Indicts own men for failing goals, anomalous acts
Citing strong public support for the difficult reform policies he instituted in the last three years, President Benigno Aquino III said he will leave a legacy of inclusive growth, a more peaceful Mindanao, and expanded opportunities for ordinary Filipinos when he steps down in 2016.
Aquino said his fourth State of the Nation Address was a truthful reflection of the positive changes in the country as he challenged the public to protect the gains of his “straight path” policies and ensure that officials elected after his term will not go astray.
“This is my fourth SONA; only two remain...We have answered the call, and those who have been with us from the start have only grown in number. I believe that, if what I have been doing is right, then the number of our allies will only grow,” the President said.
“It will still be you who will make certain that what we have begun here will continue; you will be the ones who will make sure that we will completely eradicate corruption; you will be the ones who will make sure that we will never again stray from the straight path,” he added.
Aquino noted that the election of nine administration senatorial candidates in the May 13 polls was an affirmation that he is leading the country in the right direction.
Having faced criticisms that the country’s strong economic performance was not felt by ordinary Filipinos, the President said his administration’s strategy would be to maximize opportunities for all, especially the poor.
“We are not content to wait for the trickle-down effect. We cannot leave their fate—their receiving the benefits of progress—to chance,” he said.
“What we call inclusive growth—this all-encompassing progress—is the principle that drives every initiative, every action, and every decision of your government. The only ones who will be left behind are those who chose not to venture onwards with us, simply because they did not seize the opportunity,” he added.
To this end, Aquino said the government will expand its conditional cash transfer program, which has been criticized by the group Social Watch Philippines as having failed to make a dent on the country’s poverty incidence.
The President said the CCT will now cover families with children up to 18 years old to ensure that they are able to finish high school.
He did not address criticism from Social Watch Philippines, which said families receiving government doles were not faring any better than those who weren’t, or official data showing that the incidence of poverty had not improved in his three years as President.
Nor did he address the growing unemployment under his administration and the prospect of more overseas Filipino workers returning home to fewer jobs.
To ensure food security, Aquino said the government continues to strengthen the agricultural sector as he cited the decrease in the country’s rice importation volume from 2 million metric tons in 2010 to only 350,000 metric tons this year.
“In addition to that, we have begun exporting premium quality rice. We have truly come so far from those days when it was said that we could not even feed ourselves,” Aquino said.
The President said the government will also help uplift the lives of fishermen, 41 percent of whom still live below the poverty line, by providing more cold storage facilities and building new piers.
“They are the ones who catch the fish, but all they have on their dinner tables are fish bones,” he said.
Aquino said there will also be no let-up in the expansion of the PhilHealth coverage to include the informal sector and indigenous peoples.
The President said the government is also focusing on disaster prevention and mitigation through the hazard mapping of perilous sites and a P6.2-billion flood prevention program for Metro Manila, including the completion next year of the Blumentritt interceptor catchment area.
The President also addressed the issue of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita, the vast sugar estate of his family in Tarlac.
“If there is one topic my name is often associated with, that would have to be Hacienda Luisita. According to (Agrarian Reform) Secretary Gil Delos Reyes, the process to determine the beneficiaries’ lots began last week, and the turnover of these lots will begin in September,” he said.
President Benigno Aquino III has asked Congress to pass three economic bills as well as to study the possible amendment of a presidential decree governing the pension of retirees from the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Aquino also called on Congress to pass the P2.268 trillion proposed budget of 2014, which will be submitted by the executive branch on Tuesday.
“This will help us not only to continue our agenda of positive change, but also hasten our bid for economic growth,” the President said in his State of the Nation Address on Monday.
Aquino also called on Congress to pass six legislative measures which will contribute to his target of achieving inclusive growth as well as to silence the guns in Mindanao”
- The Bangsamoro Basic Law, which Aquino said must be passed before the end of 2014. The measure will create the Bangsamoro, a political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front recently signed a wealth-sharing annex, one of the three remaining annexes to complete a comprehensive peace agreement. Once a final peace pact is signed, a 15-man Transition Commission can complete its draft of the Basic Law.
