MANILA, Philippines – For President Benigno Aquino III, there is no confusion: rehabilitation efforts are the government's number one priority.
Speaking at the Euromoney Philippines Investment Forum on Tuesday, February 18, Aquino vowed to sustain the economic reforms achieved by the Philippines, but said it is the "genuine recovery" of areas hardest-hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) that will be on top of the administration's to-do list. (READ: Gov't hit for delayed Haiyan shelters)
After all, he said, "rehabilitation efforts dovetail seamlessly into our plans for the economy in the medium and long term." (READ: Some of PH's poorest provinces along Yolanda's path)
"The industries we have focused on growing these past few years rely heavily on the affected areas – whether it is agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, or manufacturing," he said.
Aquino highlighted his promise to "build back better," an approach he called proactive so that affected communities "surpass how they were before Yolanda." He said the construction of more resilient houses and rebuilding damaged infrastructure to become sturdier are "in tune with the needs of an evolving economy."
"It is not simply about distributing goods or putting up shelter; it involves coming up with strategies to revitalize the economies in the local communities, to create jobs, and to encourage productivity in the areas in the soonest possible time," he said.
Aquino also expressed confidence that with the continued help of the private sector and the international community, the successful rebuilding of hard-hit areas is near.
"We will complete the rehabilitation and improvement of the affected communities sooner rather than later; and all of you will see those areas brimming with more opportunity than ever before," he said.
The President's speech comes just a little over 100 days since the world's stronger storm hit the Philippines on November 8, killing about 6,200 people and leaving nearly 2,000 others missing. It also destroyed or severely damaged 1.1 million houses, leaving more than 4 million people homeless.
On Monday, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the government is on target with its Philippine Development Plan economic goals, which expire in 2016, but is behind on its desired social outcomes. Partly citing the hazard-prone location of the country, the government unveiled its newest strategies to accomplish its social development targets.
Yet despite the government's intense concentration on rehabilitation, Aquino gave assurances it is "fully intent on keeping up the pace" of his administration's economic progress. (READ: PH grows 7.2% in 2013, above gov't target)
"I assure you, even as we focus on building back better, we have not dropped the ball when it comes to our most vital industries. In fact, our key industries made giant strides in 2013," he said.
Aquino cited the 10.5% growth of the manufacturing sector, which he said was one of the key drivers of building the country's economic momentum, and the ability of the Philippines' flagship carrier to regain permission to fly directly to and from Europe, boosting tourism.
Other initiatives of the government to continue reforms include:
But Aquino said the "single greatest guarantee" that will fuel the continued economic reforms of the government is the newly empowered Filipino people who have "regained the capacity to demand excellence from their government."
"As much as we measure the confidence of investors in our country in fundamentals and policies, as a public servant, I must point out that there is another factor we must pay attention to. It is the self-esteem and morale of our citizenry," he said.
"Not long ago, our people had very low expectations of their country, their government, and even themselves. Over the past three and a half years, however, we have shown them what it feels like to have a government that actually works for them – a government that does not break past promises, and in fact, underpromises, and over-delivers."
This change, he said, is the lasting legacy his administration hopes to leave.
"It goes without saying that this has had a tremendously positive effect on our national psyche: The Filipino has recovered his pride, and has become even more determined to exhibit his full potential to the entire world," he said. – Rappler.com