Aquino seeks budget for DAP projects

LEGISLATIVE BACKING. President Aquino, facing the nation for his report to the people on Monday, is applauded by Senate President Franklin M. Drilon (left) and House Speaker Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr., whom he cited as his allies in national transformation.

MANILA — President Aquino, apparently learning his lesson from the flak he got over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP),on Monday asked Congress to pass the 2014 supplemental budget to enable the executive branch to continue projects funded under the economic stimulus program that were discontinued because of the recent Supreme Court (SC) ruling.

He also pledged to fight for the welfare of the Filipino people even at the cost of his life.

“The Filipino is definitely worth fighting for,” the President said, his voice cracking a few times.

“That is why we are proposing the passage of a supplemental budget for 2014 so that programs and projects will not be hampered,” Aquino said in Filipino.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

In the same speech, the President said the Philippines is further opening to business and the economy, while glossing over impeachment attempts and his waning popularity.

“Our economy is about to take off,” President Aquino told lawmakers. “No doubt, the Philippines is now more open for business.”

The President stressed these points at his penultimate State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before a packed session hall of the House of Representatives yesterday.

No longer in a fighting stance with the SC, which ruled some acts under the DAP as unconstitutional, President Aquino also asked the legislature for a joint resolution clarifying definitions on government savings.

“The executive branch proposes projects and programs that are approved by Congress. We just need to postpone some of them to make sure that we are abiding by the decision of the Supreme Court,” Aquino said.

“I know you are one with us in our belief that we should not refuse the people of the benefits that are due them and that these benefits should be given to them at the soonest possible time,” he said.

“We are appealing to Congress to pass a joint resolution that would clarify definitions, among others, that are still being debated upon because it is only the legislature that can clarify all these things as lawmakers,” he added.

Aquino said that the Executive will also be submitting the proposed 2015 national budget to Congress worth P2.606 trillion on the first day of work after the SONA.

The President also urged the legislature to pass priority bills, underscoring the importance of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

“It is important that we scrutinize all the provisions being proposed. We will push for a proposed BBL that is reasonable, justifiable, and acceptable to all,” Aquino said.

He said the immediate passage of the BBL will give the Bangsamoro Transition Authority time to show positive reforms in Mindanao under his term.

President Aquino also said he is pushing for a proposal to extend the Notice of Coverage for land reform.

“Once the proposal is submitted to Congress, we hope the bill would be passed immediately,” he said.

ACHIEVEMENTS

Turning emotional in his fifth SONA, the President said he is ready to sustain the reforms in good governance and economic growth as he hit back at critics and naysayers whom he claimed are against the beneficiaries of these reforms.

The President highlighted the administration’s achievements, including robust economic growth, infrastructure development, job generation, improved social services, and modernization of the police and the military, before harping on his enemies and revealing the latest threats to his life.

Aquino’s voice cracked with emotion when he said to turn back on the challenge to lead the country’s transformation is to turn back on his parents, famous freedom icons former President Corazon C. Aquino and Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

“My boss: You gave me the opportunity to lead the transformation. If I reject this challenge, it’s as if I would help prolong your suffering, my conscience can’t take that. I turn back on this chance, it’s as if I turned back on my father and mother and all their sacrifices for us. That will not happen,” the President said, fighting back his tears.

“The transformation we are enjoying now can be made permanent with the help of the Lord. As long as our faith and trust is whole, for as long as we give each other strength, we will continue to prove that ‘The Filipino is worth dying for,’ ‘The Filipino is worth living for,’ and I may add, ‘The Filipino is definitely worth fighting for,” he added.

The President, in the ad-lib portion of his speech, admitted that he was already living his second life after surviving an ambush in 1987. Aquino then revealed that that he was aware about the threats to his presidency.

“I can’t help but think about our opponents, will there be a time when I go up a stage and it is already my last day? Will someone succeed in placing a bomb? Will our enemies with evil intentions to bring back the old rotten ways succeed?” he said.

“And if that time comes that my second life ends, I can say that with all that we have achieved, I am contented. I am contented because I am sure that even if I die, there are a lot of people who will continue what we are now charting. Maybe that is really my role: to start this reform,” he said.

CRITICS HIT

In his speech that lasted for an hour and a half, the President acknowledged that the noisiest critics are those who are against the country’s transformation because they have benefited from the old and crooked ways of the past.

Aquino said his critics who belong to the “minority” have become desperate and aim to bring down his administration.

“But my will is strong to face our opponents because I know my critics are only few and we are far greater in number than them. We will succeed in this fight, because we are in the right,” Aquino said.

“The truth is, our critics are not against me, they are against our people who are benefiting from the straight path,” he said.

Aquino said he was already used to having negative comments for breakfast, criticisms for lunch, insults for dinner, intrigues for midnight snack. He admitted that he expects his critics will continue to attack him even after his term.

