Aquino: Filipinos are worth fighting for

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Monday, July 28, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- Faced with impeachment complaints and sliding popularity ratings, President Benigno Aquino III turned emotional in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday before members of Congress.

Aquino said he's already contented that if the time comes for him to go, there will be those who will continue the reforms he have made since he took power in 2010. He said the next President must continue "without a shred of doubt" the transformation the country is achieving.

"Sasabihin ko po sa inyo, mata sa mata, sa lahat po ng inabot natin, ako po’y masasabi kong kuntento na ako. Kuntento na po ako dahil panatag ang kalooban ko, na kung ako po’y mawala na dito, marami po ang magpapatuloy ng ating tinahak na. Baka iyon lang po talaga ang papel ko–umpisahan ito," he said.

READ: Full text of Aquino’s 5th State of the Nation Address

SONA 2014
MANILA. President Benigno Aquino III delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives, Batasang Pambansa Complex, Quezon City, on July 28, 2014. (Al Padilla/Sunnex)

Looking back, a teary-eyed Aquino said had he ran away from leading the country's transformation, it was as if he did not honor the memory of his parents, martyred former Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. and the late President Corazon "Cory" Aquino.

"Kung hinindian ko ang hamon na iniharap niyo sa akin, para ko na ring sinabi na tutulong akong pahabain ang inyong pagdurusa, at hindi maaatim ng konsensya ko iyon. Kung tinalikuran ko ang pagkakataon, parang tinalikuran ko na rin ang aking ama't ina, at ang lahat ng inialay nila para sa atin; hindi po po mangyayari iyon," he said.

He also gave a new twist to his father's famous line, saying the "Filipino is worth dying for, the Filipino is worth living for, and the Filipino is definitely worth fighting for."

Two of the three impeachment complaints filed against Aquino were in relation to the Supreme Court decision against Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a purported stimulus package to pump-prime the economy.

Aquino allies though control the House and the Senate, making the attempt an uphill climb, for now.

Aquino recalled that even before he became President, he already became a target of criticisms.

"Sanay na tayong sinasalubong ng negatibong komentarista sa almusal, pang-aalipusta sa tanghalian, insulto sa hapunan, at may intriga pa bilang midnight snack. Ngayon nga pong Pangulo ako, tuloy pa rin ang mga kontra sa pagbabago. Sa tingin ko, maski sa pababa ko sa puwesto, hindi pa rin sila titigil," he said.

(Photos by Al Padilla/Sunnex)

The President slammed those who continue to criticize his administration, particularly on the reforms that his government has been pushing.

"Naalala ko po ang isang matandang babaeng nakausap ko dati sa kampanya. Ang sabi niya sa akin, 'Noy, mag-iingat ka. Marami kang makakabangga.' Totoo ang kanyang babala. Pero buo ang loob kong kaharapin ang mga nakakabanggang ito, dahil alam ko: iilan lamang sila, at di-hamak na napakarami natin," he said, adding he will continue with the reforms in the government despite criticisms and the daily threats on his life.

Aquino said this was already his second life after an ambush against him by soldiers who tried to overthrow his mother from the presidency in 1987.

Before turning emotional, Aquino took pride of the achievements of his four-year-old administration. He said his government is walking the talk by delivering the necessary social services and making the country more conducive to business activities.

He said that the DAP infused P1.6 billion for the training-for-work scholarship program of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), which benefited 223,615 individuals. Of this number, 66 percent representing 146,731 graduates landed jobs.

He showed an audio-visual presentation of two Tesda scholars whose lives were changed by the program. Former jeepney barker, Marc Escora, related how the program helped him land a job in the business process outsourcing industry. Jonalyn Navarosa also recalled how the program aided her to become successful in the field of automotive service.

"This is good governance: the right intentions, practices and results. Everyone wins," he said.

Aquino also allayed fears of worsening poverty under his watch, saying the conditional cash transfer program for the poorest of the poor reduced the poverty incidence to 24.9 percent in the first quarter of last year from 27.9 percent in the same period in 2012.

He then mentioned the country's economic gains through intensified tax collection efforts, with tax collections increasing from P1.094 trillion in 2010 to P1.536 trillion in 2013.

"Under a fair system, the resurgence of our economy began. We were able to save because of prudent fiscal management," he said.

With prudent fiscal management, he said the government was able to pay P40 billion in debt.

He said the economy is on the upswing, backed by credit rating upgrades, favorable assessment from international aviation experts and larger spending on infrastructure.

"We worked hard to accumulate the funds the government has today, which is why we will not tolerate wasting it," he further said.

He also noted the investment grade status the country obtained from Moody’s, Fitch Group and Standard & Poor's.

Blocking the country's further progress, however, is the looming power shortage next year.

In response, the Chief Executive said he directed Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla to coordinate with the Joint Congressional Power Commission, the Energy Regulatory Commission, the industry, and most especially the consumers, to come up with better solutions to solve the energy problem.

