His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the Euromoney Philippines Investment Forum 2013
[Delivered at Manila Peninsula Hotel, Makati City, on March 12, 2013]
Thank you. Good morning. Please sit down.
Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps; secretaries Cesar Purisima, Ricky Carandang; Mr. Tony Shale; Governor Amado Tetangco; Chairperson Tess Herbosa; President and General Manager Roberto Vergara; former Prime Minister Cesar Virata; distinguished business leaders and members of the business sector; fellow workers in government; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen:
Again, good morning.
The last time we met, I shared with you a biblical verse that I believed to be the most apt description of both our country’s condition and our determination to propel it forward: “Physician, Heal Thyself.” Then, I shared with you the story of the Philippines—a country both patient and physician, one that succeeded in reversing its backwards slide simply through a commitment to good governance.
What you see today is a country on the rise, propelled by our determination to change the way things were done in the Philippines and ensure that integrity, transparency, and accountability characterize our actions. From day one, we have been making good on this promise. We are making sure that neither power nor money gives anyone an undue advantage, whether in justice or in business. We are making sure that public funds are used to help our countrymen, and that information on expenditures is made available to the public, to help in guarding against corruption. We are giving our bosses, the Filipino people, a government they can trust. This commitment has allowed us to turn the country around in less than three years: if last year, I spoke to you of this turnaround—today, allow me to share with you the continuing journey of a country that has even more achievements under its belt.
2012 was an outstanding year for our economy, besting all expectations—including our own analysts’—by growing 6.6 percent—one of the highest growth rates in ASEAN. Last year was also a historic year for our stock market, with record highs sometimes coming every day in the trading week. At last count, in the two years and eight months of our administration, we are at 84 record highs—and close to breaking 7,000, when last year, we were astounded with breaching 5,000, and not too long ago, 4,000 seemed an impossibility.
The performance of our economy, brought about by our prudent fiscal policies, strong external position, macroeconomic stability, and our dedication to reform, has allowed us to reverse a decade’s worth of decline in our credit ratings. Right now, Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Ratings have all placed the Philippines at one level below investment grade, even as bond markets are already pricing us at investment grade.
The confidence in our economy likewise resonates within the businesses and institutions you lead. After all, the Japan External Trade Organization, or JETRO’s 2012 Survey of Japanese-Affiliated Companies in Asia and Oceania states that the proportion of profitable firms for the countries in the ASEAN 5 declined—except for the Philippines, which, in fact, increased. This places us squarely in the middle, with 71.9 percent of surveyed firms expected a profit. In just a year, we have overtaken Singapore and Malaysia in this regard. As your businesses progress, and as we remain committed to growing the Philippines, there is plenty of reason to believe this upward trend will continue.
All of these only set the stage for the next chapter—one that we envision will bring us even closer to our goal of lasting, inclusive growth, and I am here to invite you to play an even bigger role in the years to come. There are many opportunities available in our country, but, in particular, I would like to give you an update on the three sectors that remain our priority: agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure.
Agriculture remains one of our priorities precisely because it is the source of livelihood and employment for so many Filipinos—12.1 million individuals, as of last year. This is why, for this year, we have increased our agriculture budget by 22 percent from 61.4 to 75 billion pesos. This will fund the construction and rehabilitation of farm to market roads, enhance irrigation systems, and provide support services, among others.
Weather permitting, we hope to strengthen our position as regards rice self-sufficiency, and regain our footing in the export markets by exporting 100 metric tons of high quality rice in 2013. If there is anyone interested out there in being a part of the rise of the Philippine agricultural sector, our Agribusiness Lands Investment Center (ABLIC) will be more than happy to conduct briefings for you.
Tourism is another sector in which we are heavily invested, and for good reason—one only need visit Boracay or the beautiful islands of Palawan, attend Cebu’s Sinulog Festival, or walk around the walled city of Intramuros to understand the attraction that has kept visitors flocking to the country. From the 4.3 million international tourists who visited the Philippines in 2012, to the 37.5 million Filipinos who traveled around our country in 2011 alone, so many agree: it is indeed more fun in the Philippines. May I also add that 37 broke the original 35-million target for 2016. The new target for domestic tourism is now at 56 million.
