MANILA — President Benigno C. Aquino III on Monday, July 23, delivered his third State of the Nation (SONA) at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives, Batasan Pambansa Complex, Quezon City. He reported the accomplishments of his administration in the past two years, declaring that nothing is impossible once the Filipino people realize that they are the boss.
“This is what I have learned in the 25 months I have served as your president: Nothing is impossible. Nothing is impossible because if the Filipino people see that they are the only Bosses of their government, they will carry you, they will guide you, they themselves will lead you toward meaningful change,” he said in his report.
Aquino’s SONA, his 3rd since being elected in 2010, lasted over an hour and a half and was interrupted more than 100 times with applause. The loudest applause came after the President urged Congress to pass the Responsible Parenthood Bill, Malacanang’s own version of the controversial reproductive health bill.
The President had no “Lenny Skutniks” or special guests similar to Mang Pandoy of former President Ramos or the “bangkang papel boys” of former President Arroyo to symbolize how he will accomplish his promises.
Instead, Aquino presented a long list of his administration’s accomplishments, and praised members of his own Cabinet and other government officials for a job well done.
Among the accomplishments he mentioned in the SONA are: a record 6.4% GDP growth in the first quarter of 2012, record performances of the stock market, rising tourist arrivals and record high increase in coco water exports.
He also answered critics who said that his “daang matuwid” and good governance drive would not benefit the poor.
He described fiscal management under the previous administration as like “the wild West” where “one hand would shake your hand while the other would ask for a bribe.” He said that under his administration, leaks in the system due to corruption have been plugged and tax collections have risen.
An English translation of President Aquino’s speech, as published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, is posted below in its entirely.
[English translation of the speech delivered at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives, Batasan Pambansa Complex, Quezon City, on July 23, 2012]
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile; Speaker Feliciano Belmonte; Vice President Jejomar Binay; former Presidents Fidel Valdez Ramos and Joseph Ejercito Estrada; eminent Justices of the Supreme Court; distinguished members of the diplomatic corps; honorable members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate; our leaders in local government; members of our Cabinet; uniformed officers of the military and of the police; my fellow public servants; and, of course, to my Bosses, the Filipino people, a pleasant afternoon to all.
This is my third SONA. It wasn’t too long ago when we began to dream again; when, united, we chose the straight and righteous path; when we began to cast aside the culture of wang-wang, not only in our streets, but in every sector of society.
It has been two years since you said: We are tired of corruption and of poverty; it is time to restore a government that is truly on the side the people.
Like many of you, I have been a victim of the abuse of power. I was only 12 years old when Martial Law was declared. For seven years and seven months, my father was incarcerated; we lived in forced exile for three years. I saw for myself how many others also suffered.
These experiences forged the principles I now live by: Where a citizen is oppressed, he will find me as an ally; where there is an oppressor, I will be there to fight; where I find something wrong in the system, I will consider it my duty to right it.
Martial Law ended long ago and when it did, we were asked: “If not us, then who?” and “If not now, then when?” Our united response: let it be us, and let it be now. The democracy that was taken from us by force was reclaimed peacefully. And in so doing, we brought light to a dark chapter in our history.
Let it not be forgotten: Martial Law was borne because a dictator manipulated the Constitution to remain in power. And to this day, the battle rages: between those who seek a more equitable system, and those who seek to preserve their privileges at the expense of others.
The specters of a lost decade haunted us from our first day in office.
There was the North Rail contract—an expensive project that became even more expensive after renegotiation. Ironically, the higher cost came with fewer public benefits; a fleet of 19 train sets was reduced to three, and the number of stations, from five to two. To make matters worse, the debts incurred from the project are now being called in.
We had GOCCs handing out unwarranted bonuses, despite the losses already suffered by their agencies. We had the billions wasted by PAGCOR on—of all things—coffee. We had the suspect management practices of the PNP, which involved ignoring the need to arm the remaining 45 percent of our police force, just to collect kickbacks on rundown helicopters purchased at brand-new prices.
