Bringing Together A Nation Where Others Would Divide It
Delivered during the Businessman's Conference, Manila Hotel
October 20, 1987
You invited me here because you say you are concerned about the Presidency, about the way things are going – or not going – in the economy, in the labor front, in politics, in the war against the Communists. Above all, I am told, you are concerned about me, and my leadership.
But first: the formalities. Let me say that it is a pleasure to meet with businessmen, “the engines of economic growth,” as you are referred to in all our economic plans. In the next twenty months, I hope to see many more of you, together with those who work with you, on the shop floor and in the fields of your business. Because it is there, where Filipinos put their shoulders to the wheel of our national economy, that our future is made.
I have to say that at the beginning because there has been more talk than work in our country today. That is a pity. Because recovery and progress won’t come through talking. At this time, when all the talk is about coups and strikes, it is worth remembering that it is work, by all of us, that is going to lift us to better times.
When politics gets in the way of work, we have a problem. And there’s been too much politics.
Let me get down to the issues that made you invite me here.
Issue number one: Government lacks a program of economy and politics.
First, the economy. It is said that government lacks a coherent plan of economy. Wrong. We have a detailed Medium Term Plan. We are following that plan to the letter, making adjustments here and there as need arises. A lot of spirited and intelligent debate went into the making of that plan. Some people said that the over-spirited debates proved a flaw in the government. To the contrary, I thought the debates assured a better plan. The Plan sets the direction this government would like the country to take. It is not set in concrete, because we do not pretend that the Plan foresees every contingency. But there is a direction. If you don’t like the direction, let us know. We can reopen the debate. This is a democracy.
The state of the economy was clearly and accurately described by me in my State of the Nation Message. I recounted the disappointments we had met in our effort to revive the economy with external assistance, but I also pointed out the healthy signs in the economy. Recession bottomed out in the late 1986. We posted a modest 1.5 percent GNP growth, whereas the two previous years had been negative. The reforms we had implemented improved the situation further. First quarter GNP, 1987, posted a growth of 5.5 percent. Unemployment dropped from 12 percent to 11.2. The exchange rate remained stable, but I made no promise that it was locked there with any degree of permanence. We had $2.4 billion in reserves. For the first time in three years, investments started to grow.
These were the effects of the structural reforms we had implemented. All monopolies, from sugar to sardines are gone; more than 2,000 items are freed from licensing, with a further 260 items to go. Price controls, whose inefficiencies and distortions always meant they hit the poor hardest, are gone. From power costs to rural credit, we have moved to reform and clean up, so that we can put the country back to work. We shall do more to deregulate all economic activities, so that the businessman is not hostage to the bureaucrat and the politician. With due regard to public health and safety we shall move to eliminate licenses and permits to the extent possible.
I pointed out certain weaknesses in our economy – those weaknesses have been aggravated by the public reaction to the August 28 coup attempt. The reaction, let me emphasize, not the coup attempt. The coup was defeated by a timely decision to use maximum force. But our victory was quickly undone by reactions to the coup. That reaction took the form of rumors of another coup; of talk about fatal weakness of the government, which had roundly defeated the coup; of divisions between military and civilians although the coup was defeated by the solidarity of the two sectors. What happened?
I am not surprised that instead of backslapping congratulations, there was hand wringing instead. For we Filipinos did it again. Coups, successful or unsuccessful, are usually bloodless affairs. But the last attempt was one of the bloodiest anywhere in the world. Another Filipino first. But it doesn’t erase the fact that the coup was roundly defeated, the perpetrators are swaying in LSTs awaiting trial, and their leaders are in hiding.
But better than defeating coups, is deterring them, and removing, or at least reducing, the reasons they get some support. The soldiers have legitimate needs that have not been met, BUT they have never been ignored by my government. We continue to scrape the barrel of our resources to give them better conditions and better equipment for the all-important task of keeping the peace and destroying our enemies. I will go back to this later.
It is said that Government has had no blueprint of political development. I had a blueprint that you helped me formulate when I challenged Marcos for the possession of state power. The blueprint called for a restoration of democracy, respect for its processes, adoption of a democratic constitution, the establishment of its necessary institutions such as an independent and honorable judiciary, an accountable Executive, and a representative legislature. I came to power with a democratic blueprint that did not sit well with those who had other ideas about how power should be shared and exercised in this country, such as by a junta. I rejected those ideas and stuck to my blueprint, and I carried it out to the letter and in record time, despite numerous attempts to sidetrack me by coups and threats, all of which I defeated.
We now have a Supreme Court and a revamped judiciary that no one can take exception to, that everyone lauds for its new honesty, competence and independence.
