Transcript of panel discussion with President Corazon C. Aquino on her first 100 days in office, June 4, 1986

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Counting The Freedoms
(Culled from a television panel discussion)

Freedom regained is the government’s greatest achievement in its first 100 days. But President Aquino warns that it might also be its greatest danger since some sectors are taking that freedom for granted. “Let us remain vigilant,” she urges.

Minister Ramon Mitra of Agriculture cites liberalization of credit for small farmers as another achievement of Government. NEDA Chairman Solita Monsod cites the removal of export taxes on agricultural goods, an import liberalization program and an emergency employment scheme. Minister Augusto Sanchez of Labor states that the incidence of strikes in the industrial sector since he took over has decreased and these are of short duration. Minister Jaime Ongpin of Finance lists the 85% build up in foreign exchange reserves as a result of people selling their dollar holdings to the Central Bank, reflecting a return in confidence in Government; the stabilization of the peso at a P20.50 to $1 exchange rate, the decrease in interest rates for loans, and the offers of foreign assistance.

President Aquino: During the election campaign, I gave a speech outlining what my government would do in the first 100 days. It was wildly applauded, even if not completely believed. How? Could there be a first 100 days of an Aquino Administration? That today we should be assessing what we have achieved in our first 100 days; that, far, from being dreams, it has been a down-to-earth reality of how to deal with a legacy of debt, a bankrupt government, poverty, corruption and insurgency should not be forgotten. We have come a long way very quickly.

The first 100 days were entered into with so much expectation and with so much to be done, 14 long years of a seemingly irreversible slide to disaster had ended in a snap. Reversing it was the work of brave people committed to our freedom and whose example finally drew the millions to that cause. The events of February did not happen by magic and from nowhere. There is no instant revolution nor, I must tell you are the instant answers. We had a snap election; then, we had a snap revolution but I never promised you snap solutions.

Our country needs your hard work, your patriotism, and your faith more than ever. Your government can, and is, creating the conditions for recovery but that recovery can only be carried forward by your efforts. Our revolution taught us two truths: first, that what the Filipino people want they must seek on their own. Others are not going to save us. Second, People Power is exactly that: it is people acting together, not government alone, to press through change. Don’t sit back and think that because there is now a People’s Government the nation’s problems are taken care of. That is a dangerous delusion. Now let us look not to government but to ourselves for the next step.

Are we prepared to put aside differences and commit ourselves to the common task: national revival? In this first 100 days you have rightly asked the question: “What has the government done for you?’ Today I shall try to answer that, but may I also put a question to you: “What are you going to do for your country in the second 100 days?”

My Presidency was an invitation to everybody to bury their differences and work together, I fear some have seen this new freedom, not as the privilege of a common commitment to rebuild the nation, but as a license to rake up old, or light up new, quarrels.  Let us all be sure of the highest standards of honesty and accuracy in what we do and say. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the first 100 days is also its greatest danger: we are taking freedom for granted.

I am particularly anxious that there should be no abuse of our precious freedom because ours was no ordinary revolution. We rejected the revolutionary’s normal course of change: violence, because that was not our way. Where others would have pointed a gun we held out our hand in peace and reconciliation. The price of that restraint is that we must remain vigilant.

The other price of a peaceful revolution is that it appears to raise questions about how far we mean to go. It is almost as though a revolution without violence is not to be taken seriously. The blood in the streets is the test of political determination. Well, let me give this assurance. We will go all the way it takes to build a society free from corruption, oppression and poverty, where every Filipino has the chance to fulfill his or her potential. There will no longer be one Philippines for the rich and one for the poor, one for the strong and another for the weak.

Let me turn to what we meek revolutionaries have already achieved: the record of the first 100 days. This has been a 100 days of freedom:

First, freedom under the law. We have freed our courts from political interference; restored habeas corpus, and released political prisoners. Under the present temporary Freedom Constitution, as it is known, e have guaranteed full protection of human rights and the authority of our courts.

Second, freedom of the press. In this short 100 days we have seen the blooming of the freest press in our region. Amongst none of our neighbors does media enjoy the same unlimited free speech.

Third, freedom for our farmers. Seventy per cent of our people live in rural areas. They have been enslaved by government imposed cartels that have kept down the prices for what they grow at the same time that they have had to pay inflated prices for inputs such as fertilizer. We have dismantled cartels and lowered the price of fertilizers. Above all we must free our farmers from the cycle of indebtedness, poverty, underemployment and landlessness that has been their lot. We are examining how to make more cheap credit available to the farmers themselves. The DBP is establishing a P500 million facility for small and medium scale industries in the countryside and for agriculture. And we are implanting land reform in the poorest areas. The rural sector is the focus of our concern. It is where we must make our principal investment for recovery. The oil price cuts, amounting to one peso per liter, that I have ordered have had particular impact on the rural economy. This year the price of oil has been cut by 27 percent.

