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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 us now talk about national defense. Some have described our Air Force as all air and no force. Lacking the proper equipment, our able 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.
While we are on the subject of peace, let us talk about a place that has long stood as a symbol of frustrated hopes. Before our reforms in the ARMM began, what we had were ghost students walking to ghost schools on ghost roads, to learn from ghost teachers. Some of the apparitions that haunted OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman: Four schools found with ghost students; we are also investigating the teachers whose names do not appear in the list of the Professional Regulation Commission, as well as the government workers not listed in the plantilla. Fifty-five ghost entries have been taken off the payroll. The previous scheme of regraveling roads again and again just to earn money has been outlawed. To avoid abuse, we have ended cash advances for agencies. Now, the souls of the ghosts in voters lists can rest in peace. This is why, to OIC Governor Mujiv Hataman, we can say to you: You are indeed a certified ghost buster.
We likewise engaged stakeholders in a level-headed discussion in crafting our Executive Order on mining. The idea behind our consensus we reached: that we be able to utilize our natural resources to uplift the living conditions of the Filipinos not just of today, also of the following generations. We will not reap the rewards of this industry if the cost is the destruction of nature.
But this Executive Order is only the first step. Think about it: In 2010, 145 billion pesos was the total value derived from mining, but only 13.4 billion or 9 percent went to the national treasury. These natural resources are yours; it shouldn’t happen that all that’s left to you is a tip after they’re extracted. We are hoping that Congress will work with us and pass a law that will ensure that the environment is cared for, and that the public and private sectors will receive just benefits from this industry.
There have always been people who have questioned our guiding principle, “If there is no corruption, there is no poverty.” They ask if good governance can put food on the table. Quite simply: Yes.
Think about it: Doing business in the Philippines was once considered too risky—the rules were too opaque and they were constantly changing. A person shaking your hand one day may pick your pocket the next.
Now, with a level playing field, and clear and consistent rules, confidence in our economy is growing. Investments are pouring in, jobs are being created, and a virtuous cycle has begun—where empowered consumers buy more products, and businesses hire more people so they can expand to keep up with the growing demand.
Prudent spending has allowed us to plug the leaks in the system, and improved tax collection has increased revenues. Every peso collected is properly spent on roads, on vaccines, on classrooms and chairs—spent on our future.
We have fixed the system by which we build roads, bridges, and buildings—they now go where they are truly needed. Our roads are properly paved; products, services, and people reach their destination quickly and with greater ease. Because of good governance in agriculture, food production has increased, prices don’t fluctuate, wages are stable, and our economy is stronger.
With every step on the straight and righteous path, we plant the seeds of change. But there are still some who are committed to uprooting our work. Even as I speak, there are those who have gathered in a room, whispering to each other, dissecting each word I utter, looking for any pretext to attack me with tomorrow. These are also the ones who say, “Let go of the past. Unite. Forgive and forget so we can move forward as a people.”
I find this unacceptable. Shall we simply forgive and forget the ten years that were taken from us? Do we simply forgive and forget the farmers who piled up massive debts because of a government that insisted on importing rice, while we could have reinvested in them and their farmlands instead? Shall we forgive and forget the family of the police officer who died while trying to defend himself against guns with nothing but a nightstick?
Shall we forgive and forget the orphans of the 57 victims of the massacre in Maguindanao? Will their loved ones be brought back to life by forgiving and forgetting? Do we forgive and forget everything that was ever done to us, to sink us into a rotten state? Do we forgive and forget to return to the former status quo? My response: Forgiveness is possible; forgetting is not. If offenders go unpunished, society’s future suffering is guaranteed.
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.
I would also like to thank Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, for accepting the challenges that came with the position. She could have turned down the responsibility, citing her retirement and volunteering others for the job—but her desire to serve the nation won out. This generosity was met with a grenade in her home. Ma’am, more challenges will come; in time, perhaps, they’ll give you the same monikers they’ve given me—a greedy capitalist who is also a communist headed toward dictatorship because of the reforms we have been working so hard to achieve.
I thank you for your work, and I thank you for being an instrument of true justice—especially at the height of the impeachment trial. I thank, too, the two institutions that form our Congress—the Senate and the House of Representatives—which were weighed and measured by the Filipino people, and were not found wanting.
To everyone that ensured that our justice system worked well: You weathered many challenges and criticism, and even misgivings; couple that with the anxiety over possible failure, of having to face the ire of those you went up against, after a mission lost. But you did not falter. The Filipino people were relying on you, and you proved that their faith was rightly placed. You did not fail the nation; you further brightened our futures. Let me remind you that our fight does not end with the ousting of one corrupt official, with the suspension of an anomalous contract, or the systemic overhauling of a government office. I call upon Congress to pass our amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, that we may strengthen our measures to hold the corrupt accountable.
This is my third SONA; only three remain. We are entering the midpoint of our administration. Last year, I challenged you to fully turn your back on the culture of negativism; to take every chance to uplift your fellow Filipinos. From what we are experiencing today, it is clear: You succeeded. You are the wellspring of change. You said: It is possible. I stand before you today as the face of a government that knows you as its Boss and draws its strength from you. I am only here to narrate the changes that you yourselves have made possible.
This is why, to all the nurses, midwives, or doctors who chose to serve in the barrios; to each new graduate who has chosen to work for the government; to each Filipino athlete who proudly carries the flag in any corner of the globe, to each government official who renders true and honest service: You made this change possible.
So whenever I come face to face with a mother who tells me, “Thank you, my child has been vaccinated,” I respond: You made this happen.
Whenever I come face to face with a child who tells me, “Thank you for the paper, for the pencils, for the chance to study,” I respond: You made this happen.
Whenever I come face to face with an OFW who tells me, “Thank you, because I can once again dream of growing old in the Philippines,” I respond: You made this happen.
Whenever I come face to face with a Filipino who says, “Thank you, I thought that we would never have electricity in our sitio. I never imagined living to see the light,” I respond: You made this happen.
Whenever I come face to face with any farmer, teacher, pilot, engineer, driver, call center agent, or any normal Filipino; to every Juan and Juana dela Cruz who says, ”Thank you for this change,” I respond: You made this happen.
I repeat: What was once impossible is now possible. I stand before you today and tell you: This is not my SONA. You made this happen. This is the SONA of the Filipino nation. Thank you
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