Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Second State of the Nation Address, July 26, 1999

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Second State of the Nation Address
Of
His Excellency Joseph Ejercito Estrada
President of the Philippines

[Delivered at the Batasang Pambansa, Quezon City, on July 26, 1999]

“A Poverty-Free Philippines”

I, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Republic of the Philippines, with the nation, the world, and God as my witness, do hereby reaffirm my unwavering commitment to democracy. [Applause]

I stand by my solemn oath to defend the Constitution. As President, I will always uphold freedom in all its various forms; including the freedom of speech, of the press, of worship, of assembly, and of choice. [Applause] None of these freedoms are under threat.

Those who fear the loss of freedom do not share my faith in the strength of our Constitution, in the sturdiness of our institutions, in the passion of our people to preserve their freedom, and in their determination and power to defend it. Freedom may have been lost before. It will never be lost again. [Applause] Our people will see to that. I as president will stake my own life on it. [Applause]

Yet may I remind our people that liberty without responsibility is license, that freedom does not confer the right to violate the law or the rights of others, that freedom without responsibility is the formula for chaos, anarchy, and lawlessness.

The paranoid will take that last statement as a hidden threat. The rest will see it as a self-evident principle, accepted throughout the ages, and needing neither apology nor defense. Yet, given a choice between freedom and restraint, I will choose to err on the side of freedom. [Applause]

To paraphrase Voltaire: I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. But that does not mean I waive the right to argue with you! That is as much my constitutional right as it is yours.

Let all doubts be erased. Democracy, freedom, and the Constitution are alive and well in this country. [Applause]

Now, to other issues.

Although I am blessed with many friends, I have no cronies. [Applause]

I have turned down, and will continue to turn down, all requests for a government bailout of financially strapped companies, as I did in the case of Philippine Airlines, owned by Mr. Lucio Tan. [Applause]

The sequestered shares of Mr. Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. in San Miguel Corporation are under litigation and will stay as such until the case is resolved. There is no deal involved here with Mr. Cojuangco.

The extradition process involving Mr. Mark Jimenez will proceed in accordance with the due process of law, without obstruction.

There are no secret deals with the Marcoses.

I hope this answers your immediate concerns.

Ngayon, handa na ba kayong makinig sa akin? [Applause]

Ako’y nagagalak ipahayag sa inyo na ang ating bansa ay nakaahon na sa krisis ng Asia.

Ito ang isa sa maraming dahilan kung bakit dapat natin ipagdiwang ang unang kaarawan ng aking administrasyon.

Sa aking inagurasyon sa Luneta noong ika-30 ng Hunyo 1998, mahigpit kong iginiit na “Huwag n’yo akong susubukan!” [Applause] Nguni’t ang sumubok sa akin ay hindi ang taong-bayan kundi ang matinding bagyo na tumama sa ating ekonomiya.

Nang ako’y hinirang na maging kapitan ng barko ng ating sambayanan, ito ay kasalukuyang palubog na sa maalong dagat ng Asian crisis. Sabi ko sa aking sarili: ang ganda naman ng timing ng aking pagsakay. Hinahampas ng hangin at alon ang barko. At lalong masama, kakaunti na lang ang gasolina ng kanyang tangke. Paano natin ngayon dadalhin ang barkong ito sa ligtas na lugar hanggang makalipas ang malupit na panahon?

Mabuti na lamang, ang aming team ng mga kilalang dalubhasa sa kanya-kanyang linya ay nagkaisa sa pagpapasya kung paano lulutasin ang mga problema na ating hinaharap noon. Sa pamamagitan ng aming pagtutulungan, pagsisikap, at mga tamang pamamalakad, napaayos namin ang paggalaw ng barko. Nang sumikat ang araw, ang karamihan ng mga ibang barko ay nakalubog pa rin at nagsisikap pang umahon, ngunit ang barko ng Pilipinas ay nakalutang na sa liwanag ng araw.