We were left with little fiscal space even as debts had bunched up and were maturing. We were also left a long list of obligations to fulfill: A backlog of 66,800 classrooms, which would cost us about 53.44 billion pesos; a backlog of 2,573,212 classroom chairs, amounting to 2.31 billion pesos. In 2010, an estimated 36 million Filipinos were still not members of PhilHealth. Forty-two billion pesos was needed to enroll them. Add to all this the 103 billion pesos needed for the modernization of our Armed Forces.
To fulfill all these obligations and address all our needs, we were bequeathed, at the start of our term, 6.5 percent of the entire budget for the remaining six months of 2010. We were like boxers, sent into the ring blindfolded, with our hands and feet bound, and the referee and the judges paid off.
In our first three months in office, I would look forward to Sundays when I could ask God for His help. We expected that it would take no less than two years before our reforms took hold. Would our countrymen be willing to wait that long?
But what we know about our people, and what we had proven time and again to the world was this: Nothing is impossible to a united Filipino nation. It was change we dreamed of, and change we achieved; the benefits of change are now par for the course.
Roads are straight and level, and properly paved; this is now par for the course.
Relief goods are ready even before a storm arrives. Rescue services are always on standby, and the people are no longer left to fend for themselves. This is now par for the course.
Sirens only blare from the police cars, from ambulances, and from fire trucks—not from government officials. This is now par for the course. The government that once abused its power is finally using that power for their benefit.
Reforms were established as we cut wasteful spending, held offenders accountable for their actions, and showed the world that the Philippines is now open for business under new management.
What was once the sick man of Asia now brims with vitality. When we secured our first positive credit rating action, some said it was pure luck. Now that we have had eight, can it still just be luck? When the Philippine Stock Exchange index first broke 4,000, many wondered if that was sustainable. But now, with so many record highs, we are having trouble keeping score: For the record, we have had 44, and the index hovers near or above 5,000. In the first quarter of 2012, our 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. We are second only to China. 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. Some Japanese companies have said to us, “Maybe you’d like to take a look at us. We’re not the cheapest but we’re number one in technology.” Even the leader of a large British bank recently came looking for opportunities.
Commentators the world over voice their admiration. According to Bloomberg Business week, “Keep an eye on the Philippines.” Foreign Policy magazine, and even one of the leaders of ASEAN 100, said that we may even become “Asia’s Next Tiger.” Ruchir Sharma, head of Morgan Stanley’s Emerging Market Equities said, “The Philippines is no longer a joke.” And it doesn’t look like he’s pulling our leg, because their company has invested approximately a billion dollars in our markets. I only wish that the optimism of foreign media would be shared by their local counterparts more often.
And we are building an environment where progress can be felt by the majority. When we began office, there were 760,357 household-beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. Our target: 3.1 million within two years. By February of this year, the three millionth household-beneficiary of Pantawid Pamilya had been registered. Next year, we will enroll 3.8 million households—five times what we had at the beginning of our term.
This is a long-term project, with far-reaching impact. The research is in its initial stages, but already the figures show promise. Based on data from the DSWD: 1,672,977 mothers now get regular checkups; 1,672,814 children have been vaccinated against diarrhea, polio, measles, and various other diseases; 4.57 million students no longer need to miss school because of poverty.
When we first took office, only 62 percent of Filipinos were enrolled in PhilHealth. Enrollment was not necessarily based on need but on being in the good graces of politicians. Now, 85 percent of our citizens are members. This means that since we received our mandate, 23.31 million more Filipinos have access to PhilHealth’s array of benefits and services.
And here’s even better news: the 5.2 million poorest households identified by our National Household Targeting System will now fully benefit from PhilHealth’s programs, free of charge. Because of the Department of Health’s No Balance Billing Policy, treatment for dengue, pneumonia, asthma, cataracts—as well as treatments for catastrophic diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer, and acute leukemia—can be availed of for free by our poorest countrymen.
