Current Affairs


No Comments 27 March 2012

Speech delivered by President Benigno Aquino III at Euromoney’s Philippine Investment Forum, held on March 27, 2012 at the Manila Peninsula, Makati City.

Once upon a time, the consensus among you was that we were the sick man of Asia. The diagnosis for this illness was as simple as it seemed insurmountable: a lack of political will; an entrenched system of corruption that could not be weeded out; and a feeling of utter impossibility among Filipinos and their leaders alike.

Since I am addressing you at a time when Filipinos are gearing up for Holy Week, I hope you permit me to state in a biblical vein: all it took was faith-healing to invoke, in political terms, the biblical injunction from the Gospel of Luke chapter 4 verse 23: “Physician, Heal Thyself.”

Let no one doubt that we are doing the three things which were previously thought of as impossible: we are calling people to account; we are putting closure to the controversies that had sapped our institutions of their vigor and had diminished their legitimacy in the eyes of our countrymen; in other words, we are exercising political will. We have reformed the manner in which we allocate and dispense public funds; we have thrown the book at the thieves; and we are collecting what the government is due. That is how we are fighting corruption, and making a mark. We have fought the culture of naysaying and negativity, and have given a sense of empowerment to our people, replacing the hopelessness of the past with a steadfast commitment to building a society that works. We have put an end to business as usual and proclaimed a country open for real business

And this, simply, has done wonders for our economy. Two years ago, for example, none of us could imagine the Philippine Stock Exchange index breaking the 4,000 barrier. Now, we have breached not just 4,000, but 5,000 as well. The PSEi closed at another record high just eleven days ago at 5,145.89 points. For those of you keeping score: that’s 21 record highs in the 21 months of our administration.

In our relatively short time in office, a significant number of respected international organizations have also given us thumbs up signs. The World Economic Forum, for one, bumped the Philippines ten places up—from 85th to 75th—in their latest Competitiveness Index. The Japan External Trade Organization, after conducting a survey among companies in our region, named us the best place to do business in Asia-Oceania, whether in manufacturing or service. HSBC even recently predicted that, by the year 2050, we will be the sixteenth largest economy in the world. And these are only a few of the companies and organizations that have already changed their mind about the Philippines—and have been very vocal about it.

This renewed confidence from the global community has reflected itself in real pesos and centavos invested in the country. Since we took office in July of 2010, we have seen 449.7 billion pesos in investments in the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. This accounts for 22 percent of all investments in PEZA since it was established in 1995—seventeen years ago. Likewise, in 2011, investment promotion agency-approved foreign direct investments grew by 30.6 percent to 256.1 billion pesos—the highest recorded level in sixteen years.

We are also performing quite well in the bond market. In January of this year, we issued 1.5 billion dollars in global bonds with a coupon rate of five percent—the lowest for an Asian sovereign for that tenor, and at better rates than several other investment grade sovereigns like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, and even some EU countries like Spain.

Might I add: all this is happening amidst global economic uncertainty. If these facts and figures tell us anything, it is that the Philippines’ success has been nothing less than heroic—that we have experienced high after high in our investment story.

So many people in government continue to work endless nights to make certain that we build on our momentum—that we continue along this path to progress.

Suffice to say: we are proud of the progress we have made, but we are not satisfied with just this. We Filipinos know just how much potential this country has; and we are working even longer nights to fulfill this potential.

So what’s next for the Philippines? The plan for this year involves focusing on three specific sectors—sectors that will have the largest impact on our economy, and in the lives of our people—that will create much-needed jobs in the timeliest manner, namely: agriculture, infrastructure, and tourism.

I have always maintained that our farmers should be given enough incentive to do their jobs well. Right now, while our farmers account for 33 percent of total employment, they only account for 13 percent of GDP. This isn’t right; and our administration fully intends to increase farmer productivity and help facilitate the trade of produce.

We have increased the budget of the Department of Agriculture by more than fifty percent to 53.3 billion pesos. The bulk of this money will go to more irrigation projects, more farm-to-market roads, and more buying posts—projects that will directly impact the lives of those who find their livelihoods in agriculture, and will move us closer to our goal of reaching rice self-sufficiency in 2013, which we believe extremely doable.