Ngayon, marami na ang nakakargang gasolina sa ating barkong Pilipinas, dahil nais nilang sumama sa ating paglakbay sa darating na milenio. Malayo na ang kaya nating maabot. Kaya tayo ay susulong na ngayon!

Today, I fulfill my Constitutional mandate to address Congress on the first day of its regular session. By tradition, I am to dwell on the State of the Nation.

Let me start with a sincere apology to all those who expected or wished to see me fail. I am sorry to disappoint them. [Applause]

I am pleased to report that our nation is rising, growing, and strengthening. This is in contrast to the situation I described to you last year, and which I vowed to reverse. Ako’y natutuwang ipahayag na ang ating bayan ay umaangat, umuunlad, at lumalakas. Ito ay kabaligtaran ng kalagayan ng ating ekonomiya na aking binigkas dito noong nakaraang taon. Nakaraan na ang krisis ng ekonomiya.

Last year, when I first addressed this august body, our nation was in an economic crisis. Today, we are out of it.

Last year, I told you that our aim was to help the country escape the recession. We did it.

In 1998, most of our Asian neighbors sank into recession. In contrast, our country managed a modest but positive growth of one-tenth of one percent [0.1%] in our gross national product [GNP]. However, our gross domestic product [GDP] dipped by one-half of one percent [0.5%] during the year. In the first quarter of this year, our GNP abruptly surged upward by 2% and our GDP by 1.2%. Last year, we were struggling to keep ourselves from sinking. Today, we are sailing towards the high seas again.

It is time once more to pay tribute to a special class of Filipinos: our overseas workers. They as a group kept our GNP growth at positive rates even during the worst of times. They continue to be our economic saviors.

Last year, I expressed my hope of keeping inflation at a single-digit rate. We did it.

In 1998, the inflation rate was at a full-year average of 9.7%. It improved further to a six-month average of 8.4% in the first half of 1999. In June alone, inflation was down to 5.8%. Inflation is a vicious enemy of the poor.

Last year, I said that without undermining the independence of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, we would support the lowering of interest rates. We did it.

In the past 12-month period alone, the benchmark 91-day Treasury bill rate dropped steeply from 14.9% on the first auction on July 6, 1998, to 8.4% last Monday. This is its lowest level in more than 12 years. Bank lending rates have also dropped to pre-crisis levels.

Last year, I lamented the devaluation of the peso as imposing burdens on our people. I inferred that we should strengthen our currency. We did it.

At the beginning of 1998, the peso plunged to an all-time low of P45.42 to $1. At the beginning of my administration, it was at P42.04. Since then, the peso has strengthened dramatically. It has stabilized within a range of P37 to P39 to the dollar. This was achieved largely by leaving the market alone. And the market responded with a show of confidence: it sent billions of dollars of loans, investments, and export orders to the Philippines. The Bangko Sentral intervened only occasionally to prevent wild swings and to forestall speculative attacks, not to set the trends or levels of the exchange rate.

Last year, I committed to more effective and efficient tax collection. We did it.

Despite the ravages of the Asian crisis on tax collections, total revenues amounted to P462 billion in 1998, of which tax revenues constituted P416 billion, or P4 billion higher than in 1997. For the first four months of 1999, BIR collections reached P126 billion, or 3.2% higher than in 1998. Customs collections amounted to P23.1 billion, and nontax revenues, P14.1 billion.

This does not mean that we are happy with our tax effort. We need to improve not only our collection performance but the tax structure itself, and hence our existing tax laws.

Last year, we found the government in a deeper fiscal hole than the public had been made to believe. We committed to reduce the government deficit. This time, we didn’t do it.

It is not that we failed. We deliberately shifted course.

At a time when the economy was threatened by recession, the previous administration had decided on a 25% across-the-board forced savings on the expenditures of the government. This was like administering the medicine for high blood pressure to a patient with low blood pressure. Lalong lulubha ang pasyente, at baka mamatay ng hindi oras. (That is why my favorite doctor, The First Lady, always makes sure that my blood pressure is normal, especially when I’m reading the newspapers.) [Laughter] [Applause]

We scrapped the forced cutbacks and did exactly the opposite. We not only ensured that public services would continue at adequate levels; we also engaged in various pump-priming. Our aim was not to save but to spend. This was to counteract the slowdown in private consumption and investment expenditures. In other words, to raise the country’s declining blood pressure rather than let it sink further.

