Aquino highlights achievements in speech

Aquino highlights achievements in speech
Philippine President Benigno Aquino (centre) being greeted by lawmakers after his fifth State of the Nation Address yesterday at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, Manila.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino touted his achievements and vilified his administration's critics as he sought to revive a presidency beset by the worst political crisis to confront him since his election in 2010.

In his fifth State of the Nation Address yesterday, he ticked off statistics he said showed that the benefits from reforms he had set in motion were already trickling to a large section of the population. He said poverty incidence, for instance, retreated from 27.9 per cent in 2012 to 24.9 per cent last year.

He said his government also managed to raise tax collection from 1.094 trillion pesos (S$31.4 billion) in 2010 to 1.536 trillion pesos last year, and more than doubled its infrastructure budget from 200.3 billion pesos in 2011 to 404.3 billion pesos this year. Mr Aquino's annual address to the country came at a particularly critical time this year.

He is grappling with a massive corruption scandal that has tainted his image as an anti-graft crusader.

It erupted when the Supreme Court this month declared partly illegal a 145 billion peso stimulus programme that Mr Aquino created in 2011 with budget savings, saying it encroached on Congress' exclusive power to appropriate funds.

Mr Aquino has defended his stimulus programme by arguing that fast-tracking disbursements of public funds helped arrest five quarters of slowing growth in 2011 and allowed the Philippines to post blistering growth rates in 2012 and last year.

Mr Aquino's critics, however, insist that while his intentions might have been good, he misappropriated state funds and, in doing so, circumvented the Constitution.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Aquino eased back on criticising the Supreme Court after previously chastising its ruling, which he said would have a "chilling effect" on the economy.

He said yesterday he would submit to Congress a supplementary budget to fund projects that were still to be completed under his stimulus programme, in line with the court's prescriptions.

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Alfredo Yao suggested that Mr Aquino had struck a conciliatory tone in his speech to avoid a clash with the apex court that could lead to a constitutional crisis.

"The fact that the President is asking for a supplemental budget seems like an acknowledgement of the decision," Senator Sonny Angara said.

The controversy has sunk Mr Aquino's approval rating to a historic low.

Turning to his critics yesterday, Mr Aquino likened them to a "noisy orchestra" that "seeks to punch holes in our boat" and "connives to waylay our journey to prosperity".

Analysts, however, were unmoved by his achievement list, saying the speech was long on rehashed statements and short on clarity.

"I expected him to detail what he intends to do in his remaining two years, but I did not see that," said Mr Temario Rivera, a fellow of the Centre for People Empowerment in Governance.

Ms Marie Fe Villamejor, dean of the National College of Public Administration and Governance, said that even the benefits Mr Aquino cited had not brought the "inclusive growth" he had been promising for years.

"When we look deeper into the numbers, those who are really benefiting are the affluent. The poor, they are still poor," she said.

This article was first published on July 29, 2014.
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