Fourth, freedom of labor. I have repealed those aspects of the labor laws that are repressive and aggravate rather than enhance labor relations. I have sought to lay the foundations for a system of labor relations that is compatible with our people’s vision of a just society and the imperative of a swift recovery before the justice in progress that we seek recedes completely beyond our reach.

Fifth, freedom of the military. We have freed the military to play their proper role of protector of the Filipino people. By the brave actions of their leaders in starting the revolt, the military began the process that is enabling them to recover the nation’s respect. Both through the retirement of overstaying generals and though the extensive program of military reform that is being embarked on we are restoring our military to top fighting form.

Sixth, freedom from the hills. For those insurgents who now want to take advantage of it, there is the possibility of returning to normal life. When I was in Davao I met the 168 insurgents who had recently sought amnesty and rehabilitation there under the so-called the Davao project. We will expand such regional initiatives and I still hope the insurgent leadership will respond at the national level to my offer of a negotiated amnesty.

*Seventh, freedom of our economy. You know the magnitude of our debt problem and the bankruptcy of our government following the previous regime’s election fraud but let me today tell you the good news. Our foreign exchange reserves have increased by 85 per cent since the revolution; the value of the peso has strengthened. Our inflation rate which was 50 per cent in 1984 and 23 per cent in 1985 has now come down to a rate of 2.1 per cent. Interest rates have fallen sharply. Our economic problems remain huge. Indeed one reason inflation is so low is because there so little demand in our economy. One can only hope that private investors will soon take the initiative and show confidence in the power of the people, of which they are a part, to transform our country. It is clear that recovery will be through our own efforts or not at all. We must help ourselves. So our 1986 budget is a budget for growth. It is aimed at job creation in the rural sector, particularly by an effort to use labor intensive methods in infrastructure programs. There is a 60 per cent increase in capital expenditures. This will allow large-socio job creation.

There are so may further freedoms I could name. Those that come from the improvement in medical services; or form the revived tourist industry or our emphasis on protecting the natural environment. By stopping illegal logging and launching on June 6th a national reforestation scheme we are determined to preserve and restore our natural habitat.

I have kept until the last constitutional freedom because the writing of the constitution lies immediately before us. My part is done. After wide consultations I have named the members of the Con-Com and it has started work. We kept to the tight timetable to ensure that as soon as possible we would again have an elected legislature, and constitution we can all honor and respect. It alone can provide the permanent framework for our freedoms.

I have laid today how your government has used the first 100 days to restore and guarantee freedoms and remove obstacles from our national progress. But a People’s Government could not have done all this if the people had not, in the first instance, overthrown the dictatorship in its path. So much was achieved by the power of the people. And it is that power I wish to summon again in the revival of our economy and the establishment of peace. The freedom you have who won requires unflagging responsibility. May I end by repeating my earlier question: What are you going to do for your country in the next 100 days?

And now I would like to ask the four ministers whom I invited here to tell you what their respective offices have accomplished during the first one hundred days. Since the main thrust of our economic recovery program is agriculture, I think it’s fitting to ask the Minister of Agriculture Ramon Mitra to start the discussion.

Mitra: The farmer today enjoys more opportunities to earn. In the past there were too many regulations, the farmer was at a loss. He didn’t know where to begin, whom to approach. All that has been changed.

In the past, farmers didn’t know where to borrow money to buy, say, a carabao or fertilizer. Now they know where they can get credit. Not only that, they know where to get advise as to what they should plant and where they could bring their produce after harvest. In relation to the latter, the President has mentioned that the Government is improving farm-to-market roads to enable farmers to move their goods with greater speed and ease.

President: Perhaps Minister Monsod can elaborate on how we can help farmers by abolishing taxes on exports.