Our logic was simple. A time of growth and threats of inflation calls for balanced budgets or surpluses to prevent further inflation. But a time of recession and deflation calls for budget deficits to jumpstart a recovery.

Thus, towards the end of 1998, we increased the budget deficit to P50 billion, or 1.8% of the GNP. For the first time, and for the first five months of 1999, we incurred, as planned, a deficit of P45.3 Billion, still within the 1999 programmed deficit of P68.4 billion (or 2.2% of target GNP). For the next two years, we intend to reduce our deficit to 1.1% and 0.4% of GNP, and eventually attain a balanced budget in the year 2002 and surpluses thereafter. In other words, I will not end my term with a deficit. [Applause]

One problem we faced was how to finance the deficit. Borrowing locally would have raised interest rates at a time when we wanted them to go down. Borrowing abroad was too costly. Monetary expansion would have triggered inflation and a run on the peso. Foreign exchange controls were untenable. Raising taxes or cutting government expenditures would have led to a deep recession.

It seemed like there was no way out. But we found one anyway. Substantial funds were located right under our noses—the Foreign Currency Deposit Units, or FCDUs—so we borrowed from them, on a short-term basis, at relatively low cost.

As a result, we brought down interest rates. We brought down the inflation rate. And we strengthened the peso. Experts say these all cannot happen at the same time because they are inconsistent with one another. But we did it. And we emerged out of the regional crisis ahead of most of our neighbors.

I narrate all these “inside stories” to make a point. Those who make a career and a business out of hitting me are saying that the improvement in the country’s economic performance was due to pure luck, to good weather, or to anything but Erap. Tsamba lang daw. Sa madali’t salita, kung gumaganda ang takbo ng ekonomiya, walang kinalaman si Erap. Ngunit kung bumagsak ang ekonomiya, kasalanan ni Erap. Mali naman yata iyan. Our recovery was due to the innovative way we analyzed situations and made bold decisions.

Our success was the result of effective governance. It was a matter of having the right policies, being supported by competent and dedicated cabinet members, respecting the freedom of the market, managing and budgeting our resources right, and acting quickly before the danger grew or the opportunity disappeared.

As a prominent Filipino economist, Dr. Bernardo Villegas, recently wrote—and I quote—”The economic team of the present administration during its first year has been superior in cohesiveness, effectiveness, and clarity in purpose when compared to the equivalent teams during the first years of [the previous administrations] … President Estrada’s first economic team is among the best in Asia.” [End of quote]

Effective governance by a team-powered administration also explains the rapid recovery of the country’s international credit standing. I am sure you know the definition of a banker: He is a person who lends you his umbrella when it stops raining. Credit markets are even more jittery.

So when the global market gobbles up $1.2 billion worth of the Republic of the Philippines Global Bonds for budget support, from the first country to float such an issue after the Asian crisis; and when the market buys up the $400 million of Bangko Sentral bonds issued for reserve management purposes; and when the Eurobond flotation of the national government raises $383 million—the world believes that in the Philippines, it has stopped raining. We are getting a shower of umbrellas!

This is not to mention the billions of dollars of inflows in medium- and long-term loans from bilateral sources, banks, and financial institutions; from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank; from Japan’s Export-Import Bank and Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund; and from the International Monetary Fund, among others.

Isa pang tanda ng pagbangon ng ating ekonomiya ay ang pagbaba ng unemployment rate mula 13.3% noong Abril nang nakaraang taon hanggang 11.8% nitong nakaraang Abril dahil sa 1.6 million bagong trabahong nalika. Gagawin namin ang lahat para ibaba ang unemployment rate sa less than 10% sa susunod na taon at sa around 6.7% bago magtapos ang aking administrasyon. [Applause] Ang ating target ay makalikha nang mula sa 6 million hanggang 6.4 million trabaho sa buong panahon ng akng panunungkulan. [Applause]

In the meantime, our exports are zooming up at double-digit rates, our balance of current accounts are in surplus, and our gross international reserves are at all-time highs, currently amounting to $14 billion.