Our infrastructure programs have been getting a move on as well. As of the 15th of March, I am told that the Department of Public Works and Highways has bidded out nearly ninety percent of their 2,128 projects worth 63 billion pesos this year. 91% percent of these projects have already been issued notices to proceed; and we are confident that, very soon, we will reach 100 percent.

I am also happy to report that last week, that our administration has approved 133 billion pesos worth of projects for different sectors. Most prominent among them is the LRT Line 1 South Extension Project, worth 61.53 billion pesos. The plan is to extend LRT Line 1 by almost twelve kilometers, from Baclaran, through Paranaque and Las Pinas, to Bacoor, Cavite. I have full faith that Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas will have this extension operational at the soonest possible time. That, in a little while, we will be able to expand transportation, and open the gates a little wider between Metro Manila’s and Cavite’s economies.

Tourism is another industry that has made leaps and bounds. I’ve always said that tourism is a low-lying fruit for the Philippine economy that has long gone unpicked. But thanks to a re-energized Department of Tourism care of Secretary Mon Jimenez—and thanks to an excellent marketing campaign, coupled with a liberalized aviation industry—in January alone, the Philippines welcomed more than 400,000 visitors. This is the highest monthly visitor count in our history. And if we can sustain this, we are set to welcome almost 4.8 million visitors this year. This is really close to five million. We are still quite a way from our target of 10 million yearly visitors by 2016, but imagine: two years ago we were expecting just around three million visitors a year; and now there is the possibility of welcoming five million. We still have four years and three months left to reach our target—and we know that, each year, we can grow our number of visitors closer and closer to our goal.

From the beginning, the secret to our success has been simple: we want to make it easier for people to do business here; and that means creating a level playing field, curbing corruption, and eliminating inefficiencies. This explains many of our initiatives, particularly the Philippine Business Registry. Instead of our entrepreneurs running around from agency to agency just so they can set up shop here, we have given them a one-stop-shop, where they can transact with multiple government agencies at once. This reduces the time it takes to register a business from several days to just twenty to thirty minutes. More than that, it vastly reduces opportunities for corruption.

The bottom line here is: if we want businesses to set up shop here and create jobs for our people, we have to be competitive. We have to focus on industries where there are actual opportunities for mutual benefit. The world is getting increasingly smaller, and we find ourselves pitted against countries who have very competitive business propositions. We cannot compromise our position by making life more difficult for companies because of corruption or red tape. We cannot sacrifice the jobs created by these businesses, because it is our people who will take the brunt of the hit if these businesses choose to operate elsewhere. We need to continue fostering a good environment for business—one that is both stable and predictable. I assure everyone here today: this belief will always be a core principle of our administration; and I invite all of you to ride this wave of optimism early, and invest in our country, be it in agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, or any other sector. We are eager to work with all of you.

Investors have always been a significant component of our vision for this country. But perhaps we go by a more expansive definition of the word investor. While we value the confidence of potential investors; and while we value the businesses that have chosen to set up shop here; above all, we value those who have invested their lives, their work, and their families in this country—the Filipino people.

As their government, the people are our ultimate shareholders. And we are bound to work in their interest. This is the driving principle behind all our efforts to be competitive. At the end of the day, we want our economy’s growth to redound to better lives for people. We want to leave no one behind on the straight and narrow path to progress, because we know that the success of our story—of the Philippines’ story—is dependent on the success of each and every one of the characters who play a part in it: from the farmer who gets up before sunrise every day, to the men and women who clock into work at 9AM, to you, the investors who have placed your bets on the Philippines.

Thank you and good morning. May you have a productive forum.




3 Comments 16 March 2012

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

This was a whitening product’s commercial tagline a few years back. The ad shows a girl’s face magically being peeled, layer after layer until she turns deathly white. The TV ad ends with the statement: “Your whitest skin ever.”

“Why?” I yelled back at the TV, forgetting for a moment that it was called an idiot box for a reason. But I couldn’t help it. The commercial made my brown skin bristle. I wonder why ads like these would presume that I would like a pasty pallor. It baffles me and at the same time insults me. Why don’t we ever get commercials on bronzers that enhance the morena glow?

A similar TV campaign caught the attention of the media in India, calling the ad – where a man replaces his former love with someone who had lighter skin – racist. The broadcast journalists were outraged, saying “she’s unbelievably beautiful, but if you want to get the guy, you have to get whiter.”

