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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 098 - (26/07/12)


The state of the nation address
‘A resilient and dynamic economy resting on the foundations of good governance is the best defence against global uncertainty. We have been dismantling the obstacles to progress for two years, and now, our success can only be limited by how hard we are willing to work for it.’
                                                             President Aquino, July 23 2012

On the afternoon of 23 July, President Aquino delivered his third state of the nation (SONA) address. It was a speech filled with optimism as the president gave an account of what had already been achieved through good governance and elimination of waste. And with two major obstacles – the former ombudsman and the chief justice – removed from office, more will be achieved during the remaining years of his presidency.

Forgiveness of the past, was not an option, he said. Those who allegedly plundered the country would get their day in court.

An important annual ritual in the local political cycle is the delivery by the President of the Philippines of the State of the Nation address before a joint sitting of the Philippine Congress. This year’s address was delivered on the afternoon of 23 July.

The SONA, as it has become known, is officially described as an occasion for assessing the performance of the chief executive and his administration. In fact, it has become regarded as a self-serving opportunity for presidents to tout their achievements while ignoring realities on the ground and glossing over deficiencies. Certainly, former President Arroyo was the master of obfuscation and deceptive claims, possible none more so than when she proclaimed that the Philippines would be a first-world country by 2020.

The present incumbent of Malacañang Palace is a tad more humble. This was President Aquino’s third SONA address and as such marked the mid-point of his presidential term, which began with a hostage taking at the Luneta Park in Manila. That event ended with the death of eight Chinese tourists and a temporary souring of Manila’s relationship with Beijing. This year has seen further problems in the relationship with China over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, which in the Philippines is now known as the West Philippine Sea.

In many respects the SONA is also about the betterment of the people and as one newspaper columnist pointed out, the benchmark for this was the quality of life in 2010 when Aquino assumed power on the promise of battling corruption.

Contrasting conditions now with those when he assumed office took up much of the speech.

When Aquino assumed office, the two biggest hurdles faced in the anti-corruption drive were the country’s ombudsman, a close friend of the former first family and the country’s chief justice – a ‘midnight’ appointment of the former president. Both hurdles have been removed.

Ma. Merciditas Navarro Gutierrez, the first female ombudsman of the Philippines was appointed by former President Arroyo in 2005 and resigned in May 2011 after being impeached by the House of Representatives. Her resignation effectively made the impeachment case moot.
In May of this year, former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona was successfully impeached and removed from office over his failure to report his assets.

So what did President Aquino have to say in his third report to the Filipino people? Rather than citing economic numbers, the President focused on tangible results that stood in stark contrast to the feeble results achieved under the previous leadership.

Both Gutierrez and Corona found mention in the speech, but not until towards the end. Rather, the main focus of attention in citing anti-corruption efforts was his predecessor, former President Arroyo whose years of power were described as a ‘lost decade’.

He reminded his audience that when he came to power in July 2010, the previous administration had all but emptied the treasury; what was left was a mere 6.5 per cent of the entire budget for the remaining six months of the year.
‘The era,’ he said, ‘where policy was based on the whims of the powerful has truly come to an end…

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.

Much of his speech was focused on grass roots reform that touched the livelihood and welfare of the poor and the gains that had been achieved as a result of prudent management. Health and education featured prominently early in his address. He noted that four out of ten Filipinos have never seen a health professional in their entire lifetime and that six out of ten Filipinos die without being attended to by health professionals. Significant gains in health cover had already been made and universal health coverage would be achieved before the end of his term.

On education he said that by the end of next year his administration will have built the 66,800 classrooms needed to fill the inherited shortage and that the budget for educational spending had increased dramatically. For the tertiary institutions, he had proposed the budget for the next financial year would increase by more than 40 per cent.

Moving onto employment President Aquino claimed that almost 3.1 million jobs had been created in the past two years – a figure that has outpaced the one million new entrants to the workforce annually. In time, this would reduce the need for Filipinos to seek employment overseas, he said.

With regard to infrastructure projects, the President announced that two elevated roadways would be built in Manila to connect the north and south expressways. This and the construction of bus terminals throughout the city for provincial bus lines would ease congestion.

Improved infrastructure was a necessary precursor to increasing investment and tourism. Concerning the latter, numbers were increasing but, with around three million overseas visitors a year, the Philippines lags well behind the likes of Thailand and Malaysia. The aim he said should be to increase numbers to around 10 million a year by 2016.

Accelerated barangay (village) electrification, improvements to roads, and income support for the country’s poorest households through the expanded Conditional Cash Transfer program were other items in which the President contrasted the performance of his administration with its predecessor.

With regard to electrification, he noted that under the Arroyo regime, the stringing of a single set of wires to light a village hall was sufficient to deem the village had been electrified. This was the pretext for President Arroyo’s claim that 99.98 per cent of the more than 42,000 barangays had electric power.

He also took a swipe at President Arroyo’s education initiative in handing out scholarship vouchers to the poor. The vouchers were handed out all right but funds were never allocated to redeem them. This deception, he implied, was the hallmark of his predecessor.

In an essay such as this, it is nigh impossible to cover every issue touched upon in the president’s 90-minute address. Overall, it was a speech marked by optimism and reassurance that a firm break had been made with the past. Several times he emphasized that the people were the ‘boss’ and that his government was the servant of the people. He emphasized that much of the improvements had come about by eliminating waste and mismanagement. The credit, he said, belonged to the Filipino people for making it happen.

‘Nothing is impossible to a united nation’ the president said, ‘it was change we dreamed of, and change we achieved.’

And with the two major stumbling blocks now out of the way; hopefully much more will be achieved during the remainder of his presidency. He gave clear warnings to those opposed to reform to stand aside and that they would be called to account:

‘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…
True unity and reconciliation can only emanate from genuine justice. Justice is the plunder case leveled against our former president; justice that she receives her day in court and can defend herself against the accusations leveled against her.’

Mrs. Arroyo should be worried.
 

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