Aquino then shifted to the 2016 elections, saying the nation’s sacrifices would be worth it if these reforms are sustained. In this regard, he reminded them to choose the next leaders who will sustain his reform program.

“You will face a crossroad. You will decide whether to continue the reforms. Remember, this is my fifth SONA and I have only one more left. In 2016, you will choose a new leader for our country. For my part, if we want our reform agenda to continue and to be implemented even quicker, there should only be one basis in choosing my successor: who is without doubt committed in continuing the transformation we have initiated?” Aquino said.

“You are the boss, you are the strength, you are making this change, you are also the one who will continue this,” he added.

At the start of his speech, the President took pride that the country is in a much better state after enduring the old situation where the economy had dismal growth and people were deprived of hope.

The President listed down achievements of the administration, such as impressive economic growth, influx of investments and a string of credit rating upgrades.  He also cited the administration’s sound fiscal management, citing improved revenue collection and lower deficit.

Poverty incidence has been reduced to 24.9 percent in the first semester of 2013, from 27.9 percent in 2012, according to the President.

‘ECONOMY TAKING OFF’

The President also said the “economy is taking off” with the recent improvements in the aviation industry. He said he expects more tourists and businessmen to visit the country with improved aviation climate.

Aquino also highlighted the government’s infrastructure projects, citing the 12,184 kilometers of national roads built by the Department of Publlic Works and Highways (DPWH) as well as the approval of seven public private partnership program worth P62.6 billion.

The rehabilitation plans for the communities devastated by recent calamities were also tackled by the President.  He said P3.5 billion has been set aside for the rehabilitation of communities affected by the Zamboanga siege while another P3.5  billion will bankroll the rebuilding efforts in quake-hit Cebu and Bohol.

Aquino also approved the local rehabilitation plans for Tacloban City and five other provinces devastated by the super typhoon Yolanda.

The Bureau of Customs also received kudos from the President for its reforms, far from the public shaming it endured in last year’s SONA. He commended the newly appointed customs officials as well as the 22 percent increase in cash collection.

On the energy situation, the President did not mention about the proposal for emergency powers to deal with the imminent power shortage. Instead, he asked Energy Secretary Petilla to work with various stakeholders on efforts to augment the power situation.

RICE HOARDERS WARNED

Aquino also grabbed the occasion to warn groups engaged in hoarding rice in the market. He said the government is already probing rice hoarders and their cohorts in government.

Aquino added that the government plans to import around 500,000 metric tons of rice to help bring down the prices of the staple in the market.

On peace and order, the President took pride of the reduction in crime rate in the country. He also cited efforts to modernize the equipment of policemen and soldiers to improve their defense and security capabilities.

BINAY, OPPOSITION TOUCHED

Vice President Jejomar C. Binay said President Aquino’s speech was “very good,” saying he was satisfied. However, he said he would rather keep to his reaction on the President’s SONA to himself.

Binay, however, admitted that like every Filipino, he was also touched by Aquino’s speech.

President Aquino’s speech was also able to draw sympathy from the political opposition who were relieved that the Chief Executive has started to slow down on the blame game and trimmed his combative stance against the SC.

Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez , head of the independent minority bloc, agreed that there was a tinge of sincerity in Aquino’s SONA

Senator JV Ejercito agreed, but was disappointed Aquino failed to give Congress his legislative wish list, particularly his stand on the popular Freedom of Information Bill, which the opposition senator authored.

House opposition stalwarts Reps. Lito Atienza (Buhay Partylist); Tobias Tiangco (UNA, Navotas) and Gus Tambunting (UNA, Parañaque City) were likewise sympathetic of Aquino but likewise regretted that his show of humility came with just two years left in the president’s term of office.

“He did not talk about DAP, he did not talk about the Supreme Court, he did not talk about the motion for reconsideration. That’s a good step, because he showed he is prepared to stop the word war he started,” said Zamora.

Asked if Aquino’s show of sentiments also displayed his sincerity, Zamora said: “Maybe and maybe not. But in the end you could see that he really felt it. That is good to see for a President.”

Romualdez noted that the emotion by which the president delivered the SONA could mean that he is either sincere or frustrated by his failure to address the most pressing problems of the country during his first four years in office.

“When he was still popular, his stance was always divisive, vindictive, and negative.  I am now frustrated because he only has two years left and he might just leave the power and other pressing problems behind,” the Leyte lawmaker said.

Ejercito, whose half-brother Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is under detention for plunder charges filed by the Aquino government, said Aquino may have slowed down on his criticisms toward the opposition but he nevertheless, chided them during his SONA.

“Nevertheless, I believe this is the best SONA of the President. Very short and at least not negative and combative,” said Ejercito.

Atienza said Aquino should show his sincerity by reorganizing the Cabinet and ridding it of inept and corrupt officials