Reflections on Our Development
Delivered at the Peninsula Hotel
June 23, 1992
One of the first lessons I learned in public office, is that as President, one is expected to lose one’s sense of humor. Or at least, in public. While in office, I have to learn to joke in private and to treat other people’s comments occasionally as jokes. Now that I will soon become one of you, I might as well allow for a smooth transition back to my sense of humor.
Thus, I would like to begin by announcing my first joke for the evening. During the last stretch of the elections, I often heard businessmen say, “Pigang-piga na kami.” There was, as my Presidential Management Staff euphemistically described to me, “donor fatigue.” Well, seeing this crowd tonight, I guess the well is not really all that dry.
After all, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry had just concluded a most interesting multisectoral conference – if only to see whether or not in 100 days you can recover your contributions to the campaign kitty.
End of joke.
Indeed, I am truly pleased to be with you tonight, as I submit to you my promised assessment of the economic legacy I leave behind.
For the past six years, an interminable debate has been going on between my economic and development managers, and the critics of my administration. Many times, my Cabinet has rolled with the punches; many more times, it has been punch-drunk. Both sides cite statistics. Both present arguments with cold, calculating logic. Some critics have accused my economic and development managers of treason. My managers in turn learned only too quickly, economics for development in this country, is not for the faint of heart. And economic development in this country, thank God and peoplepower, is as robust as robust can be.
For you may not have always agreed with this Government’s economic and development architects. But you will certainly agree with me that you were left to do what you wanted to do, what you needed to do, with least interference and maximum consultation from Government.
As I prepare to pass the reins of responsibility to my duly elected and proclaimed successor, let me take stock and put together a perspective of what we tried to accomplish in the economy these past six years.
1. A key focus had to be on restructuring the economy. We had to get out of cronyism, as practised by the Marcoses and those closest to them. For clearly, this led to the abuse of government power for private gain. The structures cronyism build propped up the pursuit of personal wealth through misuse and abuse of public authority. We had to replace these with those that ensured market discipline. We had to put an end to their divine right of plunder.
a) We had to ensure the independence and autonomy of the government financial institutions. The Philippine National Band and the Development Bank of the Philippines had to be rehabilitated.
b) We had to remove controls from the productive sectors of the economy. Monopolies that had such a stranglehold on agriculture had to be quickly dismantled.
c) We had to pursue privatization so that productive assets could be more efficiently used under private sector ownership, management and control.
d) We liberalized trade and investments so that productivity is enhanced through more open competition. We removed Quantitative Restrictions or QRs, lifted price controls, lowered protectionist tariffs. We initiated the liberalization of the foreign exchange market.
We had to begin to restructure an economy reeling from the most devastating post-war recession ever. And we did put the economy back on the growth track in 1986. We continue to sustain this, despite a global economic slowdown two years ago and the major disasters that have recently struck. Figures support this. The seal of good economic housekeeping from international agencies is a boost to this. The general feeling confirms this.
And then, we had to begin the trek to stability for growth and development.
Before we completely leave economic restructuring, let me tell you now my Joke No. 2 on the subject of cronyism. One of the most amusing stories which have been circulating these past six years is that about Mahjong Cronies, Bea Zobel and Betty Belmonte. At exactly five o’clock everyday, I’m supposed to stop working and begin playing mahjong. The story became so rife that Sister Christine Tan, observing that I was staying late at the Guest House, after a meeting with her, told me that perhaps I should relax and play mahjong with Bea and Betty. “Well, Sister,” I told her then, “Taking a break with those two very good women is fine. But neither of them knows how to play mahjong, so they cannot be my mahjong cronies.” End of Joke.
2. Indeed, we recognized that without stability, growth cannot be sustained. Painful as the austerities which stability imposed, still, they were the condition sine qua non of long term development.
a) We therefore had to put the Government’s own fiscal house in order. This was essential if we were to contain inflation down to prudent, single-digit levels. And we had to keep on fighting against inflation, because the people most deeply hurt and most seriously disadvantaged by it are the poorest of the poor, the extremely marginalized segments of society.
b) We were convinced that a low inflation rate is the best incentive to savings and investment. We therefore had to pursue our fight against inflation relentlessly if we were to make the Philippines conducive to higher rates of savings and investments.
Firmly believing in the principle of subsidiarity, the Aquino administration set out to intervene the least while serving the most. In the process, I daresay, we govern best. This way, we restored every Filipino’s right to prosperity, in an environment free enough to encourage the social responsibility to enhance it. We had to stabilize the economy. And stabilize it, we did. For sustained development, there is no substitute for democracy.
3. Thus, we focused on broadening the global orientation of the economy. Only by opening up could we stimulate even greater competitiveness and higher productivity among Philippine business. And regain our sterling credibility.
a) I have always believed that the main avenues to long-term growth and soundly-based development are trade and investments. More exports of Philippine goods and services. More foreign investment flows into the production sectors of the Philippine economy.
b) To ensure more exports and foreign investments, we had to increase Official Development Assistance or ODA flows so that infrastructure investments could be accelerated. Investments for roads and bridges, irrigation and drainage systems, energy and electrification, post harvest facilities, health clinics and schoolhouses. Our peso counterpart investments were quick to complement these resources.
