BALI, Indonesia—Two leaders, two emerging economies, the same goal of achieving inclusive growth.
President Aquino shared the spotlight on Sunday with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala during the 21st Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) CEO Summit, “Why Inclusive Growth Matters,” at Bali International Convention Center here.
The two leaders spoke about how their governments were seeking to translate economic growth into real development, with Aquino inviting top Asia-Pacific business leaders to “see for yourself that, indeed, ‘it’s more fun in the Philippines.’”
The President used the country’s tourism slogan to drive home the idea that “on top of fostering stability, social inclusiveness also empowers citizens to become bona fide economic actors [who] can productively contribute to nation building.”
“It allows them to buy into the system, from which they can reap benefits,” Aquino, reading from a prepared speech that lasted nearly 10 minutes, told the audience.
Essence of growth
“The question of inclusiveness is one that strikes at the very essence of growth. Do we define growth as the mere amassing of wealth, the mere swelling of the gross national product, regardless of who benefits? Or do we abide by the principle that the strength of nations lies in the people—that the fair and just way forward, indeed the only way forward, is for the government to ensure that the system allows for equitability, where every citizen, regardless of status of birth or personal network, is allowed the opportunity to shape his destiny through his own ability and hard work?” he said.
“This is the crossroads that every economy—indeed, the entire global economy as a collective—has come to face, and I am confident that, collectively too, as humanity always has, we will rise to this challenge,” he added.
Unlike Aquino, his Peruvian counterpart spoke extemporaneously, maintaining that “economic growth in itself is not going to generate development.”
“Economic growth is money in your pocket, money in the bank,” Humala said in Spanish. “Economic development is quality of life.”
In sharing the Philippines’ drive toward inclusive and sustainable growth, Aquino paraded his administration’s conditional cash transfer program, a massive government financial effort to help the poor continued from the Arroyo administration, which adopted the idea from Brazil.
He described the cash handouts as “our flagship program” that “now benefits close to 4 million families.” Its expansion to cover families with children in high school will cost P62.6 billion in next year’s national budget.
Protection vs corruption
A major point in Aquino’s speech was the need to protect “the integrity of public finances and resources from which government intervention is sourced.”
“The Philippines has had an unfortunate history of corruption and nontransparent governance that had stunted the influx of opportunities and stifled the government’s ability to execute antipoverty strategies,” Aquino said.
“In the last three years, significant gains have been achieved in weeding out corrupt officials, instituting more open governance, and eliminating leakages in the system. In many ways, however, this task will continue to be a challenge in the years to come,” he said.
The President said the anticorruption campaign—the centerpiece of his good government program—would require a “whole-of-society approach.”
“We have already impressed our commitment on partners in the legislature, the judiciary, and the subnational or local governments. They now realize that the people will settle for nothing less than honest, accountable, service-oriented governance—and that we in the executive branch are squarely on the side of the people,” he said.
Two important laws passed in the last Congress also found a place in the President’s speech: the reproductive health law and the sin tax reform act.
Along with the K to 12 basic education law and the overall reform in the public school system, the two legislative measures are “direct government interventions that we are pursuing as a proactive way of encouraging the equitable distribution of wealth—part of a concerted plan to ensure that all sectors take part in economic growth and partake in the prosperity it brings,” the President said.
“Our task: To ensure that our people have the wherewithal to utilize, and indeed maximize, the opportunities opening up with the newfound revitalization of our economy,” he added.
Budget for 2 summits
Aquino arrived here on Sunday morning together with an 84-member delegation.
The government is spending P14.3 million for the entire group’s participation in the 21st Apec forum in Bali, which runs until Tuesday, and the East Asia Summit in Brunei on Wednesday and Thursday, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa said in Manila.
Among those attending the two summits with the President are Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Presidential Management Staff head Julia Andrea Abad and presidential protocol chief Celia Anna Feria.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang arrived here ahead of the presidential group on Saturday.
In a statement issued by the Palace on Sunday, Ochoa said the P14.3-million budget would cover expenses for transportation, accommodation, food and equipment, among other things, for Aquino and the delegation.
Ochoa said the President was expected to share the Philippines’ initiatives with other Asia-Pacific leaders in both summits.
“Some of these will be in the areas of environmental protection and climate change mitigation, food security, women and the economy, and infrastructure investment,” he said.
The President is expected to press for the “need to strengthen cooperation in cross-border education and skills training to bolster development of human resources amid economic growth,” Ochoa added.
At the CEO Summit, Aquino served as a panelist in the inclusive growth session with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Peru’s Humala.
The summit gathers together global CEOs from the Asia-Pacific region.
The President would also meet with members of the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) and leaders of the other 20 members of Apec for discussions of common concerns, such as the promotion of trade liberalization and facilitation, economic technical cooperation and people-to-people connectivity, Ochoa said, quoting foreign affairs officials.
At the East Asia Summit in Brunei, Aquino will take part in at least nine meetings between the Asean and Japan, South Korea, China, the United States and the United Nations.
He will attend the gala dinner to be hosted by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Wednesday, as well as the closing ceremony and the handover of the Asean chair of Brunei to Burma on Thursday.—With a report from TJ Burgonio