MANILA - With presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte looking to shake things up once he takes office, outgoing President Benigno Aquino III admitted there was no radical transformation in the country, but insisted there had been dramatic improvement under his watch.
"I submit that if your expectation is that in six years, you will have radically transformed, we haven’t even, by the six years’ time, we wouldn't have even graduated a child from elementary," Aquino said.
The president defended his administration's economic and foreign policies and overall track record in an interview with the New York Times, which was shared on the publication’s Facebook page.
"At the very least, I think we have fulfilled our promise of leaving something better, doing better than what we found,” Aquino said. “These are stepping stones to even greater heights and hopefully, our people will continue to be engaged and will demand of those that replace us even more than what we have produced, because those that succeed us will have less problems than what we had when we started out.”
“[They] will have a more capacitated and empowered, not just people, but society (and) even the institutions, that will make the job of governing, if not a lot easier, definitely easier than what we found," he added.
Aquino also pointed to several indicators of progress under his administration.
"There are 4.6 million households that would say that their lives are different, are very much different from where it was in 2010. These are the people who are part of our conditional cash transfer program. I can probably show you 300,000 of the first batch of high school graduates that are more assured of a better future than before. Even the traffic which critics lambaste me with indicates intense economic activity that is happening," he told the New York-based newspaper.
Aquino believes the economy would have done better under his watch except for two things.
"There are two major issues, two shocks that affected us during our watch: 2013 with Haiyan; and 2014 with the cartel that managed to, as we say, play with the price of rice,” Aquino explained.
“Now, the food costs are very heavily weighted, especially for the bottom bulk of our society,” he added. “Absent of those two, the numbers in terms of poverty alleviation should have been higher."
Aquino likewise stood by his administration’s track record in employment and health care.
"Not too long ago, job availability was the only issue, or was the central issue. We have addressed the unemployment figure by having the smallest figure in close to a decade. GDP growth is the best comparable to 40 years ago."
Meanwhile, the chief executive stood by his close engagement with the United States in dealing with the country's maritime disputes.
"If we look at it realistically, can we do it all by ourselves? Can we assert our rights all by ourselves?” Aquino said.
“We can shout our voices, of course, but if we do not get world opinion on our side, then ours will really be a lonely and forlorn battle. Hence, it is necessary for those who have liked values to get together with them and hopefully, encourage them to have their voices heard in this matter that affects all of us," he added.