The process for our poorest PhilHealth members: Enter any government hospital. Show you PhilHealth card. Get treatment. And they return to their homes without having to shell out a single centavo.
One of the briefings I attended noted that four out of ten Filipinos have never seen a health professional in their entire lifetime. Other figures are more dire: Six out of ten Filipinos die without being attended to by health professionals.
But whatever the basis, the number of Filipinos with no access to government health services remains a concern. And we are acting on this: In 2010, ten thousand nurses and midwives were deployed under the RNHeals Program; to date, we have deployed 30,801. Add to this over 11,000 Community Health Teams tasked to strengthen the links between doctors and nurses, and the communities they serve.
And today, because of efficient targeting, they are deployed to where they are most needed: to areas that have been for so long left in the margins of society. We have sent our health professionals to 1,021 localities covered by the Pantawid Pamilya, and to the 609 poorest cities and municipalities, as identified by the National Anti-Poverty Commission.
This new system addresses two issues: thousands of nurses and midwives now have jobs and an opportunity to gain valuable work experience; at the same time, millions of our countrymen now have increased access to quality health care.
But we are not satisfied with this. What we want: true, universal, and holistic health care. This begins not in our hospitals, but within each and every household: Increased consciousness, routine inoculation, and regular checkups are necessary to keep sickness at bay. Add to this our efforts to ensure that we prevent the illnesses that are in our power to prevent.
For example: Last year, I told you about our anti-dengue mosquito traps. It is too early to claim total victory, our scientists are rigorous about testing, but the initial results have been very encouraging.
We tested the efficacy of those mosquito traps in areas with the highest reported incidence of dengue. In 2011, traps were distributed in Bukidnon—which had recorded 1,216 cases of dengue in 2010. After distribution, the number of cases decreased to 37—that is a 97 percent reduction rate. In the towns of Ballesteros and Claveria in Cagayan, there were 228 cases of dengue in 2010; in 2011, a mere eight cases were recorded. In Catarman, Northern Samar: 434 cases of dengue were reported in 2010. There were a mere four cases in 2011.
This project is in its initial stages. But even this early on, we must thank Secretaries Ike Ona of DOH and Mario Montejo of DOST; may our gratitude and applause spur them into even more intensive research and collaboration.
Challenges remain. The high maternal mortality ratio in our country continues to alarm us. Which is why we have undertaken measures to address the healthcare needs of women. We, too, want Universal Health Care; we want our medical institutions to have enough equipment, facilities, and manpower.
We can easier fulfill all these goals, if the Sin Tax Bill—which rationalizes taxes on alcohol and tobacco products—can be passed. This bill makes vice more expensive while at the same time raising more money for health.
And what of our students—what welcomes them in the schools? Will they still first learn the alphabet beneath the shade of a tree? Will they still be squatting on the floor, tussling with classmates over a single textbook?
I have great faith in Secretary Luistro: Before the next year ends, we will have built the 66,800 classrooms needed to fill up the shortage we inherited—of this, we expect 40,000 for this year. 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.
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.
For our State Universities and Colleges: We have proposed a 43.61 percent increase in their budget next year. A reminder, though, that everything we do is in accordance to a plan: There are corresponding conditions to this budget increase. The SUC Reform Roadmap of CHED, which has been deliberated and agreed upon, must be enacted to ensure that the students sponsored by the state are of top caliber. Expect that if you work to get high marks in this assignment, we will be striving just as hard to address the rest of your needs.
Year after year, our budget for education has increased. The budget we inherited for DepEd last 2010 was 177 billion pesos. Our proposal for 2013: 292.7 billion pesos. In 2010, our SUCs were allocated a budget of 21.03 billion pesos. Since then, we have annually raised this allocation; for next year, we have proposed to set aside 37.13 billion pesos of our budget for SUCs. Despite this, some militant groups are still cutting classes to protest what they claim is a cut in SUC budgets. It’s this simple: 292.7 is higher than 177, and 37.13 is higher than 21.03. Should anyone again claim that we cut the education budget, we’ll urge your schools to hold remedial math classes. Please, attend these classes.
