Speech of President Arroyo during the 28th Philippine Business Conference

Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
President of the Philippines
During the 28th Philippine Business Conference

[Delivered at the Manila Hotel, December 13, 2002]

These are times that try men’s souls. Certainly these are times that tax a woman’s patience.

I have been in office 20 months now. The daily problems I have faced are among the hardest in our country’s history, and, in fact, even in the world’s recent history. All the more am I convinced that if we are to confront our problems, we will need strength. The strength that comes from unity; the unity that comes from a singleness of purpose; a purpose everyone can share. I believe this purpose to be the creation of a Strong Republic.

Some have asked, what is a Strong Republic? I have answered the question partially on many occasions, but if there is one occasion where I can impose on an audience a more comprehensive if less exciting explanation, it is this audience − the grave and wise leaders of the business community.

I said in my State of the Nation Address the two essential features that mark a Strong Republic.

The first feature of a Strong Republic is independence from class and sectoral interests.

The second feature of a Strong Republic is the capacity, realized through strong institutions and a strong democracy, the capacity to execute sound policies and deliver essential public services. Hence, a Strong Republic needs strong institutions. I would like to point out four strong institutions that are needed for a Strong Republic.

One, an effective government;
Two, a vigorous free enterprise economy;
Three, a true and vigorous democratic representation; and,
Four, a vibrant civil society. Let me explain a little about each one of them.

By effective government, I mean national security. I mean, securing the persons and properties of each citizens. I mean, upholding the law without fear or favor. I mean, enforcing valid contracts and annulling invalid agreements prejudicial to the public interest. I mean, providing public infrastructure because that is what people pay taxes for. A Strong Republic must go further to dismantle the structures that protect abuse and perpetuate weakness.

The second institution of a Strong Republic is a vigorous free enterprise economy. By this, I mean that to ensure the vigorous and free play of market forces, government must remove monopolies and combinations in restraint of trade and credit. Government must ensure not just a level playing field, but a measure of equality in the bargaining power of the players. No matter how flat the field, the game is not fair where those who own the ball can order the referee around or change the score at will.

A Strong Republic regards its citizens as assets. It commits itself to provide the basic necessities for as many as it can −women, minorities, the old, the young − each a component of the total national strength.

If business is the engine of the economy, a Strong Republic cannot leave its workings entirely to the free market. The problem with the market’s invisible hand is that it writes in invisible ink so that you never know where it is going until long after the chapter is finished. Then it’s too late to do anything about it.

A Strong Republic does not dictate to the market, but plans the direction of the economy where, the economy should go. Ideally this should be from strength to strength and not from weakness to weakness.

Left to itself, the free market will dictate the devastation of our rivers and forests, the total exhaustion of our mineral wealth, and the blighting of our urban landscapes for instant gain. A Strong Republic will ensure the sustainable use of this. For the long term gain of future generations. I mean, maintaining an ecological balance to ensure for us and our posterity a sustainable environment.

By true and vigorous democratic representation, the third institution of a Strong Republic, I mean that a republic grows strong with more democracy. The more empowered people are, the less political bosses dictate the outcome of the political process so much stronger does a republic grow.

In a Strong Republic, every vote is counted, and no vote is counted that is fake. Just as bad money drives out good, fake ballots drive out true democracy.

Elected officials must be more representative of the people in general than of friends and patrons in particular.

We must find the way to end the adversarial relation between congress and the president, and unleash the energy and creativity of local governments and local communities.

Let me therefore take this opportunity to congratulate our two vigorous local governments − Muntinlupa and Naga City − for their award of being business friendly.

For the fourth institution of a Strong Republic, that of a vibrant civil society, I mean that as we have seen the power of civil society effect rapid political change, we need the power of civil society which includes you, the chamber, to apply more subtle social changes in such areas as women’s rights, family support, a more productive synergy between church and state, and the preservation of the nation’s cultural values. That’s why I thank you for the memorandum of agreement that you signed this morning to put together the benefits of business and requirements of our indigenous populations. I thank you because in the first instance, when you implement this, you would immediately create 5,000 new jobs. Thank you for that. And because you are doing this for our indigenous peoples, you are fulfilling a function of civil society of preserving our cultural values. Because no one can preserve our cultural values better than those directly in touch with it in civil society.

A Strong Republic needs to take strong action where needed. And I know this is what you’ve been waiting for in this speech.

During the past 20 months, my goal of growth with price stability was realized, despite the various shocks that intervened during the period. I thank Dante Canlas for his contribution to this remarkable macro economic performance. But as I can see from your Congress resolutions, we need to shift from the dominantly macro economic and demand side focus to micro economic and supply side productivity enhancing measures. So I have asked congressional budget planning head and Professor Romulo Neri to be the new Secretary of Economic Planning.

