. We held elections that were the freest and most participative in the history of this—perhaps of any—republic in the world.
Our swift democratization was done against the advice that I reserve emergency powers in the face of rising military adventurism and communist terrorism. But I believed then—and time has proved me right—that this nation shall find no greater source of strength to defend democracy than in the enjoyment of all its rights and liberties. Democracy is our faith and the root of our strength to defend it.
Added to that faith was the will to stand for no more nonsense from military adventurers who thought that failure to shave qualified them for national leadership. Some people don’t like the way I dress. Well I didn’t like the way they looked. I am in power and they are out. [Applause] Surely there is a lesson here to be learned about delusions of self-importance and the realities of power.
Peace and Order
My assessment of the peace and order situation is mixed. With regard to the insurgency, the tide has turned—I believe—permanently. The main weapons were democracy, a greater concern by government for rural needs, the economic recovery, a heightened respect for political and human rights, and a deeper commitment to their proper mission on the part of the Armed Forces. The AFP reports an 8% reduction in NPA troop strength. A better indicator is the brutality with which the Communist leadership has treated the common people and even their own ranks. This self-destructive course reveals a movement whose organizational and moral center has ceased to hold. This picture of disarray is both good news and bad. For we must brace ourselves for greater cruelties from a cause that is now indistinguishable from a common crime. In summary, we have beaten the insurgents less by fighting than by the example of our humanity, our concern, and the impact of our economic progress.
On the subject of common crimes, the situation is nothing less than terrible. What compounds it is the general distress occasioned by the prominence of military and police elements in the worst criminal activities. The first duty of the State is the enforcement of order. Until we—the executive, the Congress, and the judiciary—bring the situation totally under control, none of our accomplishments elsewhere will have a lasting impact on the opinion of the public. For criminality threatens the most basic rights of man—the right to live, to raise a family, and enjoy and bequeath the prosperity he has worked for.
The Challenges Ahead
I recall our achievements not to make the past compensate for the present nor to excuse inaction in the future, but so we do not lose faith in the essential strength of our race to rebuild, to recuperate, to grow, and to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
There is the challenge of rising world oil prices that threatens to undercut our continued growth.
There is the challenge of continuing debt service that eats 40% of the national budget, or 7.7% of GNP. We are expected, in the next five years, to make a net payment to our creditors of $12 billion or approximately P260 billion at the current exchange rate.
There is the challenge of sustaining growth and meeting our medium-term targets.
And there is the age-old challenge and threat that poverty and underdevelopment pose to the viability of democracies in the Third World. How long can we stay poor and still be free?
Poverty has lessened but 5.3 million households or 29 million people remain poor. Unemployment has been reduced but try telling that to the 2.9 million still jobless and the 7.2 million underemployed.
What Must Be Done
For these reasons, we critically need to sustain economic growth.
First, we have to strengthen the foundations of a vigorous market-oriented economy. This would involve continued adherence to prudent fiscal and monetary policies and reliance on market forces in the functioning of the economy. These policies have engendered robust growth of private investment, output, employment, and consumption. These have also kept inflation at acceptable levels and helped protect the real incomes of wage earners. Our record of high growth with low inflation is a singular achievement among heavily indebted countries.
We must steer away from the siren songs of quick fixes, easy spending, unwarranted subsidies, and irrational price controls, which elsewhere have contributed to bloated deficits, tailspin hyperinflation, and social instability.
Second, we must go on building structures essential to the efficiency and productivity of the economy. Government has improved or constructed 1,124 kilometers of major roads and 7,821 kilometers of secondary and feeder roads to bring markets and producers closer to each other. Yet this is a small part of the projects in the pipeline—numerous ports, power generation plants, and modern telecommunications.
Third, no less important than physical infrastructure, we must continue to strengthen our public institutions and find ways to do things better, faster, and with the greater appearance and substance of integrity. I have a few words to say on the subject of corruption. Yesterday, a pastoral letter was read in all the churches deploring the resurgence of official corruption. How can the Cabinet, the Congress, and the Supreme Court deny what is plain for all to see: that corruption is again a way of public life?