When we assumed office and began establishing much-needed reform, there were those who belittled our government’s performance. They claimed our achievements were mere luck, and what impact they may have as short-lived. There are still those who refuse to cease spreading negativity; they who keep their mouths pursed to good news, and have created an industry out of criticism.
If you have a problem with the fact that, before the year ends, every child will have their own chairs and own set of books, then look them straight in the eye and tell them, “I do not want you to go to school.”
If you take issue with the fact that 5.2 million of the country’s poorest households can now avail of quality healthcare services without worrying about the cost, then look them straight in the eye and tell them, “I do not want you to get better.”
If it angers you that three million Filipino families have been empowered to fulfill their dreams because of Pantawid Pamilya, then look them straight in the eye and tell them, “I will take away the hope you now have for your future.”
The era where policy was based on the whims of the powerful has truly come to an end. For example, the previous leadership of TESDA generously distributed scholarship vouchers—but neglected to fund them. Naturally, the vouchers bounced. The result: over a thousand schools are charging the government 2.4 billion pesos for the vouchers. One person and one administration wanted to show off; the Filipino people are paying for that now.
When Secretary Joel Villanueva assumed the post, he was not daunted by the seemingly impossible reforms that his agency needed to enact. Despite the staggering debt inherited by TESDA, it still trained 434,676 individuals under the Training for Work Scholarship Program. The TESDA Specialists Technopreneurship Program likewise delivered concrete victories—imagine: each of the 5,240 certified Specialistas are earning 562 pesos a day, or 11,240 pesos a month. This is higher than the minimum wage.
From infancy, to adolescence, to adulthood, the system is working for our citizens. And we are ensuring that our economy’s newfound vitality generates jobs.
Let us keep in mind: there are about a million new entrants to the job market every year. The jobs we have produced within the past two years total almost 3.1 million.
As a result, our 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. Is it not an apt time for us to dream of a day where any Filipino who wishes to work can find a job?
Look at the BPO sector. Back in the year 2000, only 5,000 people were employed in this industry. Fast forward to 2011: 638,000 people are employed by BPOs, and the industry has contributed 11 billion dollars to our economy. It has been projected that come 2016, the year I will bid you farewell, it will be bringing in 25 billion dollars and will be employing 1.3 million Filipinos. And this does not include the estimated 3.2 million taxi drivers, baristas, corner stores, canteens, and many others that will benefit from the indirect jobs that the BPO industry will create.
A large portion of our job-generation strategy is building sufficient infrastructure. For those who have gone to Boracay on vacation, you have probably seen our newly christened terminal in Caticlan. The plan to expand its runway has also been laid out.
And we will not stop there. Before the end of my term, the New Bohol Airport in Panglao, New Legaspi Airport in Daraga, and Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental will have been built. We will also upgrade our international airports in Mactan, Cebu; Tacloban; and Puerto Princesa Airport, so they can receive more passengers; in addition to remodeling the airports in Butuan, Cotabato, Dipolog, Pagadian, Tawi-Tawi, Southern Leyte, and San Vicente in Palawan.
I am the fourth president to deal with the problems of NAIA Terminal 3. Airplanes are not all that take off and land here; so did problems and anomalies. Secretary Mar Roxas has already said: Before we convene at the next SONA, the structural defects we inherited in NAIA 3 will have been fully repaired.
This June, the LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension project began to move forward. When completed, it will alleviate traffic in Las Piñas, Parañaque, and Cavite. In addition to this, in order to further improve traffic in Metro Manila, there will be two elevated roads directly connecting the North Luzon and South Luzon Expressways. These will be completed in 2015 and will reduce travel time between Clark and Calamba to 1 hour and 40 minutes. Before I leave office, there will be high-quality terminals in Taguig, Quezon City, and Parañaque, so that provincial buses will no longer have to add to the traffic on EDSA.