We want you to join in on the fun. Right now, for example, we expect the number of travelers to the Philippines to spike over the next few years. So, despite the great number of hotel inaugurations I’ve attended as President, it appears that we will need an estimated additional 37,000 rooms by 2016. This presents a good opportunity to anyone in the hotel or real estate industry—or even for entrepreneurs wanting to try their luck, especially since we’re offering competitive fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for tourism enterprises.
In support of tourism, agriculture, and in fact, the overall viability of the Philippines as an investment destination, we have also been working on constructing, rehabilitating, and enhancing the quality of our infrastructure. Both public and private construction activities expanded in 2012, contributing to the growth of industry and our GDP. To sustain this, we increased the infrastructure budget by 18 percent, from 205.33 billion pesos in 2012, to 242.3 billion in 2013. This will fund the development of our road network, ports, and airports, among others.
Even as we are working on this, we also know that harnessing the expertise and resources of the private sector can complement government efforts to get big-ticket projects done. This is why we continue to open some of our biggest infrastructure projects to the participation of the private sector. Again, those of you interested in partnering with us will be happy to know that there are two other major projects that will be rolled out namely: the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, and the NLEX-SLEX link connector road—both of which are meant to cut travel time and enhance connectivity among our cities in Luzon.
At the end of the day, we are inviting you to come to the Philippines whether in these three sectors, or in others, because we know that, here, hard work, innovation, and creativity are rewarded with success. This is not an empty promise: you will have the Filipino people and our administration as committed partners. Over the past years, we have been doing everything we can to level the playing field—from reforming the judiciary, to streamlining the process of setting up business in the Philippines, to following the proper bidding and procurement processes. We are also investing heavily in our countrymen—empowering them to take stock of their lives and to realize their potential. Among our government’s achievements in the past year include the Sin Tax Reform Act and the Responsible Parenthood Law, both of which will help us in our quest to achieve universal healthcare, even as the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro will foster peace and stability in the Philippines. Training programs that meet the need of industries and a roadmap for the development of our state universities and colleges will ensure that our workforce is well-educated and capable of holding gainful employment, as greater access to quality healthcare ensures that they are healthy enough for the physical demands of work.
We are determined to see our people succeed. We hope that, in considering our country for your businesses, you share this goal with us as well.
Those of you who have long had businesses in the Philippines will understand why I say this. If it’s simply a matter of how much you pay for labor, perhaps it is true that there are others in the region who may cost less—but you chose to come here anyway. You know, as well as we do, that, pound for pound, the Filipino worker delivers: he adapts well to any environment, he is creative and hard working, adept in communicating in English—which is especially important as we strive to be even more competitive globally, and he is loyal. To give you just one example: Filipino workers have already brought our BPO industry to great heights, in such a short time. Given the opportunity, they will do the same for you, whatever industry you may be involved in.
The investments that you will bring into our country will redound to tens of thousands of jobs for our countrymen—men and women who will be able to put food on their tables, send their children to school, and meet the needs and wants of their families. Together, we will be empowering them: giving them greater power to contribute to economic growth and opportunities to uplift their lives and even the lives of their fellow Filipinos. All together, we will be building the success of industry, the Philippines, and the Filipino people.
This is what we mean when we speak about inclusive growth. We will never settle for numbers that look good only on paper; for our administration, growth is a narrative that has always depended on the success of its people—including you leaders, who have the capacity and the resources to empower others. This is, in essence, the opportunity you are all given today. Even if you have come here only with a mind to invest in the Philippines and ride on the resurgence of our economy—with your decision to bet on our country, you will be doing so much more: you will be giving thousands of Filipinos gainful employment, that will empower them as consumers—thus spurring the growth of both your businesses and the Philippines. And we hope you will take this chance and join us on the straight path to progress.
Thank you, and good day.