“I ask you to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014. This way, we will have ample time to prepare for the election of a new Bangsamoro government come 2016,” Aquino said.
- Amendments to the Cabotage Law which will foster greater competition and lower the cost of transportation for the agricultural sector and other industries.
- The fiscal incentives rationalization bill, which Aquino said will ensure that the incentives extended to businesses become even clearer and more accountable.
- The land administration reform bill, which will ensure convergence among agencies tasked to oversee land holdings.
- The P2.268-trillion national budget for 2014. Aquino said the budget measure was not only a continuation of his reforms, but would also speed up the pace of efforts “towards long-lasting inclusive progress.”
- Possible amendments to Presidential Decree 1638 to “ensure that military pensions are timely, and balanced against national needs.” PD 1638, which set up the military retirement and separation pay system, provided that the retirement benefits of AFP pensioners will also increase correspondingly every time AFP personnel in active service get a salary increase.
The President also appealed to the public to support two bitter pills that his administration will have to implement - the fare increases for the LRT Lines 1 and 2 and MRT-3 as well as the increase in contribution for members of the Social Security System.
“Perhaps it is only reasonable for us to move the fares of the MRT and LRT closer to the fares of air-conditioned buses, so that the government subsidy for the MRT and LRT can be used for other social services,” Aquino said.
He said each trip on the LRT is estimated to cost P40 but a passenger only pays P15. As for the MRT, the true cost of one trip is P60 but a passenger only pays P15.
“In the end, each and every Filipino pays a share of the subsidy. Whether you live in Mindanao or Visayas, and not once have you ever stepped onto the LRT or MRT, you help to fund this,” he added.
Aquino said it was also time to amend the SSS pension scheme by adding 0.6 percent to the contribution rate.
“Since 1980, across-the-board pension increases occurred 21 times, but actual pension contribution increases only occurred twice. As a result, the SSS has accumulated an estimated P1.1 trillion in underfunded liability,” he said.
“If we add 0.6 percent to the contribution rate, it will immediately deduct P141 billion from the unfunded liability of the SSS. If we begin to invest in our future today, no further problems will be handed down to the next generation of Filipinos,” Aquino added.
While the President’s previous SONA speeches were peppered with scathing attacks against his predecessor, Aquino trained his guns on his own people who have been underperforming or who have been involved in questionable actions.
Aquino cracked the whip on erring officials and personnel of the Bureau of Customs, National Irrigation Administration and Bureau of Immigration.
“Let us be honest: Even today, there are still those in government who seemingly refuse to change. It is disheartening to discover the depth and breadth to which they have branched out in the bureaucracy; the moment we look away, someone is sure to be taken advantage of and victimized. The time has come to name names,” he said.
The President admonished Immigration for allowing high-profile fugitives like former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, Mario Reyes – wanted for the murder of broadcaster Gerry Ortega – escape the country. He also cited the escape of South Korean national Park Sungjun as footage from the CCTV showed BI employees helping him leave the country.
“The make-do culture at the NIA has also tested our patience. Instead of laying out plans for new irrigation systems, they are merely content with the continued rehabilitation of existing irrigation. For them, shoddy repairs are enough to say they have already done a good job,” he said.
“And we have the Bureau of Customs, whose personnel are trying to outdo each other’s incompetence. Instead of collecting the proper taxes and preventing contraband from entering the country, they are heedlessly permitting the smuggling of goods, and even drugs, arms, and other items of a similar nature into our territory,” the President said.
NIA chief Antonio Nangel was replaced by Aquino while BI head Ricardo David has resigned. Minutes after Aquino’s statement, Customs chief Ruffy Biazon offered to resign (See related story on Page 1).
The President, however, still cited mistakes of the past administration in his midterm SONA.