President Benigno Aquino III yesterday said the Philippines that was once the sick man of Asia now brims with vitality, pointing out that in the first quarter of 2012, it registered the highest growth rate in the Southeast Asian region.
Aquino, in his third State of the Nation Address yesterday afternoon that lasted over an hour and a half, and was interrupted by applause more than 100 times, said “We have cut wasteful spending, held offenders accountable for their actions, and showed the world that the Philippines is now open for business under new management.”
He pointed out that in the first quarter of 2012, the Philippines’ GDP grew by 6.4 percent, “much higher than projected, the highest growth in the Southeast Asian region, and the second only to China in the whole of Asia.”
“Once, we were the debtors; now, we are the creditors, clearly no laughing matter. Until recently, we had to beg for investments; now, investors flock to us,” he said.
What was once impossible is now possible, Aquino said, stressing that the Filipino people made the country’s gains, that he outlined in his SONA, happen.
“A resilient and dynamic economy resting on the foundations of good governance is the best defense against global uncertainty. We have been dismantling the obstacles to progress for two years, and now, our success can only be limited by how hard we are willing to work for it,” he said.
The president stressed that his administration is building an environment where progress can be felt by the majority.
As of February this year, the three millionth household-beneficiary of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program had been registered, he said. Next year, they will enroll 3.8 million—five times what they had at the beginning of his term, he added.
The president also said that, from 62 percent when he assumed the president, today 85 percent of all Filipinos are enrolled in PhilHealth.
He also said that, before the next year ends, his administration will have built the 66,800 classrooms needed to fill up the shortage it inherited.
“The 2,573,212 backlog in chairs that we were bequeathed will be addressed before 2012 ends. This year, too, will see the eradication of the backlog of 61.7 million textbooks — and we will finally achieve the one-to-one ratio of books to students,” he added.
For State Universities and Colleges, he said he has proposed a 43.61 percent increase in their budget next year
“We are ending the backlogs in the education sector, but the potential for shortages remains as our student population continues to increase. Perhaps Responsible Parenthood can help address this,” he said, which drew the loudest applause from the audience.
The president also noted that the country’s unemployment rate is declining steadily. In 2010, the unemployment rate was at 8 percent. In April 2011, it dropped to 7.2, and dropped further to 6.9 this year.
He also promised that before the next SONA, the structural defects his administration inherited at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport 3 will have been fully repaired.
The president also outlined infrastructure gains under his administration. “The improvement of our infrastructure is intertwined with the growth of our tourism industry,” he said, noting the huge increase of tourism arrivals under his administration.
“I have no doubt that we will meet our quota of 4.6 million tourist arrivals for 2012. This means that we will have a year-on-year increase of 1.5 million tourists. The bottomline: In two years, we would have had a bigger growth in tourist arrivals, compared to the increase charted by the previous administration in their nine years,” he said.
AGRICULTURE ON TOP
When it comes to growth and development, agriculture is at the top of his priorities, he also said.
“For so long in the past, we were led to believe that we were short 1.3 million metric tons of rice, and that we needed to import 2 million metric tons to address this shortage,” he said.
“In just our first year, we reduced the annual shortage of 1.3 million metric tons to just 860,000 metric tons. This year, it is down to 500,000 - including a buffer stock to dip into in times of calamity. And, if the weather cooperates, we’ll be able to export rice next year,” Aquino said.
Coconut water, once treated as a waste product, is now being utilized by the country’s farmers, he also said.
“From 483,862 liters exported in 2009, to 1,807,583 liters in 2010, to a staggering 16,756,498 liters of cocowater exported in 2011,” Aquino pointed out.
POLICE AND CRIME
The president also said more areas in the country now have electricity, and crime volume continues to decline across the country.
He also bared the purchase of more weapons for the Philippine National Police and the modernization of the equipment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“And it is not only through better equipment that we demonstrate our commitment to help our police and our soldiers. We have eased their financial burdens through the 22,000 houses that have been built under the AFP–PNP housing program,” he said.
The president also took note that some retirees receive less than P500 a month. “With the New Year comes our resolution that all old-age and disability pensioners will receive no less than P5,000 monthly,” he said.
He also said Performance-Based Incentives will now be given to government employees.
“Starting this year, we will implement a system in which bonuses are based on their agency’s abilities to meet their annual targets. Employees now hold the keys to their own advancement. Incentives may reach up to P35,000, depending on how well you do your jobs. This is in addition to your across-the-board Christmas bonus,” he said.
True unity and reconciliation can only emanate from genuine justice, he also said, outlining the government’s determination to go after the corrupt of the past and the present.
“This is why, to the next Chief Justice, much will be demanded of you by our people. We have proven the impossible possible; now, our task is reform towards true justice that continues even after our administration,” he said.
“Our objectives are simple: If you are innocent, you will appear in court with confidence, because you will be found not guilty. But if you are guilty, you will be made to pay for your sins, no matter who you are,” he said.
On the elections next year, the president said “You, our Bosses, will be our compass. I ask you, ‘Boss, what direction will we take? Do we continue treading the straight and righteous path, or do we double-back—towards the crooked road that leads to a dead end?’“
The president also called for the passage of the sin tax measure in the Senate.*CPG