Corazon Aquino's First State of the Nation Address
Fifteen years ago, in this season of the year, my husband stood in the Senate and delivered what turned out to be the valedictory of Philippine democracy. He exposed the conspiracy to place the country under martial law, dissolve the Congress and set the stage for the unremitting plunder of our patrimony, and the degradation of our great name and honor.
The dictatorship’s last mockery of democracy was committed in this hall, where the loser was proclaimed winner of the Snap Election. Today I join you in rededicating this hall to true democracy.
The route to these Chambers was long and difficult, fraught with danger and paved with sacrifice. The electoral contest just completed has been exacting for all and bitter for some. But the Nation has spoken. The complete leadership of this country has been chosen; the configuration of their powers and duties permanently set by the new Constitution.
An election is as much an expression as it is an exercise of the national will. We have been made instruments of this will. Our performance will bear witness to its wisdom.
It is my duty under the Constitution to apprise you now of the State of the Nation – but henceforth its continuing progress shall be our common accountability.
The Economic Program
When I took power in this country 17 months ago, I was immediately called upon to deal with the dangerous combination of a severely distressed economy and a growing insurgency; threats which fed on each other and on the hopelessness and confusion which prevailed. Production had contracted by 11 percent for two consecutive years, bringing unemployment rates to double-digit levels. Twelve percent of the labor force, nearly 2.6 million workers were unemployed. (And up to now, 750,000 join the labor force every year.) Real per capita income had been set back 10 years. New investments had dried up and business confidence was at an all-time low. Interest payments on a $26.3 billion external debt took almost half our export earnings. And as I must stress yet again, no part of this debt benefited, or perhaps was even seriously expected to benefit the Filipino people. Yet their posterity to the third generation and farther are expected to pay it.
Poverty blighted the land. Five million families (or 59 percent of the total) lived below the poverty line, as compared to 45 percent in 1971. Dictatorship had done nothing but make more of our people poorer.
It also made us sicker. The prevalence of malnutrition among our young and the incidence of birth fatalities had risen at alarming rates.
In short, I inherited an economy in shambles and a polity with no institutions save my Presidency to serve as the cornerstone of the new democracy that we set out to build.
I had taken the oath to be President of a country that had lost everything, everything but honor. But with honor came a renewed faith in national leadership and in the ability of our race to change things for the better given the will and the courage to do it.
I responded with an economic reform program aimed at recovery in the short, and sustainable growth in the long run. More concretely, it addressed itself to the basic problems of unemployment and underemployment, and the consequent mass poverty.
The program calls for comprehensive structural reforms of the internal economy, complemented by no less important external economic cooperation.
There are two basic features of this program:
The first is its comprehensiveness with respect to structural reforms. We have come to regard the scope of reform not as a problem, but as a challenge, as necessary as it is ambitious; and as realizable as the strength of our commitment allows.
The second basic feature is its reliance on the private sector to carry the main burden of growth. We have reaffirmed our faith in private initiative to propel and sustain our economy. Our premise is that, for as long as free market forces dictate the dynamics of the business environment, the private sector will respond aggressively. As a corollary, the program defines and limits government’s participation in the economy.
Internal Structural Reforms
The dictatorship gave special privileges to government corporations and select individuals. In their various forms these enterprises had several things in common: They enriched the few at the cost of impoverishing the many. They distorted markets and factors of production. And they bore the aspect of legitimacy that made challenge and change impossible.
We abolished these monopolies and special privileges and the effect was felt almost immediately. Fertilizer prices dropped 33 percent and farmgate prices of copra nearly doubled in 1986. We trace in part the renewed vigor in agriculture and the general economy to these and similar measures.
We committed ourselves to a fair and transparent trade liberalization program that is consistent with the country’s continuing weaknesses. Some 1,000 items were released, from a complex bureaucracy of licensing requirements, into a regime of rational tariff protection.
We removed price controls which had been an almost permanent fIxture of the past regime. And yet inflation was less than 1 percent for the whole of 1986 and our estimates place it at an average of 1 percent for the first half of this year.
We instituted tax reforms to shelter the poor from onerous taxes and equitably redistribute the tax burden. We created an Asset Privatization Trust and a Committee on Privatization to start the divestiture of government control or participation in private business and, with the Sequestered Assets Disposition Authority, to help fund the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program that I enacted last week.
Recession hit the international economy in the early eighties. Every economy suffered, but the heaviest toll was taken on the fragile economies of the developing nations. One of the worst hit was our own. The dictatorship had already borrowed heavily, exceeding the debt ceiling mandated by law, when interest rates shot up. Meanwhile, a material portion of the debt had gone to projects that offered virtually no hope of payback. Conceived to either line pockets or inflate egos, these projects would never contribute to the repayment of the debt.
The domestic structural reform program we have initiated cannot be pursued in earnest unless the necessary financing is made available. Fresh funding is needed to effect adjustments in the industrial structure, to assist new ventures, and to support our social programs. This funding cannot come from the domestic economy. Low domestic incomes cannot generate the required savings. Meanwhile debt service was taking half our export earnings. Rescue could only come from foreign sources, both official and private.
