Aquino says successor should continue reforms

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III delivers his last State of the Nation Address at Congress in Quezon City, east of Manila, Philippines, July 27, 2015.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III delivers his last State of the Nation Address at Congress in Quezon City, east of Manila, Philippines, July 27, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

He urges voters to pick president who will put Philippines' interests first

President Benigno Aquino broadly hinted yesterday that he will endorse a key political ally, as he urged voters in his last major speech before he steps down next year to install a president who will continue his agenda.

Addressing Parliament for more than two hours in his State of the Nation address, Mr Aquino gave a lengthy enumeration of his achievements since he took office in 2010 that he said had led to a stronger economy and dealt a blow to rampant corruption.

All his efforts could be undone by a single election, he said.

In an indication of who he thinks will pursue his programmes and reforms, Mr Aquino singled out Interior Minister Mar Roxas and praised him for his "integrity, mettle and readiness for the job".

"You've proven you can't put a good man down… Trust that the people will see who puts the nation's interest first ahead of himself," he told Mr Roxas, 58, a former senator.


"You've proven you can't put a good man down…"

PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO, on Interior Minister Mar Roxas

Mr Roxas is the presumed candidate for president of the ruling Liberal Party, but he has languished near the bottom of surveys on who voters prefer to succeed Mr Aquino.

Senator Grace Poe, 46, who ran for a seat in the Senate as an independent candidate but as part of Mr Aquino's coalition in 2012, has a commanding lead, with 30 per cent of respondents in the latest poll saying they will vote for her as president next year.

In his best performance yet, Mr Roxas managed a paltry 10 per cent in the survey.

Mr Aquino had reportedly tried to recruit Ms Poe, but she had said she preferred to tread her own path, if elected.

In a veiled rebuke of another contender for president, Mr Aquino thanked all members of his Cabinet, his security detail and even his stylist and cook, except for Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

Mr Binay had served as Mr Aquino's housing czar.

Mr Binay trails Ms Poe, but his polling numbers have been dipping because of allegations that he misused public funds when he was mayor of Makati, the Philippines' top financial district.

In his address, Mr Aquino said next year's elections would be a "referendum" on his presidency. "Will all that we have laid down, all that we worked hard for, be undone by a single election?" he asked.

The President said: "The people will decide if the changes they are enjoying will become permanent, or be seen as just a stroke of luck and a temporary recovery in a long history of missteps."

Trumpeting his successes, Mr Aquino said the Philippine economy had grown by an average 6.2 per cent from the time he took office in 2010. "That is the most vibrant phase of our economy in 40 years," he said.

Under Mr Aquino's watch, Philippine debt has risen to become investment grade from junk, and unemployment fell to a decade-low 6.8 per cent.

Tax revenues, meanwhile, rose to 1.06 trillion pesos (S$32 billion) in 2012 from just 779 billion pesos in 2008, while foreign direct investments grew sixfold to US$6.2 billion (S$8.5 billion) last year from US$1.07 billion in 2010.

Besides his economic achievements, Mr Aquino said he managed to set in motion a military modernisation programme that would allow the Philippines to rebuild its air force with a new squadron of FA-50 fighter aircraft and a fleet of new helicopters, as well as reinforce the navy's capacity with two cutters, two frigates and plans for a small submarine fleet.

Turning his attention abroad, he said the Philippines had been able to rally world opinion behind its claims in the South China Sea, as it pursues a case before an international court against China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Aquino says successor should continue reforms'. Print Edition | Subscribe