Monsod: One of the major policy reforms that we have undertaken or agreed by the Cabinet as has been mentioned earlier, the removal of export taxes on agricultural goods, also the Cabinet has approved an import liberalization program that will be phased. Essentially this import liberalization program removes the quantitative restrictions in imports but it transfers the protection to a tariff system. This sort of situation will make it easier for exporters who use imported products, for example. And these exporters are mostly agricultural products, to be able to be more competitive with foreign goods that they are competing with in the markets abroad. With respect to job creation itself the government is committed to launch in the immediate future an emergency employment scheme which is based on the rural sector that will create in the next one and a half years, one million jobs. Now, is that realistic? And the answer is yes. What have we done about it? We have translated commitment into a budgetary allocation that as the President said increased our maintenance and operating expenditure, increased our capital expenditure, and also approved a supplemental program for a national government assistance to local government units. Four projects which are going to be chosen and identified on the local level themselves not only Mrs. President, by the local government units but in consultation with non-government organizations and private volunteer organizations. This is the essence of consulting with the people and this is the essence of people power. We have regional development councils which are composed of regional officials and also of representatives from private organizations and non-government organizations have already been getting together since the President issued her memorandum order stating that the medium term development plan had to be formulated. They have gotten together and they’re identifying projects on a consultation process. And what is more important, the implementation is already committed by the budget but the regional offices of NEDA but also we have gotten commitment from the non-government organizations and the private volunteer organizations their commitment to monitor to make sure the money, which is the people’s money, is going to be used properly. All these budgetary allocations for projects which are site specific and region specific are all going to be based on labor-based methods and are all going to have the objective of: 1) providing employment, 2) these projects themselves are going to increase the productivity of the rural sector. What are these projects going to be? An example would be rural roads, water supply, communal irrigation system, etc. So at the same time that you are creating jobs, you are also laying the foundation for an increased productivity for growth in the country.

President: Thank you, Winnie. Now let’s hear from our Minister of Labor and employment Augusto Sanchez what is being done in that sector.

Sanchez: May I clarify that the Ministry of Labor is not only concerned with labor but also with employment – those without jobs. So we have two concerns: labor relations with management and finding placements for the jobless. Labor relations include strikes. You can see from statistics that the Ministry has done much in resolving strikes since we assumed office. Since March 10 up to the end of May, there have been 228 strikes; of these, 150 had been settled—67 percent—in such a short period of time. Whereas compared to last year, 37 percent was the rate of their solution of strikes. And on top of this, we settled the strikes within seven days average rate. In the past years, the strikes would last up to 35 days on the average. Of 1,000 corporations only around 20 had strikes. But these were solved immediately. We have four employment programs. Besides our POEA or overseas programs, during the period since we got into office up to end of May, we have found jobs overseas for 67,000 workers and we have been able to place 2,400 in local jobs, meaning we have also been able to do a lot in this area. In July, as Minister Monsod has revealed, we are launching four self-employment programs—entrepreneurial development programs. We will be developing entrepreneurship in the rural areas. Besides, we will be encouraging cooperatives and giving seed capital to those in need of this. Involved are small-scale, medium scale and large-scale industries. The money to be used will be domestic or Filipino money. We will not be using foreign money. His will be a totally Filipino program.

President: I would like to call on Minister Ongpin to tell our people what his ministry has accomplished during the last one hundred days.

Ongpin: I would like to focus on four major areas in the financial arena. Where I feel that major accomplishments have been achieved. The President referred to this in her introductory remarks but I feel they deserve a little explanation. The first major area has to do with the foreign exchange reserves of the country. The president mentioned that they have increased by 85% since the end of February. In a very short period of about three months we have built up our reserves from $911 million to, as of last count, close to 1.7 billion dollars. That is an increase of some 800 million dollars in a very short period of time and you know, if you look at it only in terms of the statistics it may not seem like a lot. But an 85% increase is very meaningful in my opinion. Precisely if you look at the source of the increase, this increase did not come about as a result of a trade surplus. This came about because many people have been selling their dollar holdings to the Central Bank of The Philippines. And for me that is very significant because that really symbolizes a return of confidence. People have been steadily and consistently willing to give up their dollar holdings and to exchange it for pesos. For me there is no better sign of confidence, that it has returned to the Philippines.

The second area has to do with the exchange rate and it is a natural result of the increase of… very significant increase, of our foreign exchange reserves just before the revolution, the official rate has gone as high as 22 to 1. Presently it has strengthened to 20.50 to 1 and perhaps more significantly the black market rate which had increased to over 25 pesos to 1 just before the revolution is now back at 21 pesos. And really when you count the cost of bank charges you will find that the official interbank rate and the black market are practically the same. The third major area has to do with interest rates. I guess everyone will recall that just before the elections, interest rates rose very sharply and have risen to, in some cases, over 30 per cent. And treasury bill rates were likewise increased to 28 percent. Again, in a very short space of time, within the past three months, these rates have been brought down to about half of what they used to be and presently the treasury bill rates of 30 days is now down to 14 per cent and there are bans who are now lending to their prime clients at 15 per cent and we feel this is a very significant improvement because at these levels of interest in business would be motivated to expand and to think of new investments. The final area which I feel is equally important in terms of what we are trying to do in the countryside and in terms of improving the rural infrastructure investment of the government, Has been in the form of the foreign assistance that we have been able to obtain.

