EAST Asian leaders called Thursday for stronger efforts to achieve inclusive growth and social mobility for the poor, as well as closer ties among neighboring states amid territorial tensions that could disrupt the regional economy.
At the opening of the World Economic Forum-East Asia summit, President Benigno Aquino III highlighted the collective role of ordinary Filipinos in making inclusive growth an irreversible trend in the Philippines.
“The pursuit of large-scale reforms in every aspect of governance is the achievement of the Filipino people. They made the goal of achieving inclusive growth doable, and it is also they who will make it irreversible,” he said.
The President said the government will not stop at helping the poorest of the poor through interventions such as the conditional cash transfer program, and said even those considered “near poor” must also be protected.
“We have expanded the scope of our efforts and are now likewise targeting those who are deemed ‘near poor’ -- or those who are one catastrophic illness or one natural disaster away from going below the poverty threshold. Our goal: To push them further and further away from the poverty line, and to empower them to improve their own lots in life,” he said.
“Our people are the be all and end all of this government, and we are not content with waiting for the benefits of growth to just trickle down the social pyramid,” the President added.
Aquino said governments must strive to create opportunities for ordinary people, citing his administration’s aggressive promotion of tourism, which he said “achieves inclusivity almost instantly.”
“The results are clear: From 2001 to 2009, the term of my predecessor, the average annual growth of international tourists arrivals was at 5.1 percent; under our watch, from 2010 to 2013, this number grew to 11.6 percent,” he said.
“Considering that, on average, every international tourist spends almost a thousand dollars in the Philippines, the impact of our tourism efforts on our local economies has been nothing less than profound,” the President added.
Aquino said the Filipino people’s support to his anti-corruption and governance reforms policies have also contributed to the country’s strong economic performance.
“For the past four years, through the unwavering support of our people, we have enacted reform after reform. We overhauled systems that were prone to abuse,” he said.
Aquino also played up the efforts of his administration to hold accountable those who have misused public funds, and pointed to the prosecution of his predecessor, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, and the ouster of former chief justice Renato Corona.
“My predecessor is now undergoing hospital arrest as she undergoes two serious charges, with another being evaluated by the Ombudsman. The Congress and the Senate removed a chief justice from office for failing to declare over 98 percent of his assets in his Statement ofAssets and Liabilities and Net Worth contrary to our Constitution and our laws,” he said.
“We pursued all those who committed wrongdoing—regardless of their power, wealth, or influence. As you may have guessed, tangling with these very wealthy individuals and sectors with vested interests was not an easy task. But those in our administration were not shaken: Dismantling the culture of corruption was a promise we made to the people.”
“If we truly wanted to improve the lives of our people, we could not possibly shirk away from this challenge. We had to take on all those who had a misplaced sense of entitlement—who believed that they had more rights than their fellow Filipinos. So, we went after every individual who committed wrongdoing,” the President added.
About 600 participants from 30 countries and more than 460 business leaders are attending the WEF-East Asia summit, which has the theme “Leveraging Growth for Equitable Progress.”
The country’s gross domestic product grew by 7.2 percent last year, and 6.8 percent in 2012, but former Budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said it was still “too early” to declare the Philippines as Asia’s next economic miracle.
“Two years of strong economic growth do not make a miracle. It has to be sustained growth of say 7 percent for 10 years. We cannot be sure that economic growth can be sustainable and inclusive,” Diokno said in an earlier interview.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono stressed the need to promote socio-economic mobility through entrepreneurship.
“Economic growth and equitable progress are not necessarily the same thing...There will always be those who are wealthier than others. But the problem is when mobility is only for the few,” he said.
“We live in an extraordinary era. We’re in the midst of a revolution. (But) despite Asia’s epic progress, this revolution remains incomplete...A key challenge in addressing inequality is that those in the bottom and middle should enjoy the same benefits as those in the top,” Yudhoyono added.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung warned that China’s aggressive actions over overlapping territorial claims in the region could disrupt growth in East Asia.
“Vietnam strives for stability. But risk is rising as regional disputes evolve with complexity...Economic development will not thrive without peace and stability,” Nguyen said.
“Chinese actions are threatening peace and stability in the region, and freedom of navigation... Disruption will impact on the world economy and may even reverse the trend of global growth,” the Vietnamese leader added.
Myanmar Vice President U Nyan Tun said “positive relationships” among East Asian nations can lead to increased economic growth in the region.
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