I will not preempt a Congress that feels its time is better spent in investigations of anything, nor a Supreme Court that has a longer backlog of unresolved cases than there are decisions in the casebooks from the turn of the century. I have my own responsibilities to face, and my own people to hold to account. [Applause]
The magnitude of unresolved disputes has frozen innumerable billions of pesos worth of assets in litigation. The staggering number of unsolved crimes has eroded the credibility of the state to be respected as such.
The problem is massive for having been left unattended by the branch of government, and the departments and agencies specifically charged with the dispensation of justice and the punishment of crimes. But a start must be made.
I have ordered a review of the structure and performance of the National Bureau of Investigation with a view to making it the lead arm in criminal investigation. I have ordered a review of the prosecution service, and call upon the Supreme Court to do the same to the judiciary, with a view to relieving the incompetent and the passive who have allowed so many cases to languish unresolved.
A Clean and Honest Government
I am tired of being taken to task for the thing above all others that I wanted to leave as a legacy: the example of a clean and honest government. To my fellow workers in government specifically involved in this area—and in all other areas as well—let me say that unless the public sees results soon, it will be goodbye for you. [Applause]
The compassion that marked my administration in the past may generate doubts about my resolve in this matter, but the actions that will be taken by me in the next weeks and months will dispel them all. [Applause]
Fourth, as the lynchpin of our efforts to lift the mass of our people from poverty, we must implement agrarian reform with greater vigor, doing our best to combine speed with the necessary caution. I would like to stress again the aim of agrarian reform. Our objective is not merely to subdivide the misery of the land, but to raise the living standards of our farmers to the level of their dignity as the backbone of our economy.
Fifth, for our development to be at all sustainable, we need to redress the years of degradation and neglect of our environment, and preserve what remains of our natural resources. We have embarked on projects to restore and conserve our marine and forest resources—among them the largest reforestation program in history, covering 100,000 hectares a year to the end of the century.
Sixth, we must mobilize the resources, both domestic and foreign, necessary to sustain public and private investment and provide basic social services. To generate domestic resources, vigorous tax collection efforts, banking reforms, and the development of capital markets are under way. Measures to enhance public confidence in the stock markets are needed and I look to the Congress to study and initiate them.
Improving Tax Collection
I cannot overemphasize the importance of improving our tax performance.
We have one of the lowest tax-to-GNP ratios of any country in the world. No longer can we tolerate tax evasion as a national pastime, especially of the rich, when indeed our economic future is at stake. The place for tax evaders is not high society but behind bars. [Applause]
As regards external financing resources, except for one component we have installed a financing structure which will support sustained growth.
We are currently engaged in negotiations with commercial creditors for a package that will support our external financing program. An important element of this package will include debt and debt service reduction schemes inspired by new debt initiatives. By firm adherence to its strong record of economic adjustment and performance, the Philippines is particularly well placed to be favored by these initiatives.
With the endorsement of the multilateral institutions and foreign governments—and in the conviction that we have done our part in keeping our economic house in order—we shall negotiate forcefully to secure the cooperation of the commercial banks in the Philippine recovery. In the riot-torn streets of Caracas, in the teeming barrios of Mexico, in our own barangays—no less than in Washington, Tokyo, and Paris—there is growing recognition that something real must be done about the Third World debt.
Let us not forget that we have come from a 20-year struggle between our people and a dictator, and that we are here engaged in the reconstruction of an economy and a polity as though from the ruins of war. Except the destruction has been more sweeping. We did not emerge from the Second World War with losses anywhere near the $28 billion being exacted by our creditors.
Our principal focus must be on rural development-the liberation of the economic, social, and political energies of the countryside. We need the physical infrastructure to link rural production and consumption with the national and international economies. We need to enhance education and health to make the best use of our best assets—our people. We need to decentralize political structures to widen the people’s participation in national life.
A people-powered revolution must aim for a people-empowered democracy and economy. Rural development will best realize this aim. The alleviation of poverty will come with the upliftment of the rural poor.
Unless we draw our rural areas into the dynamics of the national economy, turning hinterlands of decay into frontiers of progress, our growth and equity goals will not be attained, neither in the short nor the long term.
Law and Good Government
The great task that we have set ourselves will require two great instruments of social transformation: a just but iron-fisted law and good government.
There will be no progress in our communities without order, without securing the lives and properties of our citizens against criminality and the insurgency.
