A calm but obviously emotional President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday vowed to keep his promises amid a barrage of criticisms being hurled against his administration in his last remaining years in office.
In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aquino initially made a litany of his government’s “achievements” then shifted to a more direct and emotion-charged defense of his programs, which elicited applause from equally teary-eyed members of the Cabinet and other government officials.
“We will continue to prove that the Filipino is worth dying for. The Filipino is worth living for. And, if I may add, the Filipino is worth fighting for,” the President, with his voice cracking, said.
He became more emotional when he narrated how he survived an ambush in 1987, saying he is now enjoying his “second life.”
“If my second life ends, can I say is it okay? I can tell you, eye to eye, after all we’ve been through, I am contented,” the President said.
He added that his contentment rests on the fact that his programs will be continued after he had “gone.”
His term ends in 2016.
Aquino also scored the “orchestra of negativism” that has been hounding him amid the reforms the government has been instituting.
“They sow suspicion. They are desperate,” he stressed, adding the “noisy few” will not stop attacking him even after he had left Malacanang. He said these critics have “closed minds” and live in their “own world and reality.”
“Why are they so mad? Look at their motivation. For those who profited from their position, if we can reform the system, they will lose the opportunity to exploit. It’s only natural for them to oppose us. And those who have no other intention but to bring down government, they can only grow in number if many are suffering and [have]lost trust in the system,” the President added.
Apparently alluding to leftist militants, Aquino said the number of “recruits” are dwindling because the system is being rectified and poverty is addressed.
“It is also natural that they oppose us. The noisiest critics are those who are against transformation, because they exploited and gained from the old system,” he added.
The President blasted his administration’s critics for misleading the people into believing that the government’s programs are no different from those of past administrations.
“They will do everything to prevent us from reaching the other shore. They will say, ‘It’s just the same, there is no change there.’ They will tie us at port, bore holes into our boat [and]conspire so that we may go astray,” Aquino said.
“My bosses, they are opposed to you,” he added.
The President recalled that even while he was still campaigning for the presidency, he had been under attack.
“We got used to negative commentators for breakfast, ridicule for lunch, insult for supper and intrigues for midnight snack,” Aquino said, eliciting laughter from his audience.
“I believe that even after I have stepped down, they will not cease [their attacks],” he added.
The President assured that he will not be cowed and will firmly face those who are against him.
“Because I know, they are only few and we are too many,” he said.
The President opened his SONA by stressing the benefits from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
He said 220,000 scholars of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) benefited from P1.6 billion in DAP funds.
About 66 percent or 146,731 of Tesda graduates now have work, Aquino said.
“Ito po ang mabuting pamamahala [This is good governance],” the President added.
He asked Congress to give him extra funds to pursue projects that had been discontinued after the Supreme Court (SC) declared the DAP unconstitutional.
Aquino urged lawmakers to lay down clearer rules defining the President’s power over the budget.
The President noted that when he assumed his post, the Philippines was the “Sick Man of Asia.”
Now, he said, the country has a robust economy, as evidenced by the series of upgrades by international investment ratings firms Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s.
“Walang pong duda: More open for business na nga po ang Pilipinas [There’s no doubt about it: The Philippines is now more open for business],” Aquino added.
He also urged the people, whom he referred to as his “bosses,” to continue trusting him, noting that critics of his programs are not really against him but against the people.
The President lauded the reforms in the Bureau of Customs a year after he accused the agency of abusive practices.
He cited the government’s tax collection, which increased from P1.094 trillion in 2010 to P1.536 trillion last year due to improved revenue collection efforts.
While praising the agency for a 20-percent increase in collection this year, Aquino warned corrupt officials and employees.
“With enough evidence, the [New Bilibid Prisons] is your next destination,” the President said.
He praised Customs Commissioner John Sevilla for taking on the duty after former chief Rufino Rozzano Biazon resigned.
The President also hailed the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, led by William Hotchkiss, for addressing aviation safety concerns that he said were neglected by the past administration.
He said Philippine carriers can now add flights and services after the country regained Category 1 rating from the US Federal Aviation Administration for complying with international safety standards set by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization.
With more flights available, “our local carriers can bring in more tourists in next few years,” Aquino added.
The President also thanked Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz and the labor and management sectors for restoring industrial peace, citing the reduction in strikes since 2010 to only an average of 10 a year and noted that, last year, of 150 strike and lockout notices, only one strike pushed through.
The President also credited the P12.8 billion used for Constitutional Cash Transfer (CCT) for reducing poverty. “Now we try hard to ensure none of them goes below the poverty line again,” he said, referring to the 4,090,667 families who benefited from his centerpiece program.
The President cited his administration’s public-private partnership (PPP) program, which has rolled out seven projects worth P62.6 billion, surpassing the six solicited projects of his predecessor.
“Matindi ang kompetisyon ng mga nag-uunahang kumpanya para itayo ang kailangan nating imprastruktura [The competition is stiff among companies vying to build the infrastructure we need],” he noted.
The PPP program was launched by the Aquino administration in 2010 as a way to boost the Philippines’ decrepit infrastructure, considered a major bottleneck in attracting foreign direct investments.
Aquino said spending on infrastructure had increased from P203 billion in 2011 to P304.3 billion this year.
He credited Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson for instituting reforms, noting that bidders for public works projects are required to submit only five documents from the previous 20 while chances to extort from contractors have been drastically reduced, resulting in lower costs and faster implementation time.
Since 2010, Aquino said, 12,184 kilometers of roads have been constructed or repaired, the equivalent of four roadways linking Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, in the Ilocos region to Zamboanga City in the country’s South.
But nowhere in his speech did the President mention the Freedom of Information bill, which would have cemented the Aquino administration’s push for transparency and accountability.