We just returned from Tokyo last week, and we had a meeting with the consultative group for the Philippine attended by the World Bank, the IMF, the Asian Development Bank, and by the representatives of the governments of Japan, the US, Germany and Australia, and there we reviewed the foreign aid commitments to the Philippines in terms of official development assistance and soft loans, and we feel that for this year we are assured of at least 70% of our target of 1.1 billion dollars. In addition to that in our discussion last wee, we were able to obtain support from our donor nations that as son as we are able to put together a standby program with the IMF and complete the package of reforms in the areas mentioned by Minister Monsod, in tax reforms, in restructuring our government financial institutions, and in the area of trade reforms. They have pledge to us that they will at that point in time, approach their governments to formalize the balance of their commitments that we are seeking. In lay man’s language what was really the basic message to us last week when we were in Tokyo is that additional help will be forthcoming as soon as we demonstrate that we are going to be able to help ourselves by introducing a very specific package of reforms that will enable the economy to recover and to be able to sustain that recovery so that in the long run we will no longer have to become a permanent receiver of aid. They do not want us to become dependent. They want this aid to be strictly a transitional thing to help us during our crisis or for our budget deficits this year.

President: All of us don’t want to forever be begging. All of us believe that we can become self-reliant. But to achieve self-reliance, we need everybody’s help — the citizens and those of us in government. Minister Mitra, do you have anything to add?

Mitra: About foreign assistance: many other nations are eager to help us. But sch assistance need not be in the form of money. This can also assistance for our exports. For instance, our coconut exports products. We have already touched on this in or talks with American representatives of the coconut oil industry as well as with the European community. If possible, they should not levy too high taxes on our coconut oil to help out our coconut oil mills. The mills should be in a position of buy copra at higher prices and be competitive in this regard. The foreign buyers wouldn’t hear of this before. But now they sympathize more with our concern and there has been some progress in this area. I think you have also discussed this with the representatives of Tokyo as well.

Monsod: Mrs. President, I think it should be noted that one of the most significant accomplishments of this government in the first 10 days is the agreement by the Cabinet, the consensus of the Cabinet on this package of very much needed structural reforms that are needed for economic recovery n long term growth. I would also like to report to you that this structural reform package is a mutually consistent package. What happened before in the previous government is that the policy measures were always taken in an ad hoc manner so that, when it would be helping one sector, it was at the same time hurting another sector. And perhaps that the net effect would be negative to the economy as a whole. And it is this structural reform package that we need the cooperation of all the economic ministries. We have been able to come up with a structural reform package that is our own, based on what we know is necessary for us to grow and developm and it is this structural reform package that the Cabinet and the President has approved in principle this morning. And with this it will serve already as the basic framework. It will give the guidelines for all ministry and agency activities because these activities are now going to be measured against the framework. And so we hope that we are now going to be all pulling together for the same objective – economic recovery, sustainable long term growth but with equity and poverty alleviation as the final goal.

Mitra: We should inform the people that when the economic recovery program was being studied and drafted, all the ministries were involved. So it can be said that the program will benefit not just one sector but all sectors.

President: Which is the reason it took some time to draw up the program. Whenever I would be asked, why it was taking so long to draw up the program, I would replay that, as Mrs. Monsod suggested, it should be done as a whole and not sector by sector, unlike what the previous administration did.

Monsod: Not only the ministries were involved. The private sector was also invited to participate. And as a matter of fact, there were groups that went around the regions to explain the package and to get the consensus in the opinions of the different sectors that were affected. Because we are trying to put meat, or flesh and blood into the policy statement of the President that this government is not going to be a government by mandate, you know by fiat, but rather consultation with the people who have essentially put this government in power. It is people power.

Mitra: It is also probably important that people will know that while these policies are being all put together, there were certain policies which already were being implemented. And all of these were blended together to form this economic recovery program which the President announced today.

President: Well, anyway, before we end this, I would just like again to invite our people to attend the June 12 Independence Day celebration. And let’s have delayed telecast coverage on the event. Because I have noticed that those who know they can watch it on television, appear to become somewhat lazy about attending. We want everybody to be there at the Luneta.

Well, you have heard some of our ministers on their work and plans. You realize it is not easy to run a government. There are no easy solutions or answers to some of our problems. We have big problems, and we need everybody’s cooperation in solving them. Last February we were able to free ourselves through a peaceful revolution. During the last 100 days on the other hand we have tried to make this freedom fruitful to our people. Now and in the forthcoming days we should turn people power into a force behind a second revolution: a revolution to bring about development. Be assured that I will try my best to serve you faithfully. Your government will exert all efforts to solve the problems we face. But I am asking you in turn: what can you do to help your government in its efforts? What can you do to bring our country back on its feet?

SourcePresidential Museum and Library

Aquino, C. C. (1986).  Counting the Freedoms : culled from a television panel discussion, Speeches of Corazon C. Aquino 1986, RP Policy Statements, Malacanang Museum. Speeches of President Corazon C. Aquino, March 22 – August 5, 1986. (pp. 79-91). Manila : Office of the President of the Philippines.