With all these developments, it is no wonder that in the space of only one year, the other Asian countries and, indeed, much of the world, have come to recognize the presidency of the Philippines as among the leaders of the region. This is indeed a long way from the skepticism that greeted this presidency when it began. In APEC, in ASEAN, and in other regional and international forums, the current leadership of the Philippines enjoys a high level of respect. Our international prestige is on the rise. The dramatic rebound in the stock market is a strong indication of confidence. And the people, according to the latest surveys, give the president a 77.6% approval rating.

The heads of the IMF and the World Bank also have had good words to say. Mr. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, said—and I quote—”What is clear is the Philippine situation is vastly different from Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia … I think you all know you are weakened far less than anyone else in the region with the exception of Singapore.” End of quote. And Mr. Michel Camdessus, managing director of the IMF, said he considered the Philippines as a model for countries in the ASEAN region.

Only last Thursday, the IMF Executive Board completed the fourth review under our standby arrangement. This will now allow us to draw about $214 million, which will further increase our gross international reserves. The IMF executive directors also praised the Bangko Sentral, headed by Governor Gabriel Singson, for the successful implementation of monetary policy through the turbulence of the past two years.

It is ironic that while foreign experts and the foreign press give good reviews of our performance, and while investors pour money into our economy, some quarters in our local media are undermining confidence in our country. Samantalang ang mga dayuhang ekonomista at manunulat ay pinupuri ang pag-ahon ng ating ekonomiya, ang ilan naman sa ating mga peryodista ay siyang unang sumisira dito ng walang basehan.

In the past year, the main imperative that faced us was to survive the crisis. Now, we turn to pursuing our vision.

There are those, in fact, who say that we have no vision. They claim, for example, that we have no programs to fight poverty: the central pledge of my campaign. they are wrong. It is not the government that is lacking in programs. It is our critics who are lacking in perception. it is not I who has no vision. It is they who have no insight.

I consider poverty an intolerable social shame. It cries out not for marginal attention but for a total approach. For me, the war on poverty is not just a policy but a passion. I deplore the fact that the past economic programs of this country were mostly upside-down. Baligtad. They aimed at developing the apex and neglected the base.

My own belief is the opposite. Uplifting the rich leaves the poor behind. But uplifting the poor lifts everyone, including the rich.

Let me make this clear. My vision is not just the alleviation of poverty but its ultimate eradication. Alleviation is temporary. Eradication is permanent. Alleviation is limited. Eradication is total. The proper response to the problem of poverty is not superficial treatment but total structural change. Hindi maaring puksain ang kahirapan sa pamamagitan ng patapal-tapal at papahid-pahid lamang. Kailangan ay baguhin ang buong sistema.

I realize that “eradication” is unattainable in real life. But getting as close to it as possible is worth the effort. It is true that Jesus Christ said: “The poor you will always have with you,” but he did not say they had to be the majority. My vision is to drive poverty away from the center and into the periphery of our concerns, to make it a marginal rather than a mainstream problem.

Hence, our war on poverty is not just one program of government. It is the overriding business of the government itself. It is built into and embedded in our total economic and social programs. It defines and drives the substance, the content, and the heart and soul of our entire strategy of government.

Ang ating kampanya laban sa kahirapan ay hindi isang programa lamang ng pamahalaan. Ito ang sentro ng patakaran at pagkilos ng pamahalaan. Nakatatak ito sa kabuuan ng bawat programang pangkabuhayan at panlipunan. Ito ang magbibigay-buhay at lakas sa diwa at puso ng pagkilos at pamamalakad ng pamahalaan.

It is essential for our war on poverty that the economy develop in general, but this is not enough. It is also important that development efforts be redirected towards the poor, towards the base of our society. In my 30 years of public service, I have always decided for the greater good of the greatest number. With this conviction, I can never go wrong.

