Philippine president Aquino touts achievements, pans critics in key speech

Philippine President Benigno Aquino delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) during the joint session of the 16th Congress at the House of Representatives of the Philippines in Quezon city, metro Manila on Monday, July 28, 2014. Phi
Philippine President Benigno Aquino delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) during the joint session of the 16th Congress at the House of Representatives of the Philippines in Quezon city, metro Manila on Monday, July 28, 2014. Philippine President Benigno Aquino sought on Monday to revive a presidency beset by the worst political crisis he has had to face since his election in 2010 by dredging his achievements and vilifying his administration's critics as obstructionists and profiteers. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - Philippine President Benigno Aquino sought on Monday to revive a presidency beset by the worst political crisis he has had to face since his election in 2010 by dredging his achievements and vilifying his administration's critics as obstructionists and profiteers.

In his "State of the Nation Address", Mr Aquino enumerated statistics that he said show gains from reforms he set in motion have trickled down to a large section of the population. He also said that investors are now pouring money into the Philippines after the world's top three ratings firms gave the country investment-grade ratings, as its economy grew at an average 7 per cent over the past years.

Mr Aquino delivered his address as he grapples with a massive corruption scandal that has tainted his image as an anti-graft crusader and undermined his ability to deliver on reforms to sustain growth.

"The problems we have inherited, we have solved. The ones that are here, we are sloving. The ones that are to come, we are preparing for that," Mr Aquino said.

The annual address comes amid waning approval ratings for the president, and at a time when the Supreme Court this month declared partly illegal a 145 billion pesos (S$ 4 billion) stimulus programme that Mr Aquino launched in 2011. The court ruled that the programme encroached on Congress' exclusive power to appropriate funds. Three lawmakers have cited this ruling in endorsing impeachment complaints against Mr Aquino.

Turning to critics, he likened them to a "noisy orchestra" that "seeks to punch holes in our boat" and "connives to waylay our journey".

"While changes are happening, their attacks become more frequent, more heated. Why are they so mad? What is their motivation? It's because they lose the opportunity to exploit the people, to bring down the government, to add to the ranks of those suffering," said Mr Aquino.

Mr Aquino, who will step down in 2016 after six years in power and barred constitutionally from seeking re-election, further urged voters to choose a new president "who has not an iota of doubt about the transformation we are pursuing".

He then urged voters to choose in 2016 a new president "who has not an iota of doubt about the transformation we are pursuing".

However, analysts have panned the president's address as long on rehashed statements and short on clarity.

"I expected him to detail what he intends to do in his remaining two years, but I didn't see that," said Mr Temario Rivera, a fellow of the Centre for People Empowerment in Governance.

Ms Marie Fe Villamejor, dean of the National College of Public Administration and Governance, said even the benefits Mr Aquino cited fell short of bringing the "inclusive growth" that has been a catch-phrase of his administration.

"When we look deeper into the number, those who are really benefiting are the affluent. The poor, they're still poor," she said.

rdancel@sph.com.sg

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