President Benigno Aquino III - Sona
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MANILA — President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III said Monday (July 23) reforms put in place by his administration are beginning to erase the “nightmares” left by his predecessor.

Delivering his third state-of-the-nation address (SONA) before Congress at the Batasang Pambansa, the President cited the accomplishments of his administration after he reported a litany of the anomalies which he described as “bangungot” that highlighted the nine-year term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.[box type=”default” size=”large”] President delivers his third state-of-the-nation address [/box]Aquino mentioned the controversies surrounding the North Rail project, the fat bonuses of officials in government-run corporations and the billion-peso allocation of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for coffee.

“It was a change we dreamed of, and change we achieved; the benefits of change are now par for the course,” the President said in Pilipino.

Aquino spoke for 91 minutes, his longest SONA. His first address lasted 37 minutes, his second, 57 minutes. He was applauded 120 times.

“We instituted reforms, we cut unnecessary expenses, chased after the corrupt and gave notice to the world that the Philippines is open for business under a new management. The former sick man of Asia is now brimming with energy,” the President said.

“We achieved a positive credit rating which, some said, was pure luck. Now that we have eight (positive credit ratings), can it still just be luck?’ he said.

He cited his administration’s achievements in the health sector, giving particular attention to the recruitment of more health professionals and bringing the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) to the poorest of the poor.

He said about P60 billion is expected from the imposition of the “sin tax” law, which will be used to finance the government’s universal health care program.

The President said that while his administration is fulfilling its promise to provide better education for all – addressing backlogs in textbooks, classrooms and armchairs – the high population growth needs to be addressed, stressing the need for the passage of the Responsible Parenthood Bill.

Responsible parenthood would provide free information as well as contraceptive methods without any bias for a particular method, he said.

In the area of defense, the President asked Congress to approve the AFP Modernization Bill that would enable the government to allocate P75 billion for defense in the next five years.

“Lacking the proper equipment, our troops remain vulnerable even as they are expected to be put in harm’s way. We cannot allow things to remain this way,” he said.

Aquino said that in his administration, the government was able to allocate over P28 billion for the AFP Modernization Program which will soon match the P33 billion set aside for the program in the past 15 years.

He asked Congress to pass the amendments to the mining law, which aims to raise government revenues from mining.

“Think about it: In 2010, P145 billion was the total value derived from mining, but only P13.4 billion or nine percent went to the National Treasury,” he said.

“These natural resources are yours; it shouldn’t happen that all that’s left to you is a tip after they’re extracted. We are hoping that Congress will work with us and pass a law that will ensure that the environment is cared for, and that the public and private sectors will receive just benefits from this industry,” Aquino said.

He called on Congress to approved amendments to the Anti Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

“Let me remind you that our fight does not end with the ousting of one corrupt official, with the suspension of an anomalous contract, or the systemic overhauling of a government office. I call upon Congress to pass our amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act, that we may strengthen our measures to hold the corrupt accountable,” he said.

The President pointed to the 44 all-time highs recorded by the Philippine Stock Exchange Index, the unprecedented 6.4 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the surge of foreign investments.

On the territorial dispute with China, he urged Filipinos to have one voice in fighting for the Philippine sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc or the Panatag Shoal, which is being claimed by both the Philippines and China.

Aquino delivered his SONA in the presence of lawmakers, top government officials and diplomats, including Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing, at the House of Representatives.

“The situation in Bajo de Masinloc has been the source of much discussion. Chinese fishermen entered our territory. Our patrol boats intercepted some of their ships, which contain endangered species,” Aquino said.

“I do not think it excessive to ask that our rights be respected, just as we respect their rights as a fellow nation in a world we need to share,” he said.

The President said the Philippines is looking for an acceptable solution to the territorial dispute.

“This is not a simple situation, and there can be no simple solutions. Rest assured: we are consulting experts, every leader of our nation, our allies—even those on the other side—to find a resolution that is acceptable to all,” Aquino said. (Manila Bulletin)