For example, our war on poverty is in the fundamental and strategic shift of focus of the government towards agriculture and the development of the rural areas, where two-thirds of our poor people live.

Ang ating pagkilos para maging moderno ang ating agrikultura—para tumaas ang ani ng ating mga bukirin at pangingisda at dumami ang mga industriya sa kanayunan—ay isang paraang hindi pa nasubukang gawin ng alin mang administrasyon. Nakapaloob dito ang paglalaan ng sapat na pondo para sa produksiyon ng pagkain, food security, irigasyon, farm-to-market roads, at postharvest facilities. Nitong nakaraang taon, nabigyan natin ng patubig ang mahigit 20,000 ektarya ng lupa at nakapagtayo tayo ng 250 kilometro ng farm-to-market roads. Sisiguruhin nating makakuha ng tulong pinansyal ang ating mga magsasaka, mangingisda, at maliliit na negosyante. Palalawakin natin ang mga lupang sakop ng irigasyon mula 47.2% noong 1998 hanggang 63% sa taong 2004.

This past year, we laid the foundation for the full implementation of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act. This law aims at transforming our agriculture and fisheries into technologically advanced and globally competitive sectors. Recently, I ordered that the importation of equipment, machinery, fertilizers, and other inputs of agriculture be allowed at zero tariff, as authorized by this law. [Applause] This coming year, our proposed budget will provide a P21.8 billion fund to support the implementation of this act.

Our war on poverty is also in the emphasis on expanding the linkages between farms and markets, and between rural and urban areas, through roads, power, transport, telecommunications, and other infrastructure. Last year, we built or upgraded 582 kilometers of roads and 10,069 lineal meters of bridges. We provided electricity to 1,221 barangays. We installed 165,000 new telephone lines. Our target is to see 100% of our national arterial roads paved and 100% of our bridges made permanent by the end of my term. We will upgrade our ports to international standards, and develop 36 feeder ports.

Our war on poverty is in the acceleration of the land redistribution processes under the agrarian reform program. We distributed more than 266,000 hectares of land to 175,000 landless farmers, including land owned by the traditional rural elite. [Applause]

Our war on poverty is in the restructuring of our health programs to lower the price of medicines and to provide preferential attention to the indigents.

It is also in the highly augmented flow of budgetary funds to the local government units [LGUs]. As a single recipient unit, LGUs will get a total of P131.2 billion, or 20.1%, of the P651 billion budget we will propose.

Our war on poverty is in the massive portion of our budget—amounting to P118 billion for the year 2000—that we give to education and to the programs we are undertaking to meet our increasing need for classrooms, desks, books, and teachers. Our longer-term aim is to increase the overall standards of excellence of our entire educational system.

Our war on poverty is in our initiatives to provide more resources for socialized housing for the poor. From July 1998 to March 1999, we provided 127,886 units of housing assistance which benefited some 74,000 households. We intend to provide decent housing for our teachers, policemen, and soldiers.

Our war on poverty is in the provision of more resources and revitalized programs to uplift and improve the welfare of women, the youth, the indigenous communities, the disabled, and the elderly, and other disadvantaged sectors of our society.

Our war on poverty is in our program to moderate the growth of the population, which is presently the highest in Southeast Asia. It is in our efforts to protect the environment to ensure that our development is sustainable. One landmark achievement here is the passage by Congress of the Clean Air Act.

Our war on poverty is invading even the capital market. It is in the issuance of small-denominated government bonds that allow small savers to contribute to national development while earning interest at higher rates than the banks would pay them.

We will propose certain changes in our tax laws to make our financial markets more efficient and to bring down transaction costs. The documentary stamp tax on quick-turnover transactions will be abolished. The gross receipts tax on banks and financial institutions will be removed to reduce intermediation costs. And the availment of write-offs on loan loss reserves will be accelerated.

