VIENTIANNE, Lao People’s Democratic Republic– It doesn’t matter where he is; President Aquino is not letting up on his seeming tradition of criticizing former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
As in Auckland, New Zealand, Mr. Aquino made several references to his predecessor and to the previous administration in his speech before the Filipino community in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, although he did not mention Arroyo by name.
This time, Mr. Aquino joked that he had heard other people say the previous administration seemed to have used a different kind of calculator when estimating costs of public works and rice imports, and seemed to have had a faulty addition and subtraction button.
He made the quip as he lauded the P260 million saved when the government constructed the newly-opened Araneta-Quezon Avenue underpass in Quezon City. The previous administration had estimated the project to cost P694 million, he noted.
“As other people say, maybe they used a different kind of calculator, and the addition button is automatic and frequently pushed,” he said.
He also said the calculator seemed to have had a subtraction problem since the previous administration imported 2.5 million metric tons of rice for a 1.3 million shortage. The excess rice are now rotting in warehouses, he added.
He also recycled his “bulalo” joke about corruption, which he first mentioned in his speech in New Zealand late last month. He said that the previous administration had made the Public Works Department such a miking cow that it was as if they were trying to suck the marrow out of it.
Recently ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona was not spared either, with Mr. Aquino hitting the former top magistrate for his excuses about failing to officially declare 98 percent of his wealth, walking out of his trial, and feeling that he is exempted from the law for heading the judiciary.
But the President steered clear of jokes about the health of the former President, who is presently detained for plunder at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center because of her illnesses. Arroyo’s allies have hit Mr. Aquino for joking about the Arroyo’s use of a wheelchair, saying it was ungentlemanly and that the former President’s ill health was no laughing matter.
In his Vientiane speech, the chief executive recited a litany of problems with the government that he inherited, at the same time boasting of gains the country has achieved since he stepped into office.
Mr. Aquino told close to 300 Filipinos who met him in Vientiane that the Philippines was now making strides, a task that he felt was “mission impossible” when he first assumed the Presidency.
“In truth, it was like mission impossible when we first began. But after two years or five months, more or less… who would have known that I would have a solution?” he said.
He even recalled an experience he had when he was in the House of Representatives between 1998 to 2011– which was mostly during the presidency of Joseph Estrada– when he met with a group of 80 nurses, and only two of them said they were willing to stay in the Philippines to work.
According to him, the 78 who wished to leave had a point: he had inherited such a bad situation that he would not wonder why the youth wanted to go abroad because they did not think they had a chance here.
“How can you have hope for a better tomorrow when the leaders of the country for almost 10 years are focused on their selfish needs? A chance for a better life is a once in a blue moon opportunity. Dreaming of a brighter future is a once in a blue moon opportunity. Most likely, this is what some of you are thinking or feeling now,” he said.
He said when he first started, he and his officials discovered anomalies and flubs everyday. They were so used to it that they ceased becoming surprised. His cabinet could only sigh as they faced these for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner.
“They were so thick-faced and so lacking in conscience that we can only say, ‘hay naku (oh well)’ to their anomalies left and right,” he said.
As examples, the President cited the President’s Bridge Program that was launched before his term. He said billions were set aside to buy pre-fabricated bridges from foreign companies, but did not know where to put these. The headache was passed on to his administration, he added.
The last contract was signed on June 28, 2010, two days before the Arroyo administration ended.
“One day before they left, they really milked it,” he said.
The President’s bridge program actually began before the Arroyo administration.
Mr. Aquino also boasted that from 62 percent, 85 percent of Filipinos now are enrolled in PhilHealth, meaning another 23.31 million Filipinos get free medical care. 5.2 households could get free checkups for asthma, pneumonia, dengue, leukemia, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.
He also said that because of his administration’s improvements in agriculture, the country only needs to import 500,000 metric tons of rice. In 2013, the Philippines could be the one exporting rather than importing its staple food, with a little luck and if storms would not be so destructive to the harvest, he added.
The President also hailed his administration’s framework agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, saying peace may finally be at hand in Mindanao.
“Sometimes, we can’t believe that what was impossible before is now a reality,” he added.
He further said the 66,800 classroom shortage would be a thing of the past by next year, thanks to innovations by Education Secretary Armin Luistro.
After reciting his accomplishments, the chief executive said he was stopping himself from disclosing more good news, joking that the Filipinos in Lao might pack up and join him on his trip back to the Philippines if he reveals more.
He also lauded the Filipinos, including the overseas workers, for choosing change, and said their individual contributions and efforts help to bring about a better Philippines.
“Despite the success we have reaped, you can be assured that we will not stop pushing for reforms. Yes, we have come far, but we still have far to go,” he said.
“We have a common wish: that you would no longer have to struggle in other countries, so that you can reap the fruits of your labor in the Philippines,” he added.