Speech of President Aquino at the Philippines Development Forum, February 5, 2013

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Speech
of
His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 2013 Philippines Development Forum

[Delivered at Davao City on February 5, 2013]

Thank you. Please sit down.

Medyo kinabahan ako doon, Cesar. Akala ko sasama ka roon sa “fraternity” na nakakalimot ng pangalan ko. [Laughter]

Secretary Cesar Purisima; Mr. Motoo Konishi; His Excellency William Tweedle; His Excellency Toshinao Urabe; Secretary Singsong; Seretary Baldoz; Secretary Ona; Secretary Domingo; Secretary Soliman; Secretary Roxas; of course, Secretary Abad, I thank you in advance for the lunch you had provided me; Secretary Balisacan; Honorable Ging Deles; Honorable Francis Tolentino; MinDA Head Lou Antonino; our Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales; Honorable Eliseo Gozun; Honorable Mary Ann Lucille Sering; Governor Mujiv Hataman; Congressman Isidro Ungab; Honorable Sara Duterte and other local chief executives present:

Good morning.

I must admit: the day I step down from office is always at the back of my mind. That’s three years and four months from now—kinda long. [Laughter] 2016 represents a deadline of which I must always be mindful: the time I will have to give up the privilege of serving my country as its President. Right now, we are at a critical juncture. As we near the midpoint of our term, it is all the more important for us to look back on both our successes and shortcomings, so we can strategize for the future. After all, my team and I have only, as I said, three years and four months left, and we want to make the most of this time to build on what we have achieved, improve where we are lacking, and fulfill our promises to our people—towards attaining inclusive growth, sustainable progress, and greater peace and stability.

This is a daunting task, but knowing that there are those who are willing to share this responsibility with us—such as those of you present here today—makes it easier. The Philippines Development Forum represents the very best of the ideals behind public-private partnerships, and I am glad to be here. It has been a while since we last met, so I hope you will allow me to share with you the progress we all have made.

The past couple of years have been historic. You may have heard the good news announced last week: full year growth for 2012 was recorded at 6.6 percent, besting all predictions, including ours. Among the biggest contributors to this growth were trade, renting and business activities, real estate, construction activities, and on the demand side, household consumption, and net exports. These indicate increased private sector activity and capacity, signs that growth has become more sustainable. The improved consumption capacity of Filipinos means that our growth has benefited households as well. Moving forward, the challenge will always be how to ensure that our gains are inclusive, or more inclusive.

In large part, these resulted from our commitment to good governance—to ensuring that integrity, transparency, and accountability guide government operations. One of my favorite success stories is that of the Department of Public Works and Highways, once known to be a den of corruption. When we first met in February of 2011, I told you that the DPWH had already saved over 300 million pesos. Today, that number, I am told, has grown to over 12 billion pesos in savings—a result of conscientious and honest work. [Applause]

Restoring faith in systems eroded by corruption also means holding each public servant and institution up to the standard of integrity. This applies not only to our DPWH, but to other entities as well, from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which collected over one trillion pesos for the first time in history last year [applause]—I am told that they will do even better this year [laughter]—to the 95 to 99 percent of local government units that have complied with our full disclosure policy and have made information on their finances and projects readily available. This kind of transparency and accountability leads to the increased efficiency of agencies and redounds to real results: money saved, programs improved, and people helped.

The Filipino people are our strongest competitive advantage, which is why we continue to invest heavily in them. The Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, or our Conditional Cash Transfer Program’s budget for 2013 is more than four times what it received in 2010: from 10 billion pesos, to this year’s 44.3 billion pesos. This will help 3.8 million families. The past year also saw landmark achievements in healthcare and education, with the expansion of the PhilHealth program to provide healthcare coverage for the poorest of our people for even diseases like breast cancer and childhood leukemia, as well as the launch of the K to 12 program that will help bring Philippine education up to international standards.

Despite the few naysayers that remain, the sincerity and effectiveness of our efforts have been recognized the world over. Perhaps one of the most telling signs is the increased confidence of the international community, which I have observed in my meetings both here at home and abroad. In the early days of the administration, our sales pitch bordered on requests to consider our country. Today, CEOs and businessmen themselves congratulate our success, express active interest in the Philippines, and more often that not, even extend a hope that we will consider their proposals. They see that the Philippines today is different from the Philippines of the past: through our combined efforts, we are creating an environment in which both business and the citizenry are given opportunities to flourish. This is borne of a recognition that development must be inclusive: if we are to foster growth that leaves no one behind, each and every person must be empowered not only to prosper and reach personal success, but also to be a better citizen.

The continued presence of our international partners in the country is another sign of confidence—whatever the conditions may be, you have always been here to give assistance to our country, especially to Mindanao. In fact, it is only fitting that we are holding this Forum here today. We Filipinos have always known it to be the Land of Promise, because of its great potential for growth and development. Unfortunately, for the longest time, this potential remained untapped, and its promise, unfulfilled; instead, some parts of Mindanao were known by many for violence, inequality, and corruption in local governance.

This history is precisely why the development of Mindanao is a priority for our administration. We know it is necessary to step up reform here if we are to foster inclusive growth. It began with the synchronization of elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with the national and local elections scheduled this year: a move that will allow our countrymen here to exercise their rights and cast their votes for the candidates they truly believe in. There is also the ARMM transitional investment support plan, which allots 8.59 billion pesos for development projects, from the construction of necessary infrastructure in transportation and health, to improving the quality of education available, to even strengthening the Halal food industry. And just last year, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government made history with the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro—a move that we hope will bring an end to the decades-long insurgency, and bring a final, enduring peace to Mindanao. You have always been a steady partner—from helping the victims of calamities, to strengthening communities and building peace, to working to improve access to social services, health, and education.

There are some who wonder if our reforms will only work in the short-term. They fear there may be a deadline—a limit to the success we’re experiencing. I quote, “Will this outlast us? Will the changes in the Philippines extend beyond 2016?” I have no such fear, because I have always had faith in our bosses: the Filipino people. Today, change is tangible—from the thousands of new classrooms, to the new businesses setting up shop, to the tourists who continue to flock our shores. But this is only the tip of the iceberg: a sea change is also taking place in our mindsets. Instead of knee-jerk solutions, we are thinking things through to find the best possible answers. Instead of apathy, a strong demand for justice. Instead of passivity, a newfound determination and optimism that positive change can be won for the country. Our people have seen how we all have worked to empower them: they know what true dedication to service can achieve—and they will demand nothing less in the future.

Through this forum, we affirm the necessity of positive participation: not merely to point out the problems, but more importantly, to become part of the solution. When different sectors bring their areas of expertise to the table, when we set aside pettiness and parochialism in favor of service—that is when we can put the puzzle pieces together and build an even stronger Philippines. This involves everyone. Nation building is never about those at the top huddling together to impose their ideas on everyone else; it is about the whole spectrum of society pulling together, steadily marching together towards a single direction. At its core is a simple concept: the genuine desire to help each other—not only in a single Forum, or the term of an administration, but over the course of our lives.

It is my hope that the partnerships that have been forged here, together with the practices of collaboration and of open dialogue, extend beyond this day—that you continue to embody the spirit of cooperation and service, and become an inspiration to others.  In this way, we will be able to realize fully the commitments we made to each other and the Filipino people, and walk along the straight path together to the fulfillment of our dreams for the Philippines.

Thank you, and good day to one and all.

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