Our war on poverty is particularly intense in the obsessive efforts of the government to promote and encourage investments, both domestic and foreign. Here, another basic pro-poor shift is taking place. We are reorienting our preferences towards industries, enterprises, and technologies that employ people as against those that require capital. This is only logical, considering that we are a labor-abundant and a capital-short country. Small- and medium-scale industries will take centerstage. One of our important thrusts is a program called DRIVE, or Developing Rural Industries and Village Enterprises.

All these shifts will take place in a free market environment. all investments in industries, whether large or small, upstream or downstream, capital- or labor-intensive, will be welcome. But special attention will be placed on “unblocking” investments in small- and medium-scale industries, especially in the rural areas. There are many obstacles in our laws and in our landscape that impede the spontaneous flow of investments and technology into these industries. These obstacles will be removed by programs that will open up and make markets more efficient: whether by legislation, by policy and regulation revamps, by focused infrastructure construction, or by other means.

Investments create jobs. And jobs provide both income and dignity. They are the decisive eliminators of poverty.

Our war on poverty is in our programs to enable our industries to achieve global competitiveness. We will transform the power sector to a market-based, competitive industry in order to lower the costs of power. The Omnibus Power Bill is necessary to achieve this. We will exploit our competitive advantage in high-tech industries. Our science and technology policies are being reoriented towards satisfying the needs of the underprivileged.

Let us face up to the fact that certain provisions in our present Constitution are obsolete and serve as deterrents to our global competitiveness. In the race with the rest of the world market to the coming millennium, we cannot afford to let our Constitution bind our feet. [Applause]

It is now time for us to identify which parts need to be improved. Some are economic; they should be made effective as soon as possible. Some are political; they should be rewritten in a way that will not allow the incumbent officials to benefit from them. [Applause] Changing the Constitution is not about extending the terms of office of incumbents.

But let us not allow our paranoid fears to block the convening of an appropriate assembly or convention to rewrite our charter. Let us not prejudge its outcome. Our citizens can always make their voices heard during the amendment process. And ultimately, they will exercise the power, in a plebiscite, to ratify the new charter or to reject it.

Our Constitution must be made to adapt to the dynamics and imperatives of global realities.

Even our relationships with foreign lands are linked to developing our hinterlands. Our foreign policy is based on three pillars: the preservation of our territorial integrity and national security, the promotion of development through economic diplomacy, and the protection of the rights and welfare of our overseas nationals. Our participation, and leadership roles, in ASEAN, APEC, ASEM, the UN, and other forums are aimed at promoting stability, peace, free and fair trade, and other beneficial arrangements for the country, the region, and the world.

Our war on poverty is good economics. Its success will benefit the middle and upper classes as well. The more incomes the poor earn, the greater the domestic market for business. The more capable the poor are, the greater the supply of manpower needed by business.

Gaya ng sinabi ko kanina, kung iaangat natin ang mayayaman, ang mahihirap ay maiiwan. Ngunit kung iaangat natin ang mahihirap, ang lahat ay aangat.

I do not presume that we will reduce poverty during my term from a major to a marginal problem. But we do aspire to reduce it substantially: from an incidence of over 32% today to a range of 25% to 28% by 2004. In other words, we seek to lift more than 3.9 million Filipinos out of poverty during my term. We also hope to lay the foundations and launch the initiatives that will make the process irreversible even beyond my term.

However, as eradication proceeds, alleviation continues. As the cancer is being removed, its pains are being relieved. Alleviation takes many forms, including social welfare services, assistance for street children, senior citizens welfare programs, relief from disasters, resettlements, and help for the disabled and the disadvantaged.

Isa pang bahagi ng ating kampanya laban sa kahirapan ay ang isaayos ang pamamalakad ng pamahalaan. Ang hangad natin ay mabawasan ang aksaya at madagdagan ang serbisyong tinatanggap ng ating mga mamamayan. Unang-una na rito ang pagsugpo sa graft and corruption. Ang bawat pisong nawawala sa anomalya ay pisong ninanakaw mula sa mahihirap. Ninanakaw ng mga nagsasamantala ang mga pakinabang na sana’y mapupunta sa mga taongbayan tulad ng mas maraming eskwelahan, mas maraming libro, mas maraming kalye, mas murang gamot, at mas maraming pasilidad sa pag-utang.