Going now to the micro economic supply side measures that you proposed as the action agenda on graft and corruption and in response to your offer to help ensure greater transparency in government transactions, I’m hereby creating a presidential oversight system for government procurement with powers to review on a proactive basis, any suspected favoritism, overpricing, and unethical practice in the transactions of government agencies.

If you will agree because Jess Estanislao has done work on effective governance, and you even made him the chair of your committee to choose the effective governments, may I ask Jess Estanislao to head this oversight committee. It will be part of your work Jess in effective governance. So therefore, it doesn’t make you part of my government. It still makes you part of civil society looking over our shoulders.

I look forward to constructive inputs, suggestions, complaints, and other important information from the PCCI, the civil society, and the consumer groups, who will be our partners in this endeavor.

On other matters, on micro economic and supply side measures, I am asking congress to speed up the bill to corporatize the Bureau of Internal Revenue as the National Revenue Authority.

To further protect intellectual property rights, I have provided more resources, especially intelligence to the Videogram Regulatory Board, which is why they have been able to confiscate millions of counterfeit products, unprecedented quantities, and they have even been able to close down the factories producing these counterfeits and prosecute the persons arrested in the factories.

My administration is bent on curbing smuggling.

A few days ago, to help Tony Bernardo do his work, I created a new anti-smuggling intelligence and investigation center headed by former Police General Miguel Coronel.

What the EIID used to do, this center will be able to do. In our fight against drugs, may I give you late breaking news. Late last night, at 12:00 midnight, the NBI with elements of the PNP and the Drug Enforcement Agency, raided a warehouse in Navotas and seized precursors capable of producing P1 billion worth of shabu. This operation traced this warehouse as the source of raw materials transported to the shabu laboratory which was discovered last week in Lawang Bato in Valenzuela City. In that discovery, the police found P2.2 billion worth of shabu. The biggest operation so far is this combination of the Lawang Bato factory and its warehouse in Navotas. This is a fruit of the government’s relentless anti-drug campaign which followed a series of spectacular drug seizures in Real, Quezon Province; San Narciso, Zambales; Pasay City; Varsity Hills, Quezon City; Paranaque; San Juan; and other places. Now if only we can make sure that corrupt judges do not turnaround the work of any of these law enforcers, as some of them have done in some of these cases. That’s why we will take closer attention to strengthening our justice system. At the same time, I urged our businessmen to stop using the judiciary as an extension of your competitive activities by not bringing what were the essentially business rivalry into the level of court disputes. We should encourage, instead, the use of business mediation processes.

On infrastructure, we shall accelerate the completion of the South Luzon Expressway to Batangas City, especially the gap between Calamba and Sto. Tomas, and the gap between Lipa and Batangas City.

I have asked Governor Dodong Mandanas who is in his third term as governor, to be the task force manager of this expressway from Manila to Batangas City.

Two days ago, we approved the equity funding needed to commence the long overdue improvement of the North Expressway. Last Tuesday, NEDA approved the Clark-Subic expressway project. I intend to make the Clark-Subic Corridor a magnet and showcase for investments and tourism by declaring the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport as the airline hub for the Asia-Pacific Region.

We need to unleash the goodwill of donor countries and institutions that have long accumulated in unused and untapped official development assistance funds. We have tens of billions of pesos in grants and concessional credit choked up within our democratic apparatus.

The National Economic Development Authority and other agencies must now declog the bottleneck and streamline procedures on ODA and BOT projects. That’s part of the assignment of Romy Neri. We have to mobilize the resources meant to construct an array of infrastructure projects so vital to our development process, including the Mindanao to Luzon roll on, roll off cargo ferry system, the modernization of a railway systems and extension of our urban mass transit lines and the reform of the power sector.

My administration is now more resolute in its commitment to strictly enforce policies meant to restore our ecological balance.

Our natural gas program has already taken off to exploit the opportunities with the opening of our Malampaya natural gas plant. Pilot projects to commission public transportation vehicles powered by compressed natural gas are underway because you asked me to stop smoke belching. This is the answer to that.

I’m now instructing the new secretary of environment to review the mandate of the Laguna Lake Development Authority so we will be able to reconcile conflicts between law enforcement and regulatory functions.

The special asset management bill to help the big banks get rid of their non-performing loans is nearing approval by the bicameral conference committee.

And because you’ve been asking for labor laws, I recently signed Republic Act 9178. This exempts enterprises who have assets of less than P3 million from paying the minimum wage law.

There will be other occasions where I can go into more detail, about the action agenda that you want, to improve productivity. For now, let me say only that the Strong Republic I speak of is not just a vague notion. It is a clear set of reforms and a hard plan of action.

And as you, the participants in this conference have offered to me, I accept your offer, of your time, and your sincere efforts to work closely with me to carry through our action agenda for productivity, competitiveness, a Strong Republic, and a better life for our people in the future.

Thank you and good afternoon.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library

Macapagal-Arroyo, G. (2002). Strong republic : selected speeches of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. [Quezon City] : Philippine Information Agency.