"Tingnan po natin ang sitwasyon sa enerhiya. Ginagawa na po natin ang lahat para siguruhing natutugunan ang lumalagong pangangailangan ng bansa...ang habol natin: kumpletong paghahanda para hindi tayo maparalisa sakaling mangyari ang worst-case scenario. Dapat, kahit sa susunod na taon pa uusbong ang problema, meron na tayong pinaplanong solusyon para dito," he said.

The President cited the reasons for possible power outages next year. Among them the sudden breakdown of old plants, the threat of El Nino, which could affect the capacity of hydro power plants, and the increasing demand for power.

Petilla earlier proposed emergency powers for the President to address the possible power crisis next year, especially during the summer months.

He said that the Luzon grid could experience a deficit of 200 megawatts from April to May 2015.

Aquino, in his Sona, did not mention if he would ask Congress to grant him emergency powers to solve the power shortage next year.

He urged lawmakers, however, to help fund the government's rehabilitation and recovery plan for areas struck by natural disasters in recent months, especially those affected by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Visayas in November last year.

Aquino said he has signed the master recovery plan for Cebu, Iloilo, Samar, Eastern Samar, Leyte and Tacloban.

Citing the United Nations (UN), Aquino said the Philippines is now rehabilitating from the effects of Yolanda, the strongest storm on record. He also thanked the international community for aiding the country.

Several lawmakers and other top government officials were convinced with Aquino's speech.

Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said that the Chief Executive has clearly addressed the matters particularly on the DAP.

Aquino's public trust and approval ratings have fallen based on recent polls shortly after the SC issued a ruling against the DAP.

"He was able to tell the Filipino people that all these projects implicitly where were accomplished on account of the Disbursement Acceleration Program," Barzaga said.

For Cebu Representative Gwendolyn Garcia, Aquino's quite emotional speech in the ending was really felt by all sectors of the society.

"Well I think it is an emotional speech towards the end and practically it covered all faces and sectors. I think that it was a speech that moves a lot of people," Garcia said.

"Good. Satisfied, [though] maiksi lang yung nabanggit niya sa energy eh. Nabanggit niya na may problema. Pilipino din naman ako. Naramdaman ko at [mo ang sinabi ng mahal ng Pangulo.]," Vice President Jejomar Binay said.

Former President Fidel Ramos wishes Aquino all the best as Congress is set to tackle the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which is the key the end the long running violence happened in Mindanao.

"We just wish him the best for his government because that is our peace but they better work a little harder," he said.

Meanwhile, Buhay Party-list Representative Lito Atienza urged Aquino that there is still hope that he can fulfil his promise to the Filipino people in the last two years in his office if he decides to replace those Cabinet officials who were pulling him down due to the several controversies hounding them.

"Gawin na niya lahat ng tama, hinde yung mga ugok na cabinet members niya, wala lahat saysay yun eh. Puro self-serving yung nakita natin… Kung papalitan niya ang mga ilan sa mga key cabinet members siguro may pag-asa pa," Atienza said.

He praised Aquino for finally asking Congress to create a supplemental budget for discontinued DAP projects. Aquino also asked Congress to clarify the extent of the Executive's power over the national budget.

"Yung dumaan sa Kongreso tama yun, he's doing it right. Yung umpisa hindi ko maintidihan the effort to justify that DAP gave some good or a lot of good. Eh mali eh, illegal eh. No good can emanate from illegal action. Gawin na niya yung tama, tama yung kanyang gagawin [to include supplemental budget]. Dumaan siya sa Kongreso hinde naman naming siya papabayaan," the former Manila mayor added.

Navotas City Representative and United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) secretary general Toby Tiangco was delighted that Aquino only focused on the issues in his administration and did not blame others.

"At least he stuck in the issue what is Sona should be. Dati nangyayari sa Sona, sisisihin si ganito, pagtutuunan ng pansin si ganito, si ganito may kasalan. At ngayon yung issue lang talaga pinag-usapan. Sa akin ok, I'm satisfied. Ok sakin, hindi niya inaway ang Supreme Court, kaya para sakin, ok 'tong Sona na 'to," Tiangco said.

Leyte Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez believes that Aquino was just "trying to rally the support of the people."

"He just have lot of works to do. Siguro nung lumabas na masama ang dating niya sa publiko, kumambyo siya kasi bumagsak talaga rating niya eh. At nakikita niya siguro na nawala ang kamay niya sa puso ng bayan," said Romualdez.

For his part, Senator JV Ejercito is quite disappointed since the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill was not mentioned in the Sona.

"'Yun nga lang, I was hoping na yung FOI sana ma-endorso na niya pero hinder in. Yung Bangsamoro lang po yung kanyang nabanggit," Ejercito said.

He added that Aquino should not give a bad meaning to the criticisms against him.

"Kami po bilang miyembro ng minority, sa demokrasya malaki din po yung papel namin para ipaalala sa kanya kung ano pa yung mga bagay na kailangan ng improvements," Ejercito said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon lauded Aquino for expressing himself well and showing "high spirits" regardless of the impeachment threats and protest actions mounted against him.