It is also time to put the so-called Marcos wealth in the service of the economy, of the people, and particularly of the poor. Twelve years are enough time to know the difference between the ideal and the feasible. It is also more than enough time to place evidence entirely out of reach of even the most diligent discovery efforts.

We do not know the size of the Marcos wealth. And no judgment has ever been rendered that any of it is ill-gotten. Shall we wait forever?

The more we wait, the more the returns on their wealth accrue to the Marcoses and the foreign banks, and none to the Filipino people. The earlier we acquire a substantial part of it, the sooner the returns accrue to the country.

Any transfers of the Marcos wealth will augment the country’s resources for fighting poverty.

Ang isa pang balakid sa digmaan laban sa karalitaan, at sa kaunlaran ng buong bayan, ay ang rebelyon ng ilan sa ating mga kababayan. Sila’y matagal nang iniwan ng kanilang mga lider upang magpasarap sa ibang bansa, at doon nila tinutulak ang “insurgency by remote control.”

Ako’y nakikiusap sa mga rebeldeng naiwan dito. Hindi tayo magkalaban. Kung ang layunin ninyo ay ang kapakanan ng masa, heto ang masasabi ko sa inyo: Laging kasama ninyo si Erap sa pagmamalasakit sa masa. Kailanman ay hindi ko kayo iiwanan. Kaya magsamasama na tayo.

Hinahangad namin ang kapayapaan. Sa halip ng pag-uusap sa ibang bansa o “neutral territory,” ilagay natin ang peace process sa tamang lugar: sa community level. The Local Peace Forum, where established, are addressing directly the issues and concerns on the ground which are considered the causes of insurgency.

Ngunit mabuti na ring maliwanag ang usapan. Kuwentas klaras. Kakaunti na lang ang panahon at pasiyensiya na nalalabi sa pagdadada. Isuko na ninyo ang inyong armas. Bumalik na kayo sa buklod ng batas at ng ating lipunan, At dito tayo mag-usap ng masinsinan, bilang magkakapatid, walang sandata sa kamay, walang tutukan ng baril.

Our people overwhelmingly support our constitutional system and our functioning democracy. No insurgency of any color has the legal, political, or moral right to seek to bring it down.

This government was elected by the people. It enjoys their support. Your rebellion does not. And this government was not elected to compromise the sovereignty of this Republic, not in substance, not in symbol, not ever.

If you wish to run the government, seek the people’s mandate. If you have any grievances against the government or against society, seek your redress within the law. You have a right to your beliefs, but you cannot justify your belligerence.

Peace we offer to you, but appeasement, never. It is the weak that offers appeasement to the strong, not vice versa. Do not doubt our resolve. We will welcome you back at any time. But we will give your rebellion no air to breathe, no space to move, no time to prosper. If you accept peace, you will have it. If you do not, we will force it anyway.

The rebellion, we must crush. [Applause] The rebels, we must save, unless they persist in their rebellion. Those who refuse to be saved will invite the full force of our laws and the full might of our forces.

Hindi binebeybi ang rebelyon. Pinipisa. [Laughter] [Applause] Kaya, huwag n’yo kaming hamunin!

Gayon din ang masasabi ko tungkol sa krimen at mga salarin. Hindi nilalambing ang krimen. Dinudurog. Hindi kinukupkop ang kriminal. Pinaparusahan. Lalung-lalo na iyong mga nagtutulak ng bawal na gamot sa ating mga kababayan. [Applause] Sitenta porsiyento ng krimen ay nagmumula sa paggamit ng droga. I am happy to report, however, that our efforts at fighting crime have resulted in remarkable reductions in criminal activity, thanks to the vigilance of our crime-fighting agencies at all levels. still, one crime committed is one crime too many.

