Friday, December 28, 2012
MANILA, Philippines-When the Filipino people gave an overwhelming mandate to President Benigno S. Aquino III in 2010, there were those who remained skeptical of the extent of reforms that can be instituted, given the entrenched culture of corruption and mistrust of government.
The many achievements of the Aquino administration in 2012 should put those doubts to rest. At home and around the world, the Philippines has become recognized as a bastion of stability and good governance. Through hard work, deft decision-making, and intense political will, the President has laid down the foundations of justice and inclusive growth. Through it all, he continues to clean house, eliminate waste, and put primacy on restoring public trust in our institutions.
Almost a year after calls for “all out war” against Moro separatists were answered by a firm and sober “all out justice” stance by the President, the MILF and GRP signed a historic Framework Agreement that sets the stage for a final, enduring peace in Mindanao. This is among the first successful dialogues between a government and a Muslim separatist movement in the modern era, and could set the template on how to peacefully handle such conflicts across the world.
While an atmosphere of peace is now beginning to set over the conflict-ridden south, the entire country is experiencing a newfound sense of justice and fairness. After the President publicly announced judicial reform as among the bedrocks of his agenda, the House of Representatives impeached former Chief Justice Renato Corona over allegations of betraying the public trust. He was later on convicted and removed from office by an overwhelming majority of Senators. This heralded the arrival of a judiciary characterized not by secrecy and patronage, but by integrity and competence. The appointment of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and later Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, sustained the momentum of reform in the judiciary.
The message is clear: If a Chief Justice can be impeached-- and a former president put under hospital arrest for alleged plunder and electoral sabotage-- then so can anyone; a crime is a crime, regardless of wealth or status in society. With this principle in mind, the President signed into law the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act, the first of its kind in Asia, which criminalizes the unlawful arrest of civilians and ensures the preservation and protection of every Filipino's civil liberties. This law clearly demonstrates the President's commitment to human rights. Through these reforms, we are strengthening a system where the law serves the people and works towards their full development. Without doubt, we are moving towards a society where fairness reigns-- fueled by a people empowered by its government.
Nowhere is this empowerment more evident than in the investments that the government has channeled towards education, health, and poverty alleviation. Agencies such as the Department of Health, the Department of Education, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (which spearheads the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program,) have all experienced sharp increases in their budget, proving the President’s resolve to lift our countrymen from the margins of society.
Congress enacted the Responsible Parenthood Law to foster public health and access to information on reproductive health to citizens who are free to act in accordance with their conscience. In this manner, a deeply divisive issue was finally resolved. Health for the citizenry also informed the momentous passage of the Sin Tax Reform Law. After languishing for several terms, and in the face of tremendous pressure from lobbyists, Congress responded to the bill's certification as urgent by the President, and passed the law before the end of the year. Legislators, commentators, and media have all lauded the President’s political will in passing these laws.
These political initiatives came hand-in-hand with a roaring economy, one that has experienced strong growth and stable inflation despite the uncertainties of the global economy. Philippine GDP growth for the 3rd quarter hit a two-year high of 7.1 percent-- the highest in Southeast Asia, and among the top performing economies in Asia. Meanwhile, the Philippine Stock Exchange index this year broke record high after record high, soaring above expectations and breaching the 5,800 mark. The Philippine Peso also appreciated by as much as 6 percent this year and is projected to gain even more strength in the coming year.
These positive indicators are underpinned by an administration that has maintained fiscal discipline, initiated reforms to ramp up quality public spending, and invested heavily in both social and physical infrastructure. This is manifested in the 2.006 trillion peso General Appropriations Act for 2013, 10.5 percent higher than the 2012 budget. The 2013 GAA continues the Aquino administration’s tradition of an on-time passage of the budget-- eliminating leak-prone reenactments and showing the determination of government to ensure that every peso of the budget is spent wisely.
Not only is the President enjoying the highest sustained public approval ratings in history-- he is also being recognized by the international community as a true leader in foreign affairs. The Philippines has taken the lead in upholding a peaceful, multilateral, and consensus-driven diplomatic approach as regards territorial disputes. In this regard, President Aquino has stood his ground thus gaining the admiration of his fellow leaders in the global arena.
While these past two and half years have been a period of continued renewal for the country, 2012 in particular has been a year of rebuilding and restoration. This year we saw the full effect of political will used correctly and for the right purposes, knowing that power is merely lent by the people to their leaders to ultimately serve the country’s best interests. By all indicators, this was the best year for the Philippines in a long time, a time for celebration and pride for the reclaimed standing of our country as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other rising nations of the world.
In 2012, we turned the corner, fixed the damage wrought by the crooked ways of the past, and established further that the straight path is the only way forward. Despite the tragedies that have visited the country in 2012-- from natural disasters to the untimely demise of a beloved reformist-- the Filipino people have shown that their spirit cannot be broken. As the administration embarks on 2013, there is all the more reason for Filipinos to travel on the straight path under the leadership of President Aquino and the adherents to his noble cause.
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