Mr. Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House, members of the Diplomatic Corps, my colleagues in Government, my countrymen, good afternoon.
The Constitution mandates I, as President, present to you the state of the nation for the year just passed. But, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, before I speak I have something to say.
Three years ago this nation embarked on a mission of change. That journey is still in progress but even now I can say with pride we have achieved something worthwhile. There were many at the outset who doubted my qualifications to lead us in this odyssey. What they failed to recognize was the enterprise was never about me. It was always about the people and what they could make of themselves if Government allowed them to do so in equal opportunity, free of corruption and obstruction. That we are where we are is the sum of the labor of millions of Filipinos in the farms, in the cities and in far-flung places removed from their families; they are who have made it possible for our economy to grow faster than our neighbors, be awarded an investment grade, and be show-cased around the world. We can now dare to dream not how we will go but how far we wish to go.
The journey has not been without its troubles. It has been better for some than it has for others. There are far too many who were excluded from the strides made: Unemployment is higher today than it was only a year ago, farmers and workers have barely grown their incomes, the middle class is being overtaken by the inflation in property prices, our cities are bursting at the seams.
The question before us is therefore whether we continue to allow for unfettered growth, whether we leave unbridled the animal instincts of natural competition and capitalism to dictate the course of this nation. All things being equal that could be the case. However all things are not equal: In incomes that is not so, in education that is not so, in politics that is not so. In fact the inequality is widening rather than receding. The gap in education makes it impossible for the poor to make up any economic ground. In politics, entrenched interests and money now make it difficult -even hazardous- for outside leaders to emerge.
We can as a nation allow matters to take their course without intervention but we must understand this is a dangerous path. Economic growth that is not inclusive is not sustainable. There are only so many condos and fancy cars the rich can buy. Politically, an exclusionary system will end in the loss of our freedoms. As we now see in other countries, economic and political concentration eventually leads to social conflagration. As John F. Kennedy said: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich”.
We need to examine the quality of our growth rather than its magnitude. It is my priority in the balance of my Presidency to narrow the income inequality in this country through enhanced education, a stronger safety net, an agro-industrial plan, burden sharing and, might I add, a little compassion.
In three years there will be a change in our country’s leadership. The issue of succession is one that is high on the minds of those whose children’s future depends on it as it is, unfortunately, of the barbarians at the gate. There are two options: Option A is to let the chips fall where they fall. That is the path of least resistance but it is also one fraught with risk. For given the exclusiveness of our political system, we could have a bad outcome.
Option B, the road less traveled, is to take fate into our hands. By promoting new leaders and through good governance I will do all I can so Filipinos have the greatest freedom of political choice. However, our national destiny lies ultimately with you, the people. As Gandhi said, we are the change we seek. We must be accountable to ourselves. Democracy is an everyday affair, not one that is exercised at the ballot box every three years. It is a daily war against corruption, poverty and ignorance. It is a war against political entitlement, the notion that public office is for sale. Public office is neither money-given, family- given, nor even God-given. It is people-given. It is a sacred trust.
When faced with adversity –be it economic hardship, political abuse or foreign encroachment -my mother reminded us that we are not alone. Hindi ka nagiisa. It is this belief and trust in ourselves and in each other that should define who we are collectively as a nation but, more important, individually as brothers and sisters seeking a place in the sun.
And now here is my official report on the state of the nation.