I was just as incensed, but as if to appease me, the clip was suddenly followed by a commercial showing a fair-skinned model surrounded by her bronze-skinned friends. She is questioned as to why she’s so pale. Has she been using whitening lotion?

The secret? “Hindi siya nakasama sa beach”.

Few commercials like this actually challenge the idea of what consumerism wants to capitalize on. White is not necessarily beautiful. Boldly, the commercial states that being white can equate to inactivity, being strapped for cash, and maybe even poor health.

So while the sun worshipers in the commercial are showing off their tans, the pasty-skinned lead is left cooped up in her office.  The commercial suggests that she is missing out on the blessings of the sun and a much needed R&R. Although she was pale, she didn’t look ghastly, but the advertisement implies that if she did have a choice, she’d rather be out getting her tan on.

Many women are lovely with their China-doll complexion. Kris Aquino looks like a pretty kabuki doll in her porcelain skin. Gwen Stefani is the quintessential modern Snow White with her pouty red lips set against flawless ivory skin.

Then there are people who no matter what they do, just can’t get a tan. My husband is Caucasian and tanning for him is a futile and frustrating exercise. After baking under the sun for hours, he’d end up with angry red splotches on his cheeks that burn and itch. Like him, some people are naturally fair skinned and they’re beautiful that way.

In the same way, morenas are beautiful in their own skin, but many choose to go lighter, believing that beauty is in the light. For instance, my morena friend, Summer: if not for her sunny personality, her name would have been an irony because she shies away from the sun for fear of skin darkening. Teasing her, I told her that bronze skin is very cosmopolitan and fashionable. Promptly, she answered, “Pangit na nga ako, magpapaitim pa?” Correct me if I’m wrong but, is she saying that being dark makes one even ugly or uglier? Many kayumanggis like her cover themselves in globs of sun block, not because they want to be protected from photoaging or skin cancer, but because they abhor getting darker.

I once took a friend to the pool a day before her wedding. People pointed accusing fingers at me on the day of the wedding.  “She dragged the bride to go swimming before the wedding! Lahat ng nagpapakasal, nagpapaputi.” The horror! The horror! Never mind that she looked radiant in her tan and white dress.

Ad after ad promises whiter skin. Dermatologists and spas offer dermabrasion or exfoliating treatments. Drugstore shelves are stocked with whitening potions. Like the devil, they come in every shape and form from exfoliants, lotions, soaps, and yes, even pills. All in the name of erasing the brown pigment that Mother Nature has worked so hard on as protection from ultraviolet rays that can cause sun spots, skin cancer, and wrinkles. Darker skinned people have the privilege of better coverage from sun exposure, because they have more melanin, that skin pigment that morenas are abundantly endowed with. Yet countless choose to peel that protective layer off for a fairer complexion.

It’s almost amusing and ridiculous at the same time, this whole business of trying to get whiter when on the other side of the planet, people spend hundreds of dollars to get darker, to look like they spent the weekend at the Riviera. A tan for many equates to a radiant bank account that affords one the luxuries of extravagant vacations, tanning salons, and high-end bronzers. To many westerners, paleness is lifelessness, weakness, and deprivation. White is unfashionable.

I once met a Swedish gal who had never heard of whitening products until I enlightened her.  She looked at me wide eyed through her thickly sunscreen slathered face (she’s cursed with a sensitive skin) and said, “What?! Whitening lotion?” For her people, who get the sun as often as we get a blue moon, skin whitening is unheard of.

We’re of the darker race so we want to be lighter. They’re light skinned, so they want to be tanned. Is this merely a case of wanting what we do not have? We’re obsessed with the idea of looking like snow queens, storybook characters that we will never be, because no matter what we do, we will always be Maria Clara with brown eyes and not even colored contact lenses can hide that fact. But while we put Snow White on a pedestal, maybe we should also remember that the stage is big enough for Maria Makiling. Although what I’d really like to say is throw away all your whitening products and head to the beach. We’re blessed beautiful brown children of Bathala; let’s shed not our melanin, but our tops, and allow the sun to paint our shoulders golden.

Can you get any darker?

(The author maintains a travel blog —


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