In a short interview, Drilon said the President gave face to the progress that his present government has done.

"Binigyan niya ng mukha ang tagumpay ng kaniyang mga polisiya, ang paglago ng ating ekonomiya. He gave a face to the progress that we have seen. I liked the few lines where he said gusto ba nating ipagpatuloy itong ating mga naumpisahan. So the continuity is very critical for us to be able to achieve our goals." Drilon said.

Opposition Senator Nancy Binay expressed the same view with Drilon as she described the Sona of President Aquino as calm, collected and composed.

"Generally, his speech is even-tempered and highlighted the gains of the administration in their proper economic perspective. Though, I found some particular areas like job generation and the looming power crisis lacking in the President’s fifth State of the Nation Address," Binay said.

The President's Sona as expected trumpet the accomplishments of the present administration as well as the fresh list of ideas for the coming year.

"It was also noteworthy that the President personally thanked the countries that helped us during the times of crisis. I believe that the Sona was the best venue to show our gratitude. Now, Congress has a plateful of things to do," Binay added.

"History itself will speak for each and every leader. The President has spoken well," said Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

(Video by Glaiza Jarloc/Sunnex)

But Senator Grace Poe, author of Freedom of Information bill, said although the President did not mention FOI, "I am still optimistic that this important measure will be passed under his leadership."

"Umaasa ako na may FOI. Ang masasabi ko, naging madamdamin ang pahayag ng ating Pangulo, bagama't may kanya-kanya tayong wishlist na gusto nating gawin ng gobyerno. Hindi man natutugunan agad," she said.

Poe said she believed in the integrity of the President.

"Wala akong duda sa pagkatao ng ating pangulo. Sinabi nga nya, napakahalaga ring maipagpatuloy ang kanyang repormang nasimulan. At sinabi nyang hindi naman sya nawawalan ng loob sapagkat alam nya ang legasiya ng reporma at pagpapatuloy nito ay nagagawa ng maraming namumuno sa ating bansa." Poe said.

Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara expressed satisfaction when Aquino mentioned his "legacy" projects that would do great benefit to the nation and the Filipino people.

Members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives walked out of the plenary before the start of Aquino's speech to protest Aquino's disregard of Congress' "power of the purse" when he implemented DAP.

Wearing a white barong with a yellow ribbon pin, Aquino arrived at the Batasan Complex at about 3:25 p.m. He was welcomed by Senate President Franklin Drilon and House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

The President's sisters, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, Pinky Aquino-Abellada, Viel Aquino-Dee and Kris Aquino, were present, wearing gowns with yellow embellishments, showing their support for their brother.

Several members of the Aquino Cabinet arrived together namely Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr., Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles, National Economic Development Authority Chief Arsenio Balisacan, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, and Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje.

Also present were Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Tesda Director General Joel Villanueva, Agriculture Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes, Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo, Commission on Higher Education head Patricia Licuanan, DOTC Secretary Emilio Abaya, Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, Rehabilitation and Recovery Secretary Panfilo Lacson, Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Abad and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

All Cabinet members were wearing yellow ribbons, showing solidarity amid criticisms against the administration involving the DAP, which the Supreme Court declared partially unconstitutional.

The President's Sona was attended by about 2,000 guests, composed of members of the 16th Congress, Supreme Court justices, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Cabinet secretaries, other national government officials, and invited guests.

The President’s address lasted 1 hour and 31 minutes, drawing applause 86 times.

Just few meters away from the Batasan Complex, at least three people were hurt and two others were arrested following a clash between authorities and militants groups that gathered along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

Civil disturbance teams dispersed the militant protesters as they broke through metal barriers prepared by the police near Ever Gotesco Mall, just few kilometers away from where Aquino delivered his speech.

Quezon City Police District (QCPD) chief Richard Albano ordered the use of water cannons but he maintained that authorities used maximum tolerance in dealing with the protesters.

The clash lasted for 15 minutes, police said.

Gilbert Boiser, a member of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) National Capital Region, said the police over reacted.

"Magiging part ng assessment naming 'yung ginawa ng mga police, obviously may violation ng human rights but we have to see baka din kasi may nakita talaga silang threat sa nangyari kaya nagreact sila ng ganoon," he said.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said they will seek advice from their lawyers regarding the steps that they will take after following the alleged violent dispersal.

"They treated us like chickens they will be putting in a cage, ang sagwa nung pinalibutan kami ng mga barbed wires. Hindi naming pwedeng hindi ipakita ‘yung pagtutol doon, what we did is an act of resistance and sila naman wala naman malinaw na threat sakanilang posisyon para magpakawala sila ng isang katerbang water cannonssa mga tao," he said.

Reyes claimed they secured permits to conduct a protest near the Batasang Pambansa "however the authorities ignored it."

Albano earlier said they will allow rallies but not beyond the Ever Gotesco Mall along the Commonwealth Avenue.

Reyes said initial reports showed that at least three protesters obtained minor injuries from the clash while the police arrested two. (Virgil Lopez/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Camille P. Balagtas/SDR/Third Anne Peralta/Sunnex)

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