This is why we pushed for tax and revenue reforms, and obtained them. After much gnashing of teeth, I am told. And some still believe our tax collecting agencies are toothless. That’s Joke No. 3, in case you hadn’t noticed.
This is also why we pushed for the Build-Operate-Transfer or BOT Law so that more substantial private sector participation becomes possible, especially for putting up peso counterpart funds.
c) We worked hard to lighten the burden of servicing our foreign debt. We succeeded in getting better terms from our commercial bank and Paris Club creditors. But the debate on this issue has raged without any scaling down of the emotionalism that attended it.
I have maintained all along that as a matter of practical reality, it is not possible to separate debt from the broader components of our international economic relations – the ODA under the Multilateral Aid Initiative-Philippine Assistance Program (MAI-PAP), more exports and more foreign investments.
Indeed, what we have been trying to accomplish brings a sum greater that its parts: the self-respect of the Filipino, the self-respect of a nation.
The self-respect of the Filipino is enhanced when he is part of an economy that is stable;
by a peso that can hold its own value without artificial props by a clutching, controlling, interfering bureaucracy;
by industries that are truly competitive, able to hold their ground without need for the mantle of protectionism or favoritism;
and by domestic productivity that goes up to world-class standards.
The self-respect of the Filipino nation is increased by institutions firmly in place supporting a socially-responsible, market-disciplined, internationally competitive economy;
by a development commitment to honor its sovereign obligations;
by creating and sustaining an environment conducive to productive partnerships between the local private sector and the international community;
and by ensuring that our infrastructure, specifically our power generation facilities, are adequate to cope with increasing demands of industry.
Self-respect. Stability. Restructuring. These have been the key strands in the warp and woof of a democracy with development. I daresay, the Aquino administration has done it justice. For these are the standards by which we strove to ensure coherence and consistency amidst the cacophony of many economic and development voices. While the perennial critics may have had the luxury of picking the issues they wish to hound us for, we had the duty of looking at the entire economic, financial and development system, with all its interdependent components. A decision on one part can have a wide-ranging impact on the whole.
One cannot be proud so as to admit of no shortcomings. I am sure I have disappointed many of you at one time or another, with one or some of my decisions. But I can look at anyone of you in the eye and say:
Never did anyone of you have to worry about your business being taken over by Government at a mere whim or sign of the pen;
Never did anyone of you have to hesitate about advertising the real profits you are making, out of fear of being asked to share – nay, out of fear of being pressured to give more or all to powers that be;
Never before have the corporate and financial sectors made as much profit as they did in the Philippines these past six years.
In my time, and I believe, so on to the following generations of Philippine presidents, the only thing you will really have to worry about is the BIR. And that’s not a joke.
Indeed, we are fortunate that the Filipino businessman is not all that materialistic. Many times I have seen how you narrow the profit margin as the service margin for God, country and people so requires. Nowhere in the world have I come across businessmen so involved in socio-civic work, in capability-building for NGOs, in relief and reconstruction work for those displaced by calamities.
So now, let me invite you to go one step further. I urge you to have face-to-face encounters with the people you help. This should not be viewed only as a natural consequence of your desire to know where your money goes. More important, the people you help will also know who you are. Who knows, they may even pray for your greater success. As I always do, for you. So that you may better serve our people directly, by reaching out to the marginalized or indirectly, by being fair and square in your business and giving the consumer a good buy.
To those of you who had wanted me to appoint you, or your recommendees, to government positions, especially board directorships, but didn’t, I hope you have forgiven me by now. George Washington, the American President, on his last day in office, had to write his wife to tell her how this power of appointment made bitter enemies of his old friends.
To those of you I had wanted to appoint in Government but succeeded in coming up with some tearjerking reason to prevent it, I have already forgiven you – for now. I am magnanimous, too, when I bow out of office.
Indeed, in the end, I’d like to be able to say that it is to you who are outside government, that we handed the spoils. For we had labored mightily, so that the Filipino people shall be the victors.
As for me, I shall practice what I preach, and will continue to help our people face-to-face, starting with the small farmers in the countryside. I am putting together something like a mini-MAI-PAP, or Multi-NGO Aid Initiative and People’s Assistance Program. And already, I am inviting you to consider to be part of a future pledging session.
And now for the final joke of the evening. When the matter of pensions of former Presidents was brought to my attention, I had my legal advisers prepare the appropriate Executive Order so that I could at least increase the pension of former President Macapagal from P3,500 a month to P8,000 – as much as what widows of former Presidents get. Out of delicadeza, I included a colatilla that this E.O. shall not apply to me. Don’t feel sorry for me. I understand former Presidents can charge honoraria for their speaking engagements. So, the next time you invite me, you’d better have something more than the dinner. The plaques are good, but former Presidents will need the money. End of Joke.
So, let me thank you sincerely for being there with me all these six years. Thank you for being there during the failed coup attempts, the calamities. In a very real sense, the business sector is the conscience of our development.
Again, thank you for your support these past six years. Thank you, too, for your help during the campaign for Eddie Ramos. To those who voted for him because I asked you to and to those who did even if I didn’t, thank you. To those who didn’t, well, you can now vote for him everyday for six years.
Thank you and good night.