Our appeal for external economic cooperation was aimed at gaining increased flexibility in our domestic resource management. The program required a reduction in our debt burden and increased support from bilateral and multilateral institutions. Simply put, we needed to buy time for our structural reforms to start paying dividends. And time is money. While a fool and his money are easily parted, we have discovered that our foreign creditors are not such great fools as the past leadership of our country.
It is my sad duty to report to you that the results of the recently concluded debt renegotiations are far short of our expectations and, more importantly, of our urgent needs. Let me put it bluntly. Our extraordinary achievement in fulfilling the first requirement of renegotiation, the establishment of free and responsible Government, gained us applause but no substantial accommodation from our foreign creditors. The saga of democracy had made great television, but no appreciable change on their business priorities. We were treated not much better than other debtors, even those who had rejected the austered discipline mandated by restructuring. A discipline we had readily accepted. Incredibly, despite the significant reduction in country risk effected by the democratic restoration, we were not accorded the terms given other countries, which got longer periods, better rates and greater latitude for growth.
We cannot help but feel that our foreign creditors took undue and unfair advantage of the internal difficulties we have had with factions intent on subverting this Government and destroying our democracy. Under the continuing threat of a cutoff in trade credits, which would have given new vigor and a signal to seize the moment to the enemies of democracy, we had to relent and sign the accord.
Nothing is more revealing of the tenor of the negotiations than the insistence that our Government assume the liability of Planters Products to a consortium of banks. Their private risk would have to become our public liability. Nonetheless, the demand stood and provided the none too subtle coercion – sign or face the prospect of a protracted delay in the finalization of the debt restructuring program agreed to in March 1987.
We do not bow our heads in shame, for the shame is not ours. Yet even as necessity has forced our hand to agreement, we vow never again to let the patrimony of this nation lie at the feet of these noble houses that have finally shown the true face of foreign finance.
For the record, our foreign debt stands today in excess of $28 billion. The increase from $26.3 billion when we took power is largely accounted for by the weakening of the dollar against major currencies. In the next six years, we shall have to pay $20.4 billion to our official and private creditors. Net payments could average 5 percent of our total output. Close to 40 percent of Government expenditures and over 45 percent of our projected merchandise export earnings, or 27 percent of all foreign earnings, will go towards servicing this debt. The bottomline, honorable members of Congress, is that we have been left little room for domestic error. It is for this reason that I have yielded more to prudence than desire in the reform measures I have enacted. I have aimed for modest successes to avoid a cornprehensive failure.
Still, despite our disappointments in this sector, I am pleased to report certain healthy signs in the economy. Recession bottomed out in late 1986. GNP posted a modest growth at 1. 5 percent; significant nonetheless because of the previous two years’ negative performance. Exports posted a volume growth of 21.7 percent and provided the much needed boost. To be candid, as we must always be, fortuity can account for these improvements as much as the reform measures we had taken. For the low 0.7 percent inflation rate in 1986 was largely a reflection of the drop in oil prices and the prevailing weak demand and purchasing power.
Our reform measures, however, started to pay dividends in the first half of this year. Our estimate of 1st Quarter GNP is 5.5 percent. Unemployment declined from 12 percent last year to 11.2 percent. The exchange rate remained relatively stable. And gross international reserves at the Central Bank stood at about $2.4 billion as of end-June 1987, or the equivalent of five months merchandise imports.
What is important is that this time it is not the world market, but a reinvigorated domestic economy that is paving the way to recovery. Investments reversed their contractionary trend of the past three years. The 23 percent growth rate in investments promises a respectable real GNP growth for the rest of the year.
The current budget has a definite bias for health care, education and social services expenditures. Some 6.9 million people received food assistance from the Food and Nutrition Program in 1986. We began to expand the coverage of Medicare. Teachers’ salaries were increased, and a leaner and more relevant curriculum was adopted. Some 5.2 million poor availed of vital services such as self-employment assistance, job placement, and family planning. For 1987, we have made P4.2 billion available for long-term mortgages in support of the national shelter program.
National Defense and Security
The price of security and national honor, no less than liberty is eternal vigilance. And that too has a price. Our country is threatened by totalitarian slavery on the Left and reversion to fascist terror and corruption on the Right. Meanwhile, the bottom is threatened by secession. On the bomb-shattered reviewing stand of our military academy, I vowed to end all threats to our democracy by the end of my term. We shall make good on that pledge. Meanwhile, it should be clear by now that no one in these struggles has had a monopoly of anguish and no one in these debates has had a monopoly of moral insight. It is in that light that we ventured to settle these issues outside the battlefield. For, surely, in the words of an architect of conflict and peace, “a society becomes great not by the victories of its factions over each other but by its reconciliations.” To this end, we shall continue to exhaust measures and avenues that will involve all our people in the task of moral and material reconstruction and national unity.
Still our march towards nationhood must be undeterred and any threat to its progress will be countered with all the resources available to us, wielded with as much passion as self-preservation can muster.
The application of force will be as effective as it is judicious. The operational thrust of our Armed Forces is predicated on deterrence, preemption and destruction. But the question is: Can we execute? If we have come to ask our soldiers to do battle to secure our way of life, then we have an obligation to equip them sufficiently for the fight.
