His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the meeting with Asia Society Australia and the Australia Philippine Business Council
[Delivered at Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney, Australia, on October 25, 2012]
Secretary Albert del Rosario; Ambassador William Twedell; Ambassador Belen Anota; members of the Cabinet present; Consul General Ann Jalando-on Louis; Mr. Warwick Smith; Mr. Eduardo Alcordo; members of the Philippine and Australian business delegations:
From the streets of Athens, to the plazas of Madrid, from Wall Street to the bazaars of the Middle East, a consistent clamor thunders around the world: Government must return to its fundamental purpose of being. Public service must once again be its end all and be all; equitability, inclusiveness, and responsiveness to the needs of the citizenry must be brought back to the fore. Doing so requires the ability to balance the different and sometimes competing interests of society’s various stakeholders.
This, perhaps, is the principle that has served as a bedrock for the transformation we are witnessing in my country today. I believe that challenges being faced by so many of the world’s previous bastions of economic strength are borne of uncertainty and social instability—which, in turn, arises from nagging inequality. When the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, it is only natural for the people to clamor for change. Thus, economic growth should not be the only strategic goal of government; for this growth to be sustainable—for it to be insulated from social disruptions—it must also be inclusive.
It has been necessary for government to provide interventions that will allow for inclusiveness. We have done this through social spending.
We look at this as investments in our people—as a tool for empowering them, and helping them become healthier, wealthier, and better-informed. By so doing, they become partners in permanently changing behavior to create a virtuous cycle. As industries grow, so must the skills of the workers that drive them. That is why we have invested heavily in education so that decades-old backlogs in classrooms, chairs, and textbooks will be eliminated starting this year and finishing by next year.
The workforce must likewise remain healthy. When my administration assumed office in 2010, we had a mere 62 percent of the population enrolled in our national health insurance program; right now, we are at 85 percent. We are working hard to have our allies in Congress pass Sin Tax reform legislation, which will effectively address funding gaps so that Universal Healthcare becomes a reality for all by the end of my term in 2016.
May I add that we are not just increasing coverage in terms of people and gold but also for diseases covered by this program.
To address the immediate needs of the poorest segment of our population, we have expanded the scope of our Conditional Cash Transfer program. It now assists 3.1 million Filipino families as they escape from abject poverty and starvation. It has kept 4.57 million Filipino children in school, when their living conditions would have otherwise forced them to drop out. That is the primary condition of the Conditional Cash Transfer program—keep your children in school.
Fiscal prudence and a commitment to transparency have enabled us to efficiently manage inflation, expand services, and fund vital reforms without raising taxes. In national defense, since we came to office, we have spent over 28 billion pesos in the AFP modernization program—a substantial amount compared to the 33 billion spent for modernization in the 15 years prior to my administration. Once the necessary legislation is passed, 75 billion pesos more will be allotted in the next five years to help us build a credible defense posture. When it comes to disaster management and weather monitoring, we are forewarned and forearmed as we upgrade the capabilities of our national weather bureau while getting the prepositioning of emergency assistance down to a science.
Hopefully, we will not have a lot more instances where we have to call on this expertise.
On top of these, we have also ramped up our anti-corruption drive. This has served to heal the psychic wounds wrought by inequality, and effectively changed the mindset of the people by ushering in a new era of accountability. No longer are the rich and powerful beyond justice: Plunder charges have been filed against no less than my predecessor, the former president of the Republic, and no less than a Chief Justice of our Supreme Court has been impeached for declaring less than two percent of his entire cash wealth, when he is Constitutionally mandated to declare all of his assets and net worth in a sworn document.
The results have been encouraging. The Philippines, formerly known as the Sick Man of Asia, has surprised onlookers with the visible fruits of positive reform: At least 6.1 percent GDP growth in the first semester of 2012, which is above the best forecasts and estimates, and 46 record highs for the Philippine Stock Exchange Index in the span of my 27 months in office. Despite the current period of downturn due to global economic uncertainty, the Philippines has navigated itself into the sweet spot, where we are enjoying a continuous expansion of business and services. Add to this, Mr. Ruchir Sharma, head of the Emerging Markets Equity team at Morgan Stanley, has said, “The Philippines is no longer a joke.” And as a sign of certainty, his company has in fact invested around a billion dollars in our country during our watch.
As we put our fiscal house in order, increasingly positive credit ratings have followed: most recently, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s have placed us just one notch away from being considered investment grade. The World Economic Forum, in its most recent annual global competitiveness report, gave the Philippines a second consecutive ten-place jump, bringing us up to 65th place out of the 144 countries survey. The World Bank, for the second time this year, has raised its growth forecast for the Philippine Economy.
To keep the good news rolling, we need stability and peace, locally and regionally. That’s why my visit here seeks to extend that solidarity to other nations. We believe that communities and civil society organizations must be equally empowered to work together to put in place the kind of milieu that is conducive to cooperation and consensus. Whether in Manila, or here in Sydney, your membership stands as a crucial partner in fostering stability and peace.
And in further solidifying the deep and binding ties between the peoples of Australia and the Philippines: Consensus and cooperation has brought within reach the conclusion of a decades-old conflict in our island of Mindanao. The signed Framework Agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front improves our prospects for progress, giving Filipinos in that region a chance to rebuild their communities, so that they too can become productive members of Philippine society full of optimism.
If peace and security provide firm foundations for development, then it is equally important for nations to work together to seek opportunities that redound to the mutual advantage of our peoples.
I know many investors in Australia appreciate the great potential of the Philippine mining industry. Let me be clear concerning not only our policy intentions, but the parameters that to my mind should guide the industry. Our mineral wealth is a finite resource which belongs to the people; therefore the people, through the state, must realize a clear economic benefit to mining. Harnessing our minerals must be done sustainably and responsibly, with as little harm to the environment as possible. Australia itself provides a model for best practices in the mining industry.
To this end, I have issued an executive order that more clearly outlines the Philippines policy toward mining and creates the general set of principles that will govern the industry. My mining policy spells out and balances the benefits and obligations of the different stakeholders, protects the environment, and promotes public acceptance.
As you can see, by going back to the basics of good governance, we are reducing risk, increasing confidence, widening consensus, and thereby putting in place an environment conducive to lasting partnerships producing equitable growth. Our country now stands for everything that is best about the Filipino spirit: determined, fair, and principled. It is my hope that today’s gathering will strengthen our existing partnerships and create, in turn, new partnerships to our mutual advantage.
Thank you. Good day.