We gather today at a time of rapid change around the entire world. Earlier this year, in the Middle East and North Africa, people took to the streets in droves, risking their livelihoods, and even their very lives, to call for the removal of leaders who could no longer respond to their needs and aspirations. Many of them succeeded, and are now attempting orderly transitions to new and better governments. In parts of Europe, people have also flocked the streets to demand decisive action from their governments to deal more fairly with the problems arising from slower economic growth and crushing public sector debt. Even here in America, grassroots movements have formed to call their leaders’ attention to the growing disparity between the wealthy and the middle class.
These peoples’ actions and the advocacies they champion may at times be debated, but one thing is clear: people all over the world today share an increasing desire to speak, to be heard, and to be part of the molding of their futures. The specifics vary from region to region, but the broad demands are similar: a more equitable society and a government that strives toward it.
My country is no stranger to this phenomenon. In 1986, the Filipino people took to the streets to peacefully oust a corrupt dictator and re-establish a true democracy. They chose my mother, Corazon Aquino, as their leader. I stand before you today as inheritor of that proud legacy, not just because I am Cory Aquino’s son but because like my mother, the mantle of leadership was placed upon me. Like my mother, I had no desire for power. But like my mother, I could not ignore the will of my people.
But while she was thrust into power by what we commonly call a revolution, I came into the presidency through a unique kind of revolution—one that was done through the ballot. The full force of a corrupted system had been mobilized to ensure my defeat. But it was my people, whose cries of desperation provided the initial sparks of my campaign, who stood by their convictions, flocked to their voting precincts, and zealously guarded the votes from the moment the first was cast to the moment the last was counted.
These instances are what we have come to call “People Power.” And each time I see it manifest in any part of the world—each time I see concerned individuals assembling and voicing out their respective convictions, I am filled with optimism about our capacity as human beings united under a single cause, armed not with rifles but with a collective desire for better government.
As in all instances when a people has taken back its power and installed leaders that embody their aspirations, there is, of course, elation and a sense of newfound hope. But as the euphoria fades, how does a government faced with such a gargantuan task as ours sustain the momentum? How does it begin rebuilding its institutions from the ground up? How does it harness the energies of people power to provide jobs, food, education, health, and other vital services, given the situation it has inherited?
Take for example the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, where eighty percent of funds alloted to the governor’s office in 2009 to 2010 cannot be accounted for. It is hard to believe that this kind of corruption has not contributed to the ARMM being among the poorest regions in the country. Had the funds gone to where they supposed to, perhaps the ARMM would be better off today.
Because of this and many other examples, despite the extended periods of economic growth that my country experienced, the disparity between the rich and the poor has widened over the past decade. Institutions have been eroded to the point that doubt is a Filipino’s first instinct when dealing with government. Decades of trauma borne of corruption and impunity have festered and calcified, and while my people approach the future with a renewed sense of optimism, it remains a guarded optimism, a hope that is only now beginning to take the first important steps away from disillusionment.
My government is determined to stoke that hope by putting in place strategic interventions that promote not just growth, but inclusive growth. Social services take up 31.7 percent—nearly a third—of our 2012 National Budget. We are spending significant sums to provide basic healthcare services to the poor. We are also working to widen access to education, and to ensure that this education is of good quality.
We have also worked to expand and improve a conditional cash transfer program that will provide stipends to less fortunate families, provided they keep their children in school and visit their health centers regularly. This is a program that was once used for political patronage, and we have taken it and given it an overhaul, such that it empowers not politicians, but the bosses they are supposed to serve—the Filipinos.
Our people have also demanded an end to the large scale corruption that had become a common occurrence over the past decade. We have put in place a zero based budgeting process that evaluates the effectiveness of government programs. Those that have not delivered the desired results have been eliminated and those that have been effective have seen an increase in their funding. Zero based budgeting has also reduced discretionary spending items that have created opportunities for corruption.
These reforms are paying off. The savings generated by more honest and transparent budgeting have allowed us to increase spending on social services and defense without having to increase taxes this year.
These efforts serve to illustrate the principles that inform governance in this new Philippines, and the world has began to take notice. My country has earned four credit rating upgrades over the past fifteen months, a stark contrast to the lone upgrade and six downgrades meted out to the Philippines in the nine and a half years of the previous administration. This, on top of the recently-released World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, in which my country posted a ten-point jump in rankings, the biggest improvement we have ever recorded in the report. In my recent trip to China alone, we were able to acquire 1.2 billion dollars in investments; and, with an estimated 11.7 billion dollars more in potential investments, this number is sure to grow.
These foreign investments, and the equally important investments coming from domestic sources, are in large part responsible for the jobs that have been created in my administration.
Ending corruption means not only cleaning up the system, but holding accountable those who have wronged my people. Accountability allows closure to the many sins committed against my people over the past generations. Without accountability, there will be no certainty that others will not follow in the footsteps of those who have wronged our people. Without accountability, the entrenched culture of impunity will remain, the corrupt will continue to flourish and steal, and the atmosphere of doubt and mistrust will continue to linger even as we rebuild our institutions.
Governing with integrity, with transparency and with accountability not only heals a national psyche that has long been characterized by its cynicism and mistrust of government. It also provides the foundation for equitable progress. Good governance is good economics.
The goal is to percolate socio-economic development to a greater majority. And it all begins with cleaning up government: instituting a culture of transparency and accountability—at the bottom line, a culture of trust in government. The strengthening of institutions levels the playing field and provides for an environment conducive to economic growth. Any gains that will be reaped from this growth are then channeled into vital social services such as those in education, health, and poverty alleviation. People who are educated and healthy have the capability to exploit the livelihood opportunities provided to them by businesses. They are likewise empowered as consumers, which further spurs economic growth on the macro level.
Good governance is at the center of my administration’s socioeconomic strategy, and the people are at the center of good governance. Their vigilance, their constant and adamant participation in public discourse, the strength they lend my administration as we dismantle the many obstacles put up by the enemies of reform—these, ultimately, are what fuels us on the straight and righteous path toward equitable progress.
And as we now speak of efforts to institutionalize people power, so do we speak of opening up government to the people; making government a truly democratic space, allowing citizens access to its processes, and in fact encouraging them to participate in these processes: to take a stand, to contribute to a consensus, and to accept this consensus as the product of their own collective will.
In 1986, my country asserted their collective will along the largest and busiest thoroughfare of my Metro Manila to topple an oppressive regime. In 2010, they declared it through markings on a ballot, and through their resolute efforts to ensure that the results of the election truly echoed their choice. I speak to you now as President of a Republic whose people has time and again showed that they will not be denied their voice. Perhaps in the future another Filipino will stand before you and speak for his countrymen, at the helm of a nation that is already fully reaping the fruits of the seeds that we are sowing today.
Thank you. My people and I look forward to partnering with you as we continue to rebuild the Philippines.