We gave the nation a Constitution that stripped me of the vast, supreme powers I held in my single hand, and got it ratified by a sweeping majority such as this nation had never experienced in its entire history. It is truly a people’s Constitution and the manner of its ratification did honor once more to the great people we are so fortunate to be part of.
Pursuant to that Constitution, I called for legislative elections. There were efforts to derail those elections. The people came through again, voting in record numbers, to give us a genuinely elected and truly representative Congress.
Early next year, we shall have local elections.
Part of the blueprint called for a reorganization of the government, to make it more efficient and responsive. And I gave you, by and large, men and women of the highest integrity and competence to administer that new government.
So did I have a blueprint? You know I did. And you helped me implement it, in record time to the astonishment of a skeptical world. More than a blueprint, it is now an accomplished and, if I can help it, a permanent fact.
Issue number two: relations with the military. In a sound democracy, civilian government and its military arm have each their respective roles. One makes policy, including military policy, the other enforces it. But, obviously, we have been undergoing a period of adjustment, as all our institutions, the military included, come to terms with the new democracy. Still, the facts speak for themselves. With the military, we have crushed every challenge to the supremacy of civilian authority. There was turmoil. Naturally, because neither side would give up without a fight. They fought me, I fought back. Surrender would have been neater, but it is not in me to ever yield. I want peace as much as the next person, but not at any price. Reality is never neat or nice.
The August 28 coup attempt reveals a fissure in the military. That is true. But more importantly, the determined and forceful putting down of the attempt by the military shows the triumph of professionalism. As I said, there are groups still resisting their personal and permanent loss of power and prestige, but the military as a whole demonstrated that it is firmly with, not against, the new democracy. I retain full confidence in the professional leadership of the Armed Forces.
The period since the coup offers an even more interesting lesson. For all the threats of a further coup attempt, we have actually seen a retreat from military to political action. I suspect the coup bubble is burst. Threatened coups are used to leverage the political pressure. Somebody forgot to tell them that the place for politics is not the parade ground anymore but the halls of Congress. I have every confidence that their fellow officers will finally get this message through to the dwindling band of coup makers.
Yet I know there will always be ambition. And you should know that I will always be there to stop it from getting out of hand. Those who are desperate to retrieve their lost privileges will do what they can: I will do what I must to stop them.
The third issue is the insurgency. There is talk again about new talks with the NDF. Let me clarify that. The truce ended last February when I ordered the AFP to resume operations against the Communist insurgents. Talk hadn’t worked, so it was time to fight. And it is still fighting time. Therefore any talk of resuming talks with the NDF is unauthorized. The insurgents are daily killing our soldiers and civilians. They are destroying bridges and power lines, burning public buildings.
They blow up bridges, we rebuild them. They take down our power lines, we put them up again. All this takes a heavy toll on our economy and meager resources, but is has not and will not in any measure reduce our resolve to fight back and defeat them. The army has orders to hunt them down and pursue the war against the insurgents with absolute vigor.
Poor as our people are, and difficult enough as it is to recover from the ravages of dictatorship, the insurgents are determined to make life worse for everyone. By a twisted logic, they hope that the people will invite them to power so they will stop harassing them. They forgot that Marcos tried the same approach with the Filipino people and is now in Hawaii regretting it. The extreme right is using the same strategy. They think that their coups, bombings and assassinations will break the people’s resistance to their brand of government and make them accept peace and quiet at any price. I invite them especially to look at their mentor in Hawaii and contemplate his fate.
The war against the Communists must be waged by civilians as well as by the military, by OICs and by officers. I hold both responsible for the results I am still waiting for.
Of course, military initiatives are not enough. Economic improvement and expanded social services are the long term and final solutions. But we need military victories to buy us the time to make our programs work; to buy us the conditions in which our services can reach the people and change their lives for the better.
One month before the August 28 coup attempt, I devoted a third of my State of the Nation Message to the requirements of a better fighting force, and the Congress is now acting on my specific requests.
My counter-insurgency policy has always been clear. First talk, in keeping with my pledge to negotiate a peace that respects law and democracy. And then fight, should it fail. I have said clearly all that needs to be said. Am I expected to take up an M-16 rifle myself and do it, just like I went to the fiscal’s office myself to vindicate my honor?
The fourth issue you want a straight answer to is labor. I know you believe that the strike situation has become bad, nor are you willing to accept anymore the answer that this is the exuberance of democracy. And I don’t blame you because there is something premeditated and carefully planned about this exuberance.
I opened my remarks by saying that the future of our nation will be decided on the shop floors and fields of the economy. We have to get our labor relations right. That means labor must accept the same values that drive our democracy: tolerance, fairness, respect for the law, and a shared commitment to bring progress not chaos to our nation.
