Manila: The Philippine president says three years of anti-corruption reforms have eradicated his country’s image as the “sick man of Asia” but he added he has lost patience over continuing problems such as large-scale smuggling and declared a tougher crackdown against wrongdoing in government.
President Benigno Aquino shamed and praised government agencies. Listeners, however, were disappointed with his lack of stand on the alleged money laundering of countrywide development funds by lawmakers, lack of anti-poverty programme, major development projects, and controls to stop rising prices of energy and utilities.
“We have a long way to travel. Solutions to our problems are not instant. We have started pursuing the right path and gained a lot from it.
“You [Filipinos] should continue [what we have begun],” said Aquino in his one-hour and a half State of the Nation Address (Sona) at the joint session of Congress at the House of Representatives in suburban Quezon City.
Aquino vented his anger at the chief of bureau of immigration’s law division, an immigration supervisor, and acting immigration officer, and two officers of the department of transportation and communications who were charged with bribery and grave misconduct for having allowed Park Sungjun to leave Manila last March 19, despite his involvement in a $25 million (Dh92 million) investment scam in South Korea.
Aquino chastised the Bureau of Customs for allegedly allowing smuggling, but did not name former Customs Commission Angelito Alvarez who was axed last August 2011, for unaccounted 3,600 container vans in 2010; 25 cars and Harley Davidson motorbikes from Texas in 2011.
Aquino recalled the ouster of National Irrigation Administration chief Antonio Nangel (whom he did not name), in late June this year for only accomplishing 60 per cent of government’s target for agriculture in 2012.
In contrast, Aquino praised the tourism department for increased arrival of tourists. He cited the education department for lowering the prices of subsidized books for primary and secondary public schools; and for building more schools, closing the gap of lack of schools for one million students.
Aquino mentioned the anti-poverty programme of the department of social welfare and development, adding it is now serving four million poor families, from a low of 700,000 in early 2010, with less than P1,000 (Dh85) subsidies for each poor child enrolled in public schools and health clinics.
The funding, which is borrowed from the World Bank, has been criticised as dole out that strengthens politics of patronage.
Many observers said it was Aquino’s indirect response to reports that poverty level in the Philippines has not changed dramatically, from 28,8 per cent in 2006, 28.6 per cent in 2009, and 27,9 per cent in 2012.
Aquino said the training programme undertaken nationwide by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to out of school youth has resulted in more than 70 percent employment per sector.
It was Aquino’s response to reports that 2.89 million people are unemployed and 7.93 million are underemployed in January this year.
Aquino was praised the department of agrarian reform for starting last Monday the allocation of 6,000 square metres of lots to more than 6,000 sugar farmers and beneficiaries at the Hacienda Luisita which is owned by the family of his mother, former president Corazon Aquino.
It was in response to the 2011 resolution of the Supreme Court, that farmers at the large sugar plantation should be given land.
Observers said that the implementation of land reform at the Hacienda Luisita will be the best test of Aquino’s presidency.
The pursuit of modernisation plan by the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines is worth mentioning, said Aquino.
Citing the recommendations of the agency that finialsied a geo-hazard mapping system, Aquino called for the clearing of illegal settlers and illegally built buildings on waterways, saying this could stop floodings in Metro Manila and in the provinces during the rainy season.
He also praised the National Disaster Risk Reduction and management Council for doing its job during calamities spawned by about 20 typhoons that savage the Philippines annually.
He identified four major airport projects in metro areas in the provinces, adding that infrastructure development projects have started outside of Metro Manila.
He called on Congress to pass a bill that will allow the implementation of the peace resolution of the 16-year old peace talks of the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation front (MILF), a Filipino-Muslim rebel group, that began in 1978.
In response, Congressman Neri Colmenares of Nation First, a militant multi-party sector at the House of Representatives, said: “[In the Sona of the president] there were many details on unimportant things, and so little details on important things such as people’s demand for lower prices of oil and water.”
“We wanted to hear about plans to stop the increase of prices of oil and utilities,” said Congressman Colmenares.
Walter Uy, a student, also said: “We wanted to hear his response to allegations that P10 billion of the lawmakers’ priority development assistance fund [PDAF] in 2010.
“How long has it been going on? Are all lawmakers, whether with the administration or the opposition, involved in it?”
“We also wanted to know his response to the alleged involvement of relatives in the extortion attempt of an official in the department of transportation, made to a Czech company that wanted to bid for the sale of coaches in the government’s elevated train system project,” said Uy.
Aquino’s term will end in 2016.