Perceptions have also changed about a department formerly notorious for its inadequacies. I still remember the days when, during the rainy season, the Tarlac River would overflow and submerge the MacArthur Highway. The asphalt would melt away; the road would be riddled with potholes, until it ended up impassable.
As the representative of my district, I registered my complaints about this. The Department of Public Works and Highways’ reply: we know about the problem, we know how to solve it, but we have no money. I had to appeal to my barangays: “If we don’t prioritize and spend for this ourselves, no one will fix it, and we will be the ones who suffer.” Back in those days, everyone called upon the government to wake up and start working. The complaints today are different: Traffic is terrible, but that’s because there’s so much roadwork being done. May I remind everyone: We have done all this without raising taxes.
We will not build our road network based on kickbacks or favoritism. We will build them according to a clear system. Now that resources for these projects are no longer allocated haphazardly, our plans will no longer end up unfulfilled—they will become tangible roads that benefit the Filipino people. When we assumed office, 7,239 kilometers of our national roads were not yet fixed. Right now, 1,569 kilometers of this has been fixed under the leadership of Secretary Babes Singson. In 2012, an additional 2,275 kilometers will be finished. We are even identifying and fixing dangerous roads with the use of modern technology. These are challenges we will continue to address every year, so that, before end of my term, every inch of our national road network will be fixed.
We have fixed more than roads; our DPWH has fixed its system. Just by following the right process of bidding and procurement, their agency saved a total of 10.6 billion pesos from 2011 to June of this year. Even our contractors are feeling the positive effects of our reforms in DPWH. According to the DPWH, “the top 40 contractors are now fully booked.” I am hopeful that the development of our infrastructure continues unimpeded to facilitate the growth of our other industries.
The improvement of our infrastructure is intertwined with the growth of our tourism industry. Consider this: In 2001, the Philippines recorded 1.8 million tourist arrivals. When we assumed office in 2010, this figure had grown to only around 3.1 million. Take note: Despite the length of their time in office, the previous administration only managed to add a mere 1.3 million tourist arrivals—and we contributed half a year to that number. Under our administration, we welcomed 2.1 million tourist arrivals by June 2012. More will arrive during peak season, before the end of the year, so 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 bottom line: 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. We are not singing our own praises; we are merely stating the truth.
But Secretary Mon Jimenez is still not satisfied. He says: If 24.7 million tourists came to Malaysia in 2011, and around 17 million visited Thailand, would it be too far-fetched to have ten million tourists visiting the Philippines annually by 2016? And if the Filipino people continue to embody the same solidarity that allowed the Puerto Princesa Underground River to become one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, there is no doubt that we will be able to achieve this. As we have already announced to the entire world: “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Secretary Mon Jimenez has been at his post for less than a year, but we are already reaping the fruits of the reforms we have laid down. So, when it comes to tourism, we are confident in saying, “It’s really more fun—to have Secretary Mon Jimenez with us.”
When it comes to growth and development, agriculture is at the top of our priorities. Secretary Alcala has been working nonstop to deliver us good news. Before, it seemed as though the officials of DA cultivated nothing but NFA’s debts. The NFA that our predecessors took over had a 12-billion peso debt; when they left office, they then bequeathed to us a debt of 177 billion pesos.
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. They ordered rice as like it was unlimited—but because we had exceeded far more than what we needed, imported rice went to rot in the warehouses.
In just our first year, we redcued 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.
Secretary Alcala has said that key to our success is a feasible irrigation program and the assiduous implementation of the certified seeds program. What is galling is that this knowledge is not new—it simply wasn’t applied. If they had only done their jobs right, where could we have been by now?
Look at our coconut industry: Coconut water, once treated as a waste product, is now being utilized by our farmers. 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. And where no one previously paid heed to coconut coir, we are now experiencing a shortage due to the high demand of exporters. We are not wasting this opportunity: We are buying the machines that will process the coco fibers. We have allocated 1.75 billion pesos to invest in, and develop, this sector.