Our initiatives to bring about stability in Mindanao are directly related to poverty elimination. We will build up Mindanao as the country’s food basket. [Applause] But we can only succeed if an environment of political tranquility is established there. The proposed plebiscite on the expansion of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao and the subsequent elections are large steps towards stability in that all-important island.

To assure internal and external security, and to preserve the environment of stability the country needs to prosper, we will pursue the 15-year modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. [Applause] We intend to make our military and police forces among the most modern in the region.

That is the vision. That is the strategy. But as one famous architect said, “god is in the details.” The concrete specifics that will make our vision real are contained in the array of plans, programs, and projects to be implemented in the next five years by various government departments, agencies, and corporations, and by local government units.

I cannot in this address enumerate them all. They will be presented in more detail, first, in our forthcoming “Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for 1999 to 2004,” which we will call “Angat Pinoy 2004″; second, in the P621 billion budget for the year 2000, which I am submitting to Congress today; and third, in our legislative agenda. The list of our proposed bills will also be submitted to Congress today, together with the printed version of this address.

I earnestly ask our legislators to support us by passing these bills, and by harmonizing every appropriations act they will pass with “Angat Pinoy 2004.”

Our vision is coherent and clear. I wonder why some observers fail to perceive it. Please don’t get shocked if I quote from the scriptures; I believe the answer is there—and I quote: “They look but do not see, and hear but do not listen.” End of quote. By the way, that was from Matthew.

The English author, George Moore, was right when he said—and I quote—”The lot of critics is to be remembered by what they failed to understand.” End of quote.

We have gone a long way, but with the help of many. The local government units at all levels are indispensable partners in the strengthening of our economy and our society. The nongovernmental organizations and people’s organizations are helping to deepen and expand the foundations of our development on the ground. The private sector—whether engaged in business, education, health, and other forms of services—have been a principal source of energy for our survival, recovery, and growth.

And of course, I wish to express my appreciation for the contribution and support of Congress. I can only hope that the productivity of the legislative process will multiply in this coming session. Your powers and ours may be separate, as mandated by the Constitution, but our concern for our people should converge.

To sum up: We have emerged from the Asian crisis. We are now in pursuit of our vision of a prosperous and a poverty-free Philippines. The future is for us to shape.

The conditions are positive. Our exports are surging up. Our rice and corn harvests are bountiful. Our banking system is among the strongest in Asia. The peso is stable. Interest rates are low and inflation is low. The figures for the second quarter are not yet out, but I am confident that our GNP will grow by at least 2.4% and our GDP by at least 2%.

Our markets are freer, our institutions stronger, our policies more supportive of growth, our people better prepared than ever.

We are now poised to fly and—as we used to say in the old school—fly high. The skies are there for us to conquer. All we need is to unite.

As to those who continue to distract me from pursuing my vision, I take my cue from Abraham Lincoln, who said—and I quote—”If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” End of quote.

According to the surveys, millions of Filipinos are saying I am right. Between Lincoln’s ten angels and the millions of my own countrymen, I choose to believe my countrymen. [Applause]

Sa ngayon, ang ating ekonomiya ay unti-unti nang nakakaahon. Ngunit marami pang hamon ang hinaharap ng ating bansa ngayon at sa darating na siglo. Malawak at malalim ang mga programang dapat natin ipatupad upang maiangat sa kahirapan ang karamihan sa ating mga kababayan.

Alam ko na sa bawat kilos at hakbang na aking gagawin ay magiging matindi ang mga paninira, ang mga batikos, ang mga insulto, at mga paratang. Ngunit ang isasagot ko sa kanila ay marangal at matapat na paninilbihan dahil ang aking pakikinggan ay ang daing ng higit na nakakarami, at hindi ang ingay ng iilang may pansariling interes. [Applause] Para sa akin, ito ang mabigat na hamon sapagka’t ang kapalit nito ay ang kinabukasan ng ating lipunan.

Muli, ako’y nananawagan sa lahat ng ating mga kababayan na tayo ay magkaisa at magsikap para sa ating kaunlaran, katahimikan, at magandang kinabukasan.

Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat! [Applause] [Standing ovation]

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