NEW YORK – President Aquino said a “new Philippines” under his administration will not hesitate to jail officials found guilty
Mr. Aquino’s message was addressed to US businessmen gathered for the signing here of the $434-million grant to the Philippines by the US Millennium Challenge Corp. (MCC) on Thursday.
“My visit to the United States has a key objective: to inform investors that the Philippines is indeed open for business – not the under-the-table kind, but the legitimate kind; not the kind of business that thrives on corrupt deal-making, but which thrives because of sensible and enforceable and fair contracts,” Mr. Aquino said.
In the MCC event, the President said he came with his economic team to share with American friends the prospect of doing business in the Philippines.
“But first and foremost, I am here to assure you that the Philippines is committed to good housekeeping practices in its domestic and international dealings with investors. We are committed to not just a fair but a square deal for all. We will not abandon the poor to the markets, just as we will not distort markets by means of red tape or crony impositions,” Mr. Aquino said.
In his speech, the President admitted that doing business in the Philippines had been in many cases cumbersome and complicated.
“It has not always been a level or clear playing field. As a result, investment in the Philippines has lagged behind our neighbors,” he said.
“I was elected to office on the promise to fight corruption and do better for the poor. I recognize that in order to do that the engines of commerce must be running at full throttle. Robust economic growth, fueled by the private sector, combined with thoughtful government spending on social services, is the solution over the long term,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said his creation of a Truth Commission to investigate the anomalies in the previous administration was meant to show his commitment to stop corruption.
“The overriding concept is that people should be disabused on the concept of impunity that those who are richest and most powerful can get away with anything. And if we are able to demonstrate to what had previously been the top-most level of our society in terms of politics and in terms of power, then that hopefully will redound to the rest of society and say there is a change in this country,” he said.
“It is no longer dog eat dog and it’s no longer everybody for himself. But those who have demonstrated the capacity to really abuse our countrymen will merit an extended stay in a new subdivision we’re creating in Muntinlupa,” he said in jest, referring to the New Bilibid Prison which is in Muntinlupa.
“We have purposely made sure that this land is not privatized because we have made use of the land to set up new facilities for their housing,” he added.
Mr. Aquino said the previous regime had tried to circumvent the law in a bid to evade possible criminal prosecution for high-level corruption.
“We are committed to changing all of that and I think, with the support of our people and in all humility one of our survey firms – prestigious survey firms – gives us a net approval rating right now of about 88 percent even after the incident. That emboldens us to face anybody and everybody in our country and say unless you have these numbers behind you, I think we are in the majority and it is the majority that decides in a democracy,” he said, apparently referring to the Aug. 23 hostage taking incident.
“I’m very fortunate to have the whole economic team and a lot of members of my Cabinet driven by the same desire to effect real changes,” he said.
“We’re given this one chance, we hope to be able to really transform our society to such a degree that whoever follows us will be compelled by the voice of this majority to continue what we have started,” the President said.
He said his administration’s zero-budgeting scheme requires a review of existing programs, so that unnecessary ones are removed.
“We have tightened restrictions on congressional pork barrel and reduced, if not removed, many opportunities for wasteful, and possibly corrupt, spending practices. This has not necessarily endeared me with my former colleagues, but it has allowed us to increase spending on education, health care, and much needed emergency cash subsidies for the poorest of the poor, at the same time reducing our budget deficit as a proportion of GDP (gross domestic product),” Mr. Aquino said.
“This kind of action is not dramatic enough to make it to the evening news, but I think you can appreciate how significant an investment of political capital it can be,” he said.
He also disclosed that the Bureau of Internal Revenue has breathed new life into its Run After Tax Evaders program and has already filed its seventh tax evasion case in just two months in an effort to plug revenue leaks.
“This early, the prospect of public humiliation and jail time has led to an improvement in our tax collection efforts,” the President said.
“It has only been three months. But this early, markets seem to be endorsing our actions. The stock market has hit an all-time high on convincing value turnover. In addition, the recent global peso bond offering raised $1 billion for the Philippines, with the issue being 13 times oversubscribed,” he said.
“By relieving the government of having to spend on items that investors can build and manage more efficiently, scarce government resources are freed up for investments in education, health care and other social services. Over time these investments will see dividends in the form of a better educated, more productive workforce, whose growing income opportunities will in turn spur consumption and grow the pool of skilled workers and the markets for products and services that many of you here today provide,” he said.
“Let me be crystal clear: to achieve our social goals, it is imperative that we in the Philippines create a climate for private enterprise to profit and thrive. And this is what we have begun to undertake,” he pointed out.
Alex Feldman, US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business Council president, called the Aquino administration phenomenal.
“I think the business leaders here in America are excited about the new administration, the new opportunities and we hope there are ways the American businessmen can participate and hopefully move the Philippines forward,” Feldman said.
He said American businessmen may invest in transportation, infrastructure, agriculture and technology.
“There’s a lot of opportunities and we’re excited to work with the President’s Cabinet,” Feldman said.
Feldman noted they were eyeing investments that could provide jobs for both Americans and Filipinos, “so it’s a win-win situation.”
“Transparency, good governance, ridding of corruption is really critical to American companies and companies from all over the world being enthusiastic about the Philippines. Corruption just adds a layer, additional ethical problems of corruption, it adds a layer of cost, it makes a lot of doing business in the Philippines uneconomical,” he said.
In his presentation before the businessmen, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo said the priority public-private partnership projects include the expansion of the Metro Rail Transit and Light Rail Transit, as well as improvements in the Panglao and Puerto Princesa airports, among others.
Aurea Calica, Philippine Star