Having exhausted the avenues of negotiation, we have armed them with the right. Now we must complete the complement with the material, organizational and physical wherewithal to accomplish the task.
We have directed our immediate attention towards strengthening the chain-of-command, re-instilling discipline within the rank-and-file, and upgrading morale in the Armed Forces. We have placed renewed emphasis on training – on the physical and mental readiness of the troops. Area Unified Commands have been established to facilitate force augmentation and complementation within and across the major services, particularly in areas where military operations are either imminent or ongoing.
We do, however, have a dire need to improve our intelligence, logistics and communication services. Given our limited resources, we must improve our ratio of patrols to contacts, and our capability to maximize such combat opportunities as present themselves. We therefore need ordnance platforms and air transports for ground support, troop mobility and medevac. We need a truly effective navy to secure our coastlines against fresh infusions of arms to rebel or fascist forces, and to punish any further attacks on our territorial honor and integrity, especially in the South.
Our Armed Forces are asked to do more for less. Defense appropriations are down 1-1/4 percent of GNP from an average of 2 percent prior to 1986. We have been able to afford this reduction because of the moral victory we gained in the February Revolution. Still, our defense expenditures are the lowest in ASEAN, and yet no country’s security is so seriously threatened as ours.
Given the realities of our finances and our priorities, we will continue to press for efficiency in the Armed Forces. But we will need a sober assessment of adequacy.
Some will say that force does not address the roots of insurgency. I will answer: Indeed, for such roots are addressed by measures of economic improvement and equitable distribution. But such measures also need time to bear fruit, time that only feats of arms and negotiating from strength can buy us.
We have chosen to improve upon our capability to effectively manage force not so that we, who desire peace, could wage war, but rather so that those who would war upon us will realize, by the deadliness of our riposte, the virtues of peace.
Thus: “we shall bear arms when the intent of bearing them is just,” and, if necessary, we shall mourn our dead by celebrating the birth of generations whose legacy shall be one nation, free, upright, and prosperous.
I have spoken of our problems and I have sketched our programs, some of which have already borne appreciable results. A more detailed report will be submitted to this Congress. Succeeding messages to Congress will convey the legislative agenda of my Administration particularly the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, whose Congressional complement is eagerly awaited. We have prepared the ground for Congressional action on autonomy in the Cordillera. We are determined to achieve genuine autonomy and thus eliminate completely the issues that divide us from our Muslim brothers in a manner consistent with the honor and integrity of the Republic.
In deference to the Congress, Executive Orders issued last week have one year, 90-day, and 60-day effectivity dates. While we believe these measures merit immediate implementation, Congress may want a second look.
I would also hope that our proposed revisions of the Tariff Code and the rationalization of the Government corporate sector shall be among the Congress’s fIrst concerns, these being two areas that I find require the common counsel of Executive and Legislature.
I have also spoken of our continuing vulnerabilities.
Now let me speak of our strength.
The source of the new vigor and energy in the land is the sense of pride and renewed self-confidence of our people; pride in their unmatched political achievements. And, flowing from that pride, the renewed confidence that we can improve things given the will and courage to do what is right.
That pride and that confidence rest however on their continuing faith in the one solid and undeniable achievement of the great moral exertion of our people: the establishment of a democratic Government under an honest and dedicated leadership. In short, it rests on their continuing faith in a Government that will lead them to permanent peace, freedom and progress.
All the assaults on our Government have fallen flat and harmless because the people believe in our Government, in its honesty and sincere desire to work for the common good.
When this session opened, the great powers of the State that were united in my person divided, and a portion has flowed to you. I have felt no loss but rather a great sense of achievement. The great work we set out to do, for which the nation made me its single leader, is completed. We have this day opened the door of Asian democracy’s most famous home: the Congress of the Republic of the Philippines.
With the portion of power that has gone to you goes the shared responsibility to maintain the people’s faith in Government.
While I held total power in my hands, and even after I had scattered the enemies of democracy, I kept ever in mind that power and glory are fleeting. That, in times to come, in the words of Gandhi, “the people will not judge us by the creed we profess or the label we wear or the slogans we shout but by our work, industry, sacrifice, honesty and purity of character.”
In the great debates that will ring in this chamber, remember also these words of his: “Insist upon truth by loving argument, by the testimony of your own life. Once you are assured of the truth, refuse to recant even to death. “
You are blessed beyond all Congresses of the past or of any other nation. For here, ever to guide you, are the sombre shades of the eternal Senators of our Republic: Jose W. Diokno and Benigno Aquino, Jr.. Even as their memory continues to freshen our sorrow, may their sacrifices ever nourish our idealism and commitment to our people, and remind us of the painful lesson that “a government that is evil has no room for good men and women except in its prisons.”
This day completes the circle of our democratic achievements. Now Philippine democracy rests solidly upon the three pillars of freedom: the President, the Supreme Court and Congress. Mr. Senate President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Congress, join me now in expressing our congratulations and deepest gratitude to those who have this day by God’s grace given to the nation the fully ripened fruit of freedom: ang ating mga kababayan, ang mamamayang Pilipino.