The right of collective bargaining is enshrined in the Constitution, but so is the duty to preserve order and respect for the law. I believe we must establish a decent daily wage for all our working people and, beyond that, we must have a flexible wage bargaining system that reflects productivity. But I will not tolerate the abuse of any rights. I will not allow an unruly minority to use the rights of labor to improve the conditions of labor to achieve a Communist victory instead. The way to power is the ballot, not the strike.
I therefore order the police and other peacekeeping authorities to give full assistance to the Labor Department to remove all illegal blockades at the factory gates.
A special peacekeeping force has been organized and is now being trained to enforce return to work orders and injunctions issued by the Department, so that our response to resistance will be calibrated and reasonable in the application of force.
The Department of National Defense and the Department of Labor will finalize and sign within this week “The Guidelines for the Conduct of the INP/AFP Personnel During Strikes and Lockouts.”
The Labor Department has issued the guidelines to clarify the conduct of strikes and lockouts to clarify the rights and obligations of the parties to labor disputes.
But for all that, I ask you, the business community, to do your share. Business operates for profits, and it is hard indeed for all of us to make a go of things while the economy is still struggling to recover. Our laboring class is very poor, and their lives are truly difficult. It amazes me how they survive. I ask you to search your minds and hearts, and probe your pockets, to share with your brothers and sisters in the labor sector the gains you make. Business and labor are indispensable partners in the growth of a free economy. They should act toward each other in that light. Labor has its rights, as much as you have yours. But in the end, what will work is not the mutual enforcement of rights so much as a mutual commitment to grow together in prosperity. That commitment has been demonstrated by the Filipino small businessman and by the Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs who appear to have no problems about this government’s alleged lack of vision, because they have a 20/20 vision for the opportunities that democracy and honest government have opened up.
They know my vision of this nation. A nation immersed in work, and not lost in idle talk. A nation free and at peace with itself and its neighbors; a nation respected in the councils of the world. A nation strong because its people are strong, healthy, well-fed, well-housed, well-educated and firm in their commitment to the rights and freedoms that are the foundation of their dignity. It is a vision we can achieve as surely as we achieved the first: the restoration of democracy which we now enjoy.
The fifth issue I want to raise is foreign debt. That debt is growing even without fresh borrowing. Servicing the debt alone takes up 40 percent of the budget, and over 45 percent of our export earnings. In the next six years we shall have to pay $20 billion to our official and private creditors, while we shall be getting only $4 billion more in additional loans. That means we shall pay out $16 billion more that we will be getting.
Our policy has been very clear from the start: growth must take priority, for the plain and simple reason that if we have no money to pay, we can’t. And if we starve the nation of essential services, there may be no one around willing to honor the debt.
Meanwhile, I have instructed our representatives to consolidate the rescheduling agreement by November 15th. That should end speculation and remove at least one excuse for hoarding dollars.
The sixth issue is what really brought you here. The question you all really want to ask is: Can she hack it? Isn’t she weak? These are the questions that were asked by all those who have openly challenged my power, authority and resolve, and who have suffered for it. I speak of the shamefaced officers who have abandoned their followers to await trial in LSTs, and the failed politicians who made the last places in the last elections and are now trying to find a backdoor to power.
Well, they can forget it. Although I am a woman and physically small, I have blocked all doors to power except elections in 1992.
You invited me here on the issue of Presidential leadership. The honeymoon is over, isn’t it? It didn’t last very long. By mid-1986, my Cabinet was getting it. By August, the attacks were hitting closer to the Presidency. And now, it is out openly against me. The Cory who could do no wrong in those early invigorating months after February, 1986, is seen as having done nothing at all. Nothing, inspite of a Constitution, a Congress, and a well-thought out body of legislation that sets the direction of this nation to progress if you have the courage to follow.
Still you ask, Is she weak? Again, I say, let my scattered enemies answer that.
Still, you have reason to ask. For the style of government, by consultation, which I hoped would get your understanding and support, has disappointed you, has given you a sense of drift.
It is time again to simplify.
Henceforth I shall rule directly as President. To the ad hoc committees and commissions created to inform me on their special areas, I now add one more: an Action Committee with a single member: me.
A President is supposed to be above details, but it seems I must do nearly everything myself.
For a modest start, Metro Manila Governor Jejomar Binay will now turn over the responsibility and authority for collecting the garbage in Manila to OIC Mayor Mel Lopez one week to clean up the mess that’s been neglected. The public should cooperate. Let’s respect ourselves by not making a garbage can of our surroundings.
The Department of Public Works is directed to cover all potholed in the First District of Manila within one week, and is given one week periods to fix up all the other districts in succession.
The National Power Corporation is poised to increase its rates due to the increase in the international price of crude oil. There will be no increase in power rates this year. Instead, I have directed all concerned agencies to submit immediately the necessary measures to prevent this increase, which measures I will implement this week.
