SPEAKING to world business leaders at the Apec CEO Summit Monday, President Benigno Aquino III again blamed detained former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the poverty that prevails in the Philippines, referring to her term as the “lost decade.”
“When one thinks about it, it is quite sad. If 10 years ago my predecessor had done what we’re doing now, I can only imagine where the Philippines would be,” Aquino told delegates at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit.
In his speech, Aquino pointed to his administration’s efforts to fight corruption, including the hospital arrest of Mrs. Arroyo and three opposition senators on plunder charges and the ouster by impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“We plugged leaks throughout the bureaucracy, and we did not shy away from confronting the most complex and crippling problem of our nation, namely, corruption,” Aquino said.
“Over the last five years, we cracked down on all those proven to have engaged in wrongdoing. Now, a former President is under hospital arrest after being charged with plunder. The former chief justice who had no compunctions about being selective about implementing the law was removed through impeachment, after it was revealed that he violated our laws by failing to declare over 98 percent of his assets as mandated by our Constitution.”
Aquino also played up the 1986 People Power revolt that toppled the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos and installed his mother, Corazon Aquino, in his place.
“In 1986, millions of our people gathered in Edsa—our capital city’s most prominent avenue—and other cities throughout the nation to overthrow a dictator, who had for too long subjected our country to his tyranny and oppression. People armed only with rosaries, good intentions, and belief in their countrymen stood up to tanks, artillery, and planes. This was the miracle of Edsa, which made possible that which was impossible, and returned democracy through People Power. After 14 years of Martial Law, our people were successful in lifting my mother into the presidency to lead the rebuilding of our nation,” said Aquino.
Aquino also recalled the words of his father while their family was in exile during the Martial Law years.
“I will never forget one particular instance, when my family was in exile in Boston, and I asked my father: ‘If we are in the right, why are we the ones in exile?’ He responded with a question of his own: ‘How can those who cannot even eat, think of concepts such as freedom and dignity? The first freedom is the freedom from hunger.’ That is the first that has to be won,” said Aquino.
Aquino told the business leaders he shared his father’s words because the focus of the meetings in days to come—Apec’s Inclusive Growth Imperative—was “deeply personal” to him.
“We will have important conversations about how we can free our people from the oppression of poverty, and how to empower them to take part in sustainable economic growth. Today, perhaps I can tell you about the Philippine story: what we have done to achieve large-scale transformation,” he said.
Aquino recalled in a meeting with his Cabinet in which they discussed why the poverty rate hardly moved over the last 10 years—or what he sometimes refers to as the “lost decade.”
He said the numbers were alarming. Income growth was low, and inequality was at incredibly high levels, in terms of access to employment and social development opportunities, particularly in health, education, and social protection. All this, despite relatively consistent economic growth.
“We resolved that this sort of trickle down economics was not the way forward, and that the only real growth is that which is felt by the many. Thus, inclusive growth became the north star of our national policy—growth that truly helps each and every Filipino lift themselves up from poverty, and play a meaningful role in continuing our country’s growth story,” he said.
The President’s claims about reducing poverty come amid a recent survey by the Social Weather Stations that the incidence of hunger had worsened to 15.7 percent of the population, with 3.5 million families experiencing hunger at least once in the last three months.
To make the most of scarce resources, the government turned to “bottom-up budgeting,” Aquino said.
“We reached out to communities, believing that they, more than anyone else, know their own needs. We took advantage of technology to implement mechanisms to aid in transparency and accountability, through websites.... These gave our citizens greater power to monitor our budget, and also to report individuals suspected of wrongdoing,” he said.
Aquino said his administration had also increased the budget for infrastructure, from 1.83 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 4.1 percent of GDP this year, with a target of 5 percent by 2016.
“Indeed, our entire growth strategy hinges on the idea of empowerment. Empowered citizens, after all, are empowered consumers, whose income will go to the goods and services produced by companies. The end result: Instead of having many big fish in a very small pond, we are moving our economic ecosystem into a bigger pond, where everybody can grow and reach their full potential,” Aquino said.
In an earlier interview with the Apec secretariat, Aquino said global climate change was at the top of his agenda during the Apec summit.
“We’re trying to get away from the cycle of a destruction brought about by typhoons and reconstruction that doesn’t change anything. We get visited by 20 typhoons a year. So, [we need to] stop the pattern of destruction-reconstruction, destruction again, reconstruction again. Let’s build back the communities better,” he said.
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