MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Monday said he expects the Office of the Ombudsman to file its first major anti-graft case by the end of the year as he works to rid the Philippines of a "wang-wang" mentality.
Hearkening to his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aquino said the ban on unauthorized use of blaring sirens (wang-wangs) showed that the government is serious in cracking down on an attitude of entitlement being held by corrupt officials.
"Do you want the corrupt held accountable? So do I. Do you want to see the end of wang-wang, both on the streets and in the sense of entitlement that has led to the abuse that we have lived with for so long? So do I. Do you want to give everyone a fair chance to improve their lot in life? So do I," he said.
The President referred to an issue raised by his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, that the new administration is personally targeting her and other former officials linked to corruption.
"Some of my critics say that I take this campaign against corruption personally. It’s true: doing what’s right is personal. Making people accountable—whoever they may be—is personal. It should be personal for all of us, because we have all been victimized by corruption," he said.
"What is wrong remains wrong, regardless of how long it has been allowed to persist. We cannot simply let it pass. If we ignore the crimes of the past, they will continue to haunt us. And if we do not hold people accountable, then they will do it again and again," he added.
Aquino, son of late democracy icon and former President Corazon Aquino, was elected into office after vowing to hold accountable former officials accused of wrongdoing.
The campaign against corruption was a recurring theme in the President's 2nd SONA, which was delivered in Tagalog.
Aquino cited numerous instances that point to a "wang-wang attitude" by abusive officials during the Arroyo administration. These include:
* the Philippine National Police's purchase of second-hand helicopters that were sold as brand new;
* the P232 million in "midnight bonuses" for former officials of the Philippine National Construction Corruption;
* an P18.7 billion Laguna Lake dredging project that would yield only temporary results; and,
* excessive importation of 2.3 million metric tons of rice.
The President said he is aware that some sectors continue to complain about his style of governance. He said his critics should note the style of governance by the previous administration and the achievements of his own government in 1 year.
"Anyone with their eyes open can clearly see which is right. We are steering our government in a clear direction. A country where opportunity is available; where those in need are helped; where everyone’s sacrifices are rewarded; and where those who do wrong are held accountable," he said.
P1 billion for PAGCOR coffee
Some of the examples of corruption presented by Aquino were unique. He said the former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) management spent P1 billion for coffee before the turnover of the new administration.
He noted that even at P100 a cup, he said PAGCOR officials would have to consume 10 millions cups of coffee to account for the P1 billion expenditure.
"Where did all that coffee go? Who drank it? Perhaps we can find the people who consumed all that coffee and ask if they have been able to sleep in the last few years," he said.
In the case of the NFA's excessive rice imports, he said the government had to pay extra for warehouses to store the 2.3 million metric tons of rice, which is a million tons more than 1.3 million needed.
In comparison, he said the government has cut down the estimated yearly shortage of 1.3 million tons to 660,000 tons of rice while also increasing domestic rice production by 15.6%.
In his speech, Aquino praised Public Works Secretary Babes Singson for removing the different layers of kickbacks in public works projects, which resulted in P2.5 billion in savings.
He noted that the DPWH Secretary recently fired a district engineer in Region 4B (Mimaropa) for approving a project worth P300 million, which is beyond the P50 million that district engineers can sign off on their own. He said the district engineer passed the scrutiny of DPWH central office by cutting the project up into components that would not breach the P50 million limit.
Aquino also announced the appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio Morales as the new Ombudsman after the former Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, resigned this year.
"When the new Ombudsman, former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, takes office, we will have an honest-to-goodness anti-corruption office, not one that condones the corruption and abuses in government. I expect that this year, we will have filed our first major case against the corrupt and their accomplices. And these will be real cases, with strong evidence and clear testimonies, which will lead to the punishment of the guilty," he said.
Ratings upgrades, stock market gains
Aquino also boasted of his government's achievements including a 5-percentage-point drop in self-rated hunger from March to June this year, equivalent to 1 million families.
He said the Philippines received 4 ratings upgrades in his first year compared to only one ratings upgrade during the 9 years of the Arroyo administration. He said the upgrades were no small feat since ratings agencies have grown more conservative since the American financial crisis.
He also said the Philippine Stock Exchange Index has reached 7 record highs in the past year.
He also boasted that at least 140 companies have expressed interest in investing in oil and natural gas projects for the past year.
Meanwhile, he said the government is already fast-tracking housing projects for soldiers and policemen.
Aquino also stood firm on the Philippines' claim to the Spratly group of islands on the West Philippine Sea.
"Our message to the world is clear: What is ours is ours; setting foot on Recto Bank is no different from setting foot on Recto Avenue," he said.
The President said the Armed Forces will see capability upgrades and modernization of equipment including the purchase of the country's first Hamilton Class
"We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone, but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours. We are also studying the possibility of elevating the case on the West Philippine Sea to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, to make certain that all involved nations approach the dispute with calm and forbearance," he said.
Aquino, meanwhile, defended his decision to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao from August this year to May 2013.
In his speech, the President said ARMM politics "have been dominated by horse-trading and transactional politics", which affect the results of the national elections.
He said: "During national elections, whoever is in power in ARMM is free to manipulate the electoral machinery in his region, ensuring that non-allies do not get votes. That Mayor or Governor then demands payment for his services come the ARMM election, and it is the administration’s turn to manipulate the electoral machinery to secure the win of their candidate."
Aquino said 80% of funds disbursed by the office of the ARMM Governor were for cash advances that cannot be justified. He said that instead of building up the region's infrastructure, corrupt officials merely built "ghost bridges to reach ghost schools where only ghost teachers went to work."
The President said allowing the elections to continue would have perpetuated the endless cycle of electoral fraud and official abuse that has led ARMM to become one of the poorest regions in the country.
He also made a call to expand the conditional cash transfer project, which has already reached 1.6 million of the country's poorest. He said the government aims to invest in the future of 3 million families by the end of 2012.
"We are giving these poor families a chance to improve their lives, because their progress will be the country’s progress. How can they buy products and services from businesses if they do not have a proper income? When a poor father turns to crime in order to feed his family, who would he victimize, if not us? When people cannot properly take care of themselves and fall ill, do we not run the risk of getting sick as well? We are laying down the foundations for a brighter future for the poor," he said.
5 years left
Aquino said one achievement that he is proud of is the return of a sense of pride for government workers.
He said that in one year alone, the administration has "put an end to the culture of entitlement, to wang-wang: along our roads, in government, in our society as a whole."
He challenged his supporters to take advantage of the remaining 5 years to create a government that works. He said this can be achieved by ridding the country of negativism, crab mentality and corruption.
"No more cheating, no more taking advantage of others, no more one-upmanship—because in the end we will all realize our shared aspirations. Let us end the culture of negativism; let us uplift our fellow Filipinos at every opportunity...," he said.
Finally, he reminded his fellow Filipinos not to think twice about praising other people who are doing the right thing.
"To the Filipino nation, my Bosses who have steered us toward this day: Thank you very much for the change that is now upon us," he concluded.