I have already noted the progress that has been made against the insurgency. The increasing isolation of the rebels has allowed military operations to succeed as never before. But such operations must take greater care to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population. For our moral ascendancy has accounted for the greater part of our superiority in this conflict. The protection of human rights even under conditions of conflict must be a key consideration in military operations and missions.
Our other great task is to deliver good government. This, I believe, consists of maintaining closeness to the people, honesty and efficiency in their service, and making a difference for the better in their lives. Thus, I have brought an active presidency to bear on the many issues that shape our lives from police work to women’s concerns, from improving customs collections to disaster relief operations. I have brought the physical presence of the presidency to 54 provinces, from Tawi-Tawi to Batanes.
Dedication and Discipline
I shall emphasize even further the standard of my example by exacting the same dedication and discipline—from my Cabinet, the bureaucracy, and the local governments. A quarterly review of departmental performance shall become the forum for diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of programs and performance, and the basis for the proper remedies.
I expect to see the departments pull together in more coherent and focused efforts to advance policies and programs across the board, and to translate this address into action. The process should involve the participation of mayors and governors, and consultation with members of Congress.
On local autonomy and decentralization, it was never my intention to substitute the abuses of overcentralization with widespread incompetence in local leadership. Our people will simply regard both as our failure. Thus, as we devolve greater authority and resources to local governments, we shall exact from them greater responsibility to their communities and more support of the national objectives.
I call also on the support of constitutional bodies, such as the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit and the Ombudsman. Even as they perform their duties with the required independence and integrity, let them be reminded that good government can be achieved as well by cooperation as by adversarial relations. The purpose of checks in government is not to induce paralysis but to achieve balance and foster progress.
As we emerge from a singular preoccupation with economic recovery, we must remind ourselves of initiatives that will have a major impact now and profound implications tomorrow. Three particular priorities are: the protection of the environment, the promotion of family planning and responsible parenthood, and the development of science and technology.
While the lead in the environmental movement must be taken by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, responsibility must be assumed by all of us. While the Department of Health is the designated lead agency for family planning, we should all contribute towards building the family as a purposeful act of confidence in the future. The Department of Science and Technology needs to bring academe, government and business together in promoting science and technology.
Agenda for the Future
Our gains in the past three years serve as the base for launching a comprehensive advance on all fronts. The scale of the effort and the importance of the outcome call for the wisdom of Congress to consider and affirm these intentions. I propose the following:
First, measures to alleviate poverty:
1. Tax and other incentives to small and medium countryside business enterprises;
2. Authorizing the bidding out to the private sector of BOT projects, or projects to build, operate, and transfer self-liquidating infrastructure projects; and
3. Promoting countryside investments.
Second, measures to improve peace and order:
1. Immediate creation of a civilian national police force;
2. Limiting discretion in the disposition of seized importations;
3. Penalizing the crime of plunder to deter the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth by public officials; and
4. Further protecting human rights.
Third, measures promoting honesty and efficiency in the government:
1. Devolution of more substantial powers to local governments;
2. Doubling the financial resources of local governments effective 1990 by increasing internal revenue allotments, granting incentives for improved real estate tax collections, and abolishing mandatory contributions to the PC-INP and hospitals;
3. Reorganizing and strengthening the Philippine foreign service.
Fourth, measures promoting social justice:
1. Defining ancestral domains;
2. Providing a more extensive program of urban housing development;
3. Setting ceilings and limiting deductions on travel, representation, and other expenses;
4. Encouraging cooperatives; and
5. Rationalizing small-scale mining.
Finally, measures for the protection of the environment:
1. Increasing forest charges;
2. Increasing penalties for pollution; and
3. Adopting a national land use plan.
Finally, I seek your support for the 1990 budget that I shall be submitting in the next few days. I ask you to consider our proposals in light of the priorities I have outlined, and the deep concerns that we all share for the upliftment of our people from poverty, and of our nation to progress. I ask you to regard with sympathy and understanding my deep desire and my unshakable resolve to give our people all that I have promised them. Let me make myself especially clear on this point: I shall complete the work that we have started, the work that God gave us to do—to make a new nation, strong, and free, and prosperous. I shall not rest from that labor until its fruits have been enjoyed by you, by me, and by all our people. Only success will stop my unceasing efforts, my undying commitment to the great task before us.
God bless us all. Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! [Applause] [Standing ovation]