MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino said the country “is ready for takeoff” as his 100 days in office have cleared the path for bigger investments, more jobs and greater public trust in government.
“We are ready for takeoff, and we have accomplished this because you believe in my government and that belief is now spilling out over the world,” he said in a speech yesterday at a televised town hall-style meeting at La Consolacion College in Manila, just outside Palace grounds.
He called the people his kasangga (partner) in his effort to steer the country to progress.
The 50-year-old bachelor is basking in the glow of a high public approval rating despite the tragic hostage incident in August that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead and raised questions about his leadership.
In a report on his first 100 days in office aired on national television, Mr. Aquino fielded questions in his trademark casual tone.
“Now you have a government that is ready to talk and tell the truth; ready to listen to sensible discourse; ready to raise the bar of public discussion about issues affecting us all and the coming generation,” the President said.
Four student protesters briefly interrupted the meeting when they stood up and demanded that the Aquino administration abandon its plan to cut the budget for state schools and universities. Mr. Aquino promised to address their concerns before security personnel led them out of the hall.
“Confidence is back in the country. The economy is becoming stable and because of this, the government coffers are growing.
Everything that we gained and we would gain from a stronger economy, we would bring back to the people so they would be alleviated from poverty. We give sense to spending. No peso should be wasted,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said he was being true to his campaign promise of ensuring good governance and eliminating corruption and profligacy in government.
He cited positive developments on the economic front, like the swelling of the gross international reserves to a record high of $52.3 billion as well as the stock market’s sterling performance.
“This shows the confidence in the economy, in our people and the government. The PSE (Philippine Stock Exchange) is now one of the best performing stock markets in Asia. And while the peso is strengthening and the economy is growing, the prices of goods remain steady,” he said.
“We are now very much ready for development,” he added.
“Jobs are the principal agenda of my administration,” he said, adding that his administration has attracted $2.4 billion in fresh foreign investments and created 43,600 new jobs.
“That’s just for starters,” he said.
But Aquino lamented that corruption remains a problem, and hit out at political opponents he accused of profiting from the misery of the poor.
“We are serious when we say we will walk the straight and narrow path,” he said.
Trail of anomalies
He said his administration inherited a lot of problems from the previous administration and he had to act swiftly to keep the country from losing billions more.
He cited his issuance of Executive Order 7 suspending the excessive bonuses and allowances of officials of government-owned and -controlled corporations, particularly the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System.
He also lauded efforts by retired Supreme Court (SC) justice Florentino Feliciano and now SC Justice Meilou Sereno to resolve kinks in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 contract.
He said that had it not been for the efforts of the two, the government would have lost $990 million.
“We will now be able to benefit from the airport the soonest time possible,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President also cited his revocation of negotiated contracts of the Department of Public Works and Highways with private groups. He said P934.1 million would have been wasted had the deals pushed through.
The President also revealed that the past administration had approved a questionable dredging procedure for a portion of Laguna de Bay. He said the silt that would be dredged up would be thrown back to another portion of the lake.
He said the government would have spent a staggering P18.5 billion for this negotiated contract.
“We will not allow any hocus pocus in this project. We will study this very carefully and make sure that the funds for this will not be wasted. And let me add that we already ordered a review of this last week and think about it, many are still pitching for it,” the President said.
Mr. Aquino also said even weather forecasting by the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) had improved because of new equipment.
“It’s the wrong system and wrong governance that drove weather forecasting astray,” the President said.
“We have stopped the practice of continuing with projects without proper assessment of whether they are sensible or not,” Mr. Aquino said.
Mr. Aquino also said he pursued zero-based budgeting to stop funding for unnecessary projects like the Kalayaang Barangay and Kilos Asenso Programs.
He said some P11 billion from these programs had been realigned to more beneficial concerns.
Mr. Aquino said the savings would be used for education, health and poverty alleviation.
He said from P175 billion, the Department of Education’s budget was increased to P207.3 billion, which would be spent to build 13,417 classrooms and open 10,000 teaching positions.
He said the budget of the Department of Health rose to P33.3 billion from P29.3 billion to strengthen the National Health Insurance Program.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development’s budget was also more than doubled from P15.4 billion to P34.3 billion, Aquino said.
The President said the number of Filipinos getting conditional cash transfers would become 2.3 million in 2011, up from one million.
President Aquino also warned those wanting to disrupt the country’s gains that their “days are numbered” as the Filipinos were united for much needed reforms.
“The society is again united and the only ones who keep on complaining like a broken record are those who want to return to power to continue their fun that comes from our oppression,” the President said.
“They are the ones who brought the problems we are shouldering now and they have the temerity to attack us continuously. Are you still going to pay attention to them? Are you going to be deceived again?” Mr. Aquino asked.
The President said the solutions that he had promised had been laid down in his first three months in office and that the trust of the people had fueled his administration’s achievements.
“Remember that while many of our countrymen are concerned for the country, there are a few whose interests are to continue the bickering. I have long appealed to those who do not want to join us in the right path. Tingin ko ay malapit-lapit na rin ang panahong sasabihin ko sa kanila ay ‘goodbye’ at ang matatanggap naman nilang ‘hello’ ay ang pagpasok nila sa Munti (I think it will be soon when I can tell them ‘goodbye’ and the ‘hello’ they’ll get will be when they enter Munti),” the President said, referring to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.
He said a lot of issues had been thrown against him, and he had not been given a honeymoon period even if his administration had just started.
“Following the straight path is no joke. All of you involved in wrong governance and have caused troubles to the people, I guarantee you, your days are numbered,” Mr. Aquino said.
“Those who want to maintain the old system really want to destroy us, they are like huge crocodiles who prey on government coffers,” the President said.
But Aquino said his fight would continue and he would not stop until the necessary reforms were in effect.
He said that if he had shortcomings, one of them would be his refusal to brag about the successes he had achieved. Nevertheless, Mr. Aquino said he was grateful for the people’s continued support.
“My heart is really happy with the 71 percent satisfaction rating. Naturally, this victory is yours – for every Filipino who trusted and participated in our agenda for change,” the President said.
“We will not stop following the right path. Our dreams are slowly being fulfilled,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said the people could help the government even in simple ways, like reporting smoke belchers and speeding passenger vehicles like buses and jeepneys.
Aurea Calica, Philippine Star