My mother initiated the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. It is only just that this program sees its conclusion during my term.
We are improving the system, so that we can more swiftly and more efficiently realize agrarian reform. The government is doing everything in its power to ensure that our farmers can claim as their own the land they have tilled and nurtured with their sweat.
There are those, however, who wish to obstruct us. I say to them: We will obey the law. The law says, the nation says, and I say: Before I step down, all the land covered by CARP will have been distributed.
Let me shed some light on our advances in the energy sector. In the past, an electrical wire needed only to reach the barangay hall for an entire barangay to be deemed energized. This was the pretext for the claim that 99.98 percent of the country’s barangays had electricity. Even the delivery of so basic a service was a deception?
We challenged DOE and NEA, allocating 1.3 billion pesos to light up an initial target of 1,300 sitios, at the cost of one million pesos per sitio. And the agencies met the challenge—they lit up 1,520 sitios, at a total cost of 814 million pesos. They accomplished this in three months, instead of the two years it took the people that preceded them. Secretary Rene Almendras, I give you credit; you never seem to run out of energy. With public service, you are not only ever-ready, but like an energizer bunny too—you keep on going, and going, and going.
We have suffused the nation with light—and it is this light, too, that has exposed the crimes that occur in the shadowed corners of society. What the Filipino works so hard for can no longer be pilfered. Crime volume continues to decline across the country. In 2009, over 500,000 crimes were recorded—this year, we have cut that number by more than half, to 246,958. Moreover, 2010’s recorded 2,200 cases of carnapping has likewise been reduced by half—to 966 cases this 2011.
It is these facts that, we hope, will be bannered in headlines. We do not claim that we have ended criminality, but I’m sure no one would complain that it has been reduced. In the span of just a little more than a year, haven’t we finally put Raymond Dominguez in jail, after years of being in and out of prison? Charges have been filed against two of his brothers as well, and they are now serving time, too. Of the two suspects in the Makati bus bombing of the past year—one is dead, and the other is living in a jail cell. He shares the same fate as the more than ten thousand individuals arrested by PDEA in 2011 for charges relating to illegal drugs.
Pacquiao does not fight every day, and so we can’t rely on him to bring down the crime rate. Which is why we’re strengthening our police force. When this administration began, 45 percent of our police carried no guns and probably relied on magic charms as they chased criminals. But now we have completed the bidding—and we are now testing the quality—for an order of 74,600 guns, which we will provide our police, so that they may better serve and protect the nation, our communities, and themselves.
Let us now talk about national defense. Some have described our Air Force as all air and no force. Lacking the proper equipment, our troops remain vulnerable even as they are expected to be put in harm’s way. We cannot allow things to remain this way.
After only one year and seven months, we have been able to allocate over 28 billion pesos for the AFP Modernization Program. This will soon match the 33 billion pesos set aside for the program in the past 15 years. And we’re only getting started: if our proposed AFP modernization bill is passed in Congress, we will be able to allocate 75 billion pesos for defense within the next five years.
The 30-million dollar fund entrusted to us by the United States for the Defense Capability Upgrade and Sustainment of Equipment Program of the AFP is now ready as well. This is in addition to their assistance in improving the way we patrol our shores under the Coast Watch Center of the Philippines, which will soon be established.
At this moment, the Armed Forces is likewise canvassing equipment such as cannons, personnel carriers, and frigates. Before long, the BRP Ramon Alcaraz, our second Hamilton class cutter, will drop anchor, to partner with the BRP Gregorio del Pilar. We are not sending paper boats out to sea. Now, our 36,000 kilometers of coastline will be patrolled by more modern ships.
And perhaps it is an apt time for our Armed Forces to clean up their hangars, because we will be having equipment arriving soon to further fortify our defenses. Finally, our one and only C-130 that has been roaming our skies for the past 36 years will have partners: Two more C-130s will once again be operational. Before this year ends, we are hopeful that the twenty-one refurbished UH-1H Helicopters, the four combat utility helicopters, the radios and other communication eq