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Speech of His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III President of the Philippines At the APEC 2015 Philippines national launch

[Delivered in Makati City on December 1, 2014]

One week from now, we will be demonstrating the 1000% effort—the first visitors for APEC 2015 will set foot in our country, and the Philippines will have the distinct privilege of hosting the next chapter in one of the largest joint efforts to improve trade and cooperation amongst major economies. Here, within our communities, leaders from government and the private sector will map out the future of the Asia-Pacific.

This gathering’s significance is magnified when one considers that, in a world where many economies are reeling from uncertainty, Asia-Pacific economies have, for the large part, sustained a relatively good level of growth. In fact, Southeast Asia in particular has been identified as one of the world’s most promising regions. It is for this reason that the Philippines has chosen to orient this year’s APEC towards making certain that this growth has tangible effects on the lives of all our peoples. This explains our theme: “Building inclusive economies, building a better world.” I am confident that, with our country’s remarkable turnaround in recent years, our story and our experiences can certainly enrich the discussions on this topic.

Since our administration took office, the Philippines has undergone a significant transformation. Guided by the belief that an empowered private sector is the best engine for growth, we have worked in constant pursuit of a macroeconomic environment more conducive for investments. Today, the major fiscal foundations are in place, and will help to attract even more businesses to set up shop and expand in the Philippines. The world’s major credit ratings agencies have manifested their confidence in us by unanimously granting us investment grade ratings last year. We have reason to believe that there is more to come: In a conversation I had with the CEO of Moody’s, he told me that it was very rare for a country to receive a credit ratings upgrade together with a positive outlook. This is all happening at a time when these same credit ratings agencies are being more conservative with their assessments. These developments have resulted in lower interest rates for private sector companies, and longer terms that were not available in the past.

Perhaps the revitalization of our business environment can best be seen in the progress of our Public-Private Partnership Program. So far, during our term, we have been able to award and sign off on eight solicited PPP Projects, for a total value of P62.6 billion or $1.3 billion. This is more than the six PPP projects completed by the past three administrations combined. On top of this, as opposed to the past, when the Philippines had to offer tremendous incentives onerous to the people just to entice companies to participate in the process, now we are being offered large premiums by companies just so that they can build the infrastructure we need, because of their confidence in the potential for profit.

This renewed confidence in the Philippines has been very apparent in the global community. Since 2010, we have improved 33 places in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, 49 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, and 40 places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, among many others.

The economic numbers justify their confidence. For instance, from 2010 to 2013, GDP growth has been recorded at an average of 6.3 percent. Compare this to 2006 to 2009, when the average was only at 4.3 percent. On top of this, despite the many challenges we have had to face, GDP growth over the first three quarters of 2014 has remained strong at 5.8 percent, with manufacturing continuing to be one of the main contributors. On average, growth since 2010 has been more industry- and investment-driven, as opposed to the past, when growth was disproportionately reliant on remittance-driven consumption. Today, we see a stark change as investments continue to flow in, widening the horizon of opportunities, empowering our domestic consumer base, and helping us grow more resistant to shocks in the global economy.

Of course, true success cannot be measured by these numbers and distinctions alone. Rather, it can be seen in how these gains have become meaningful to our people. After all, the only real growth is inclusive growth, which has been the north star of all our government’s initiatives. It is this principle, for example, that has guided our massive investment in our Conditional Cash Transfer Program. Over the course of our administration, we have more than quintupled the scope of this program, going from just around 800,000 household beneficiaries to more than four million today. The deal is simple: the government will provide poor families with a monthly cash grant, in exchange for pregnant mothers undergoing regular health check-ups, and children being sent to school, among others. This 2014, we actually expanded this program to include even families with children of high school age, as studies have shown that high school graduates earn significantly more than those who only finish at a grade school level.

This dovetails seamlessly with our efforts to improve education. As more and more children are attending school, we are making sure that the quality of education they receive is improved. Since our administration began, the budgets of our Department of Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority have been substantially increased.

Last year, we ended the inherited resource gaps that have long stunted the development of our education sector. A look at the magnitude of the backlogs only emphasizes the achievement of Education Secretary Armin Luistro: 66,800 classrooms, 61.7 million textbooks, and 2.5 million school seats. TESDA has likewise put in a marvelous performance under the leadership of Secretary Joel Villanueva. Through the Training for Work Scholarship program, we are equipping our people with the necessary skillsets to capitalize on the opportunities that are becoming increasingly available. The efficacy of this program has been greatly improved during our administration, with the general employment rate of graduates going from 28.5 percent between 2006 and 2008, to almost 70 percent in 2012. Might I add that in some industries where private sector participation in training is high, this number has reached almost 96 percent.

Interventions such as this have equipped our labor force with the skills to be more competitive, whether in the country, or in the global community. This is especially significant given that our country will be entering a demographic sweet spot next year, which means that majority of our population will be of productive working age.

This is inclusive growth: where economic progress enables the betterment of our peoples; and where those empowered peoples can open the doors wider to even greater progress, spurring a virtuous cycle of empowerment and continuous development.

More than two decades ago, when we last hosted APEC, the Philippines was considered one of the world’s most promising economies. In the span between then and now, however, there were moments when many of us wondered if our country’s potential had been completely squandered by self-serving leadership. Thankfully, the Filipino persevered. Today, I am proud to say that, in the past four years and five months, with the help of our people, we have turned the corner. We have won back the recognition, the respect, and the confidence of the global community.

This 2015, visitors from APEC economies will witness for themselves the vibrancy of an inclusive and growing nation. In Manila and beyond, they will have the opportunity to experience locations around our country that largely contribute to the dynamism and the rich culture of the Philippines. They will encounter our greatest resource: Our people, who are kind, compassionate, and talented beyond measure. And they will see for themselves an archipelago connected through a web of inclusiveness.

As the clamor for progress that leaves no one behind resounds the world over, the Philippines has the opportunity to set a global example of inclusivity this year. We are rising, and will continue to rise to that challenge. Thus, I call on everyone here: Let us show the best of our country has to offer. Let us all strive to continue being a prominent example of how economic growth should be. Let us work together to show how we are building inclusive economies, and thus building a better world.

Thank you. Good evening.