With 2011 drawing to a close, President Benigno Aquino III said the country has risen from the grave of corruption and poverty during the one-and-a-half-year of his administration, and claimed a raft of achievements, including substantial savings of P42 billion, creation of 2.1 million new jobs and the development of a secret aquatic product for export that he could not name just yet.
“Let us compare the present to the times past … we have returned the blindfold of Lady Justice. Prosperity is benefiting not just the rich and powerful but also the majority of our people,” he said in his New Year message that he delivered in Filipino Wednesday.
Mr. Aquino vowed that the new year would see his government not only continuing with the reforms it had started but also bringing more immediate changes.
The President thanked the nation for its support and faith in him.
“We will not be tripped up by those who continue to take advantage of the Filipinos,” he said.
In an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel, Mr. Aquino said his government had generated P42 billion in savings as of September.
The President trotted out the multibillion savings as one of the achievements of his government in 2011.
Mr. Aquino also said his administration had created “roughly” 2.1 million new jobs as of October, citing a labor force survey.
According to the President, the P21 billion of the savings came from the interest payments saved after the country was given a credit upgrade by international credit ratings agencies.
“There’s at least 21 (billion) which might grow to about 34 billion—I’m sorry if I have an error of a billion here or there—but roughly those are the figures resulting from interest payment savings,” Mr. Aquino told ANC.
“We’re inching closer and closer to investment grade but it has already impacted on how much we have to pay for the loans we do have. We’ve been able to replace the higher interest rate with cheaper interest rates,” he said.
Standard and Poor’s earlier this month raised the outlook for Philippine sovereign debt from “stable” to “positive,” boosting the country’s chances of getting a credit rating upgrade next year. Moody’s Investors Service assigned a “stable” outlook on the banking sector, saying the country’s banks can be expected to benefit from a favorable business environment in the short term.
Where savings went
The savings have funded, among others, the billion-peso augmentation of the calamity fund in the aftermath of Tropical Storm “Sendong” and the more than a billion pesos needed for the Christmas bonuses of government workers.
Another source of substantial savings was the increase in rice production which decreased the need to import the staple, Mr. Aquino said.
Tightening the procedures in the use of funds for infrastructure resulted in P6 billion in savings from the Department of Public Works and Highways, he said.
“According to the figures available to us, as of end September, we saved something like P42 billion pesos—of that, six billion came from public works,” the President said.
He explained that whereas before there was a “rampant” realignment of funds, now with procedures being tightened, the result was about P6 billion in savings.
“For instance, before if there was P200 million for a road, it would be realigned to another project. The plan is lost and becomes very topsy-turvy,” Mr. Aquino said.
On his campaign promise to generate more jobs, the President claimed that a labor force survey that compared figures between October 2010 and October 2011 showed net new jobs of 2.1 million.
“Again, it tells us that, one, we’re on track in fulfilling that promise of job generation and we expect more and more of it,” Mr. Aquino said.
Excited by tourism
The President said he was also excited about the new promotion campaign of the Department of Tourism.
“Unfortunately, I have [acceded] to the Secretary of Tourism’s position that each component [of the new campaign] should be introduced at a specific time and I would not want to disrupt their plans,” he said.
The way Mr. Aquino figured it, each tourist that comes to the country brings in about $1,000 and with Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez new target, by 2016 the country will be getting 10 million tourists from the present figure of about 3 million.
He said the publicity generated by the Seven Wonders of Nature campaign has also increased the tourists who want to see the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
Palawan’s prime tourist draw was chosen as one of the provisional winners of the global poll to choose seven new wonders of nature.
“There are limits on human traffic so that the natural wonder won’t be damaged but they are already saying there is a substantial increase in arrivals, which also introduces these tourists that cannot be accommodated there to the other attractions of Palawan…. I’m very, very excited about that,” he said.
New export product
He said another possible revenue source for the Philippines was an “aquatic product exported by a country in North America [that] sells for quite an expensive amount.”
“I am told now that we have the same thing. It’s a very simple canning process and we have the resource. It’s really just a question of doing the processing aspect, inculcating certain behavioral attitudes in the people in that area,” President Aquino said.
“It’s a new export product that I’m very keen to start working [on],” he said, but would not reveal what it was.
On criticisms that his government had underspent this year to the detriment of economic growth, Mr. Aquino said his administration had first to institute “various controls” to ensure that the funds were spent properly.
“The controls will inculcate a change in mentality. There’s a different system that is now being implemented and there is some resistance and all of that caused delay,” Mr. Aquino said.
But there were other factors contributing to the slow growth like developments in the global economy, like the effects of the tsunami and earthquake in Japan last March and the credit crisis in Europe and in the United States.
“As regards the slowdown in the economy, I keep emphasizing that’s part of the reason but the other part is that we are not doing anything in isolation. Who would’ve predicted that Japan would have such a problem?” the President said.
“They are all our major trading partners. And of course, in the Middle East the increase in the price of crude, the uncertainty—it’s not yet over. Now there’s an issue in Syria. All these have effects,” Mr. Aquino said.
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