His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the opening ceremony of the Global Development Network’s 14th Annual Global Development Conference
[Delivered at Asian Development Bank Headquarters, Manila, on June 19, 2013]
We hold this Global Development Conference in our country at an appropriate time. This is the 152nd birth anniversary of our national hero, Jose Rizal, who was largely responsible for steering our nation down the path of equality and, subsequently, development. Few people know that during his exile in Dapitan in Southern Philippines, Rizal took a hands-on approach to development. He established a school and started a medical practice, effectively taking the role of community-builder in a far-flung area of the Philippines.
More than a century after Rizal’s death, people all around the world continue to share that human desire to empower, as evidenced by your presence here. May I note in particular how Alvin Ang and Jeremiah Opiniano won the annual competition for Outstanding Research for Development in 2011. This is, I understand, the first and only time the Philippines has won this competition. For that, I thank you. As your annual competition within this conference shows, the problems that confront us, however, have changed since Rizal’s era. Countries the world over have found themselves beset by social unrest—unrest that roots from a prevalent public perception that the people’s voice is not being heard. This global flux has brought about significant social and economic consequences for the entire world—and it pushes us to evolve the way we think—from the way we approach development to the way we go about solving our problems. And this is precisely why we find ourselves here today.
We have long heard that the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. But perhaps we can even build on this idea: The first step to solving any problem should be identifying the correct problem, otherwise any solution would be directionless, and therefore ineffective. This conference helps us do just that. It puts more solidity to the analysis of the problem, which will hopefully redound to more specific, more effective, and more strategic solutions.
For most of the developing world, the overarching problems can be summed up in a few words: poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of education, corruption. These are not unique to any one country or people—each of us have seen or experienced them and their effects.
All these problems combined to deprive people of hope, initiative, and opportunities and while no one can guarantee outcomes, I believe, it is incumbent upon government to provide meaningful opportunities to individuals and an environment conducive to empowering our fellow citizens to seek out and maximize opportunities that come their way. We cannot have a society where a few flourish and the rest just make do with crumbs. We must have inclusive growth.
This is nothing less than a fair deal, a running start, for all with interventions by the government where it matters and can do the most good. In the first three years of our term, we focused resources on our Conditional Cash Transfer Program. Stay in school, see the doctor, be our partners in health and learning, and we will lend you a helping hand. We close the gap in classrooms and raised our budgets for education, from the primary all the way to the tertiary level.
The next three years will see continued interventions in the poorest of the poor but also a focus on the vulnerable but emerging sectors of society all made possible by prudent public finance policies and honesty in public administration by continuing efforts to build mass housing on site and not in far flung areas by creating durable jobs in industry, tourism and agriculture.
This is what our government has chosen to do. The difficulty is that while the problems may be universal, the solutions are not. Each region, each country, each city, and town has its own reality—and the solutions we come up with must be tailor fit to local conditions. This means that our solutions might not be the best for your own communities, and we must study their effects and how to maximize positive interventions in a specific and thorough manner.
For example, our country has more than adequate coconuts to harvest—and hundreds of thousands of coconut farmers who could potentially benefit from growth in the sector. We likewise heard of a growing market for coco-water worldwide. So what we did was: We made the effort to connect our farmers to consumers from all around the world. The result: From 2009 to 2011, the value of our coco-water exports increased from 370,000 dollars to 15.1 million dollars—an increase of almost four thousand percent. From correctly reading local conditions, we were able to turn coco-water, which used to be a mere waste product, into an engine of empowerment. Another former waste product we have taken advantage of is coconut coir, which is extracted from coconut husk. We found that we could effectively use the material to strengthen our roads and prevent erosion, which is why our Department of Public Works and Highways has been using it in its projects–and this, may I add, has been such a success that we find ourselves with the shortage of this product due to massive exporting of the same. So, through approaching the problem in the context of its immediate environment, and with a dash of local ingenuity, we turned literal waste products into vibrant industries.
In this case, the broad solutions may strike us as common sense solutions: Identify our competitive advantages, build on them, and try to move up the value chain. But the true question of development hinges largely on a thorough knowledge of the local condition. It hinges on finding each region’s coco-water—an untapped opportunity for growth, empowerment, and synchronicity.
The studies we are sharing today root from a profound idea: that while it feels, at times, that the specific research we conduct is dwarfed by the enormity of the world’s troubles, all our work combined can form a constellation of knowledge that arms human civilization with the tools to combat inequality and to pursue growth that is truly inclusive.
Our continuing education—our acknowledgment that we do not know everything yet—makes certain that we will not become obsolete nor irrelevant. And perhaps that is the most resounding message of this conference: that we remain in pursuit of more knowledge—that we are saying yes to that natural human desire to get better. I am hopeful that in the span of this conference, we can hold a truly free exchange of ideas as regards development, so that we may advance the way we approach our world’s most pressing problems. I encourage you all to speak with one another and, above that, to listen, all for the sake of bequeathing coming generations a world better than we found it.
I thank you for listening and I bid you all a good day.