The PLDT must attend to all complaints within 24 to 48 hours, or at least apprise the subscriber that the fault is in the cable and how long it will take to fix it.
I urge the PLDT management to come up with a comprehensive program for improving service and upgrading facilities. The Central Bank, the Department of Transportation and Communications, the NTC, and the NEDA are directed to give them the fullest assistance.
I have ordered an investigation of MERALCO on the frequent brownouts, scheduled and unscheduled, that destroy industrial machinery and cut the incomes of our workers.
There is grave doubt about the seriousness of our privatization policy. There is always an excuse for government not to sell. Fine. Therefore let me make this clear:
I want government to get out of business. I want it to cash in on all the investments it should never have made.
Non-performing assets listed to be sold, WILL be sold in open bid to the highest bidder. First preference goes to the bidder with most cash up front, using, and let me emphasize this, only fresh money. Buyers who want to use the target company’s own funds are obviously going to run it to the ground. The preferred procedure is open bidding. Filipinos and foreigners will compete on the same terms, subject of course to constitutional limitations. In general, ability to pay the highest price will decide conclusively. That is how PCIBank and Associated Bank will be sold. Combank is a negotiated deal because there is only one serious bidder. I will not tie up hundreds of millions of pesos just to keep some people in their jobs.
All our hotels are up for sale. Including Manila Hotel. Foreigners are invited to bid for the allowable equity. The sale of Philippine Airlines is under serious consideration. We can’t have it landing on the South Superhighway. There’s enough traffic there.
The policy, in brief, is: no funny deals. No clever schemes. No fears, no favors.
If anyone says that I made an exception for him or her, report it to the press and to me. I got a copy of an application filed with Central Bank for the importation of 8 million cases of apples. It is signed, “Corazon Aquino, President of the Philippines,” as if the signer wasn’t sure if the Central Bank knew I was President. Now that’s a crook who isn’t going to get far. More likely, that’s a piece of black propaganda that isn’t going to fly. 8 million cases means more apples than there are Filipinos.
I cannot issue a directive to all the banks on this matter, but let it be known that any application for importation of anything, apples, castañas, oranges and guns, alleged to be signed, endorsed, supported or whatever by me or any of my kin should be reported to me and to the NBI.
I have heard the talk of the coffeeshops. I am addressing your concern about graft and corruption in government. I have directed the Special Prosecutor’s Office and the NBI to give first priority to the investigation and prosecution of graft and corruption cases against senior government officials, including the members of my Cabinet.
I am not sorry the honeymoon is over. The sooner we get over the fantasy of the honeymoon and face the hard work of marriage – the marriage of President and nation – the better.
I recently read a formulation of Presidential leadership by Hedley Donovan: “The honesty of Abraham Lincoln, the intelligence of Henry Kissinger and the soothing TV personality of Marcus Welby/Robert Young.” He goes on to quote approvingly a former US congressman who said: “The President should like his fellow man, and he should have read Machiavelli.” Transposed to this country, you might say the ideal President would have the courage of Abad Santos, the intelligence of Diokno, the charisma of Magsaysay, and the love of country of the men and women and children who converged on EDSA in February ’86.
That’s quite a tall order, and it is no surprise that the ideal President has never lived and is defined by the traits of different leaders facing different challenges in different times.
I do just fine on the honesty and liking my fellowman, although recently there have been exceptions. But there is no regret on my part if there is not much of Machiavelli. I don’t have all those qualities. Some of my enemies, who have contributed to the mess left by the previous government, claim to possess them. Maybe, but they lack the one quality I alone have: election to the Presidency and a mandate for my principles and policies that has been tested in a massive voter’s registration, a plebiscite, a sweeping electoral victory for the Congress, and in five coups that were handily beaten by me and my forces. They lack the one thing the people will never give them: trust.
I do not have all the qualities of the ideal President who never existed. But I have the qualities for the leadership of our nation in these times. After years of stealing, degradation and abuse from our leaders, the Filipino people made a clear choice. They wanted a leader whose honesty and commitment to them would never be in doubt; who would not clamp down but rather open up the country so that all could be heard, and who would bind our wounds so that we could, as one nation, work together to overcome our common crisis of economic decline.
I expect sniping from yesterday’s men, passed over as they are, by the march of history. To all other Filipinos, though, I say the tide is with us. Together our future can be as bright as we choose to make it. So judge my leadership as the sum of all our strengths. What sets me apart is that I bring us together where others would divide us as a nation. Those who challenge me, challenge us.
The last time I spoke here before you, I left you with a slogan that carried us to victory. I leave you with this:
Sobra na ang komunista.
Tama na sa kudeta.
Ipaglaban ang demokrasya.