Philippine president tells ADB: Corruption over

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Saying the days of corruption that flourished under Gloria Arroyo were over, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Friday gave his word to international lenders that he would put to good use the money they would lend to the Philippines-and they could check this out later.

"You will continue to see results. You will continue to see a Philippines that is finally living up to its potential," Aquino said in his speech that capped the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) board of governors.

"We are prepared to follow through on our commitments, and you are by all means welcome to see if we're living up to our word," he declared.

"Investors and Filipinos alike see what is happening: Here is a country determined to turn the corner by instituting genuine, wide-ranging, meaningful reform, and acting on its belief that good governance is the bedrock of equitable progress," the President said.

"We have had six positive ratings actions since we took over government a little less than two years ago-a stark contrast to the single upgrade and six downgrades in the nine years of the previous administration," he added.

He said the country's stock market also experienced 27 all-time highs in his 22 months in office.

The President noted that the ADB's official development assistance (ODA) to the Philippines amounts to US$761.97 million.

This includes $643.85 million for projects concerning social protection and support, agrarian reform, rural infrastructure, better health care and irrigation in the southern Philippines.

"You have helped out in our public-private partnership program, in our efforts to reform the justice system, and our energy-efficient electric tricycle project. We are getting to where we want to be faster because of your assistance," Aquino said.

He said the ADB meeting in Manila "reaffirms the newfound confidence the international community has exhibited towards my nation."

Borrowed money misused

"For this, you have the gratitude of our people, and a commitment from my administration. Gone are the days when the funds you funnel to our country will end up like water leaking through a broken pail," the President said.

Secretary Ricky Carandang, head of the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, said the $761.97 million ODA had been programmed for projects from 2011 to 2016.

"The President was referring in general to how borrowed money was misused in the past and not specifically to any loan program," Carandang said.

Aquino spoke of how his administration, through good governance, had improved the government's financial health and generated confidence from investors.

As in some of his previous speeches, he cited the difficulties his administration faced after the alleged excesses of the past Arroyo administration.

"(None) of us could have imagined how deeply eroded the foundations of government had become in the nine and a half years of my predecessor," Aquino said.

"Rice, imported at inflated cost by the government, was rotting away in rented warehouses. Stewards of GOCCs (government-owned and -controlled corporations) advanced their interest at the expense of the people. Bidding for public works had been orchestrated to favor individuals, again, at the expense of the people," he said.

Aquino said corruption "sapped the system of its vitality; public funds ceased to be used for the public good and found in private hands, whom we are now holding accountable."

Mindless spending

He added: "One of our first moves was to institutionalize a zero-based budget approach, where expenditures are rationalized and are not mindlessly carried over to the next year, regardless of whether they worked or not.

"We went after tax evaders aggressively ... We passed a law that put standards of governance in place so that (GOCCs) became more efficient and rational."

Aquino said the government also showed the resolve that no public official, "regardless of his or her position, will be beyond the reach of justice and accountability."

Tackling graft

The President said tackling the problem of graft had led to a more responsive government.

"As can be seen from our experience, weeding out corruption allows for a more fertile economic landscape: One that not only brings investors in, but also allows the real work of governance to impact the greater number of our people," he said.

"Enforcing strict adherence to public bidding rules has allowed our Department of Public Works and Highways to save P6.14 billion from our 2011 budget. Now that the leaks have been plugged, we can go about our business knowing that our taxpayers' hard-earned money indeed goes to projects that will benefit them," he said.

He said the DPWH's 403 projects had been completed, with the rest either ongoing or about to begin construction.

The same is true for the country's cash dole program and health insurance for the poorest of the poor families, he said.

"Now we are confident that the more than three million households in our conditional cash transfer program are actually the neediest families, and not merely the best-connected," he added. "Now we know that we are actually sponsoring the 5.2 million poorest families through our PhilHealth program."

The President said the country's greatest resource had always been the people.

"It is with this principle in mind that we have allocated unprecedented sums to alleviate extreme poverty and are concentrating on providing more opportunities for employment," he said.

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