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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

President Benigno Aquino in the UK

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The UK, home to some 250,000 Filipinos has been chosen by President Aquino as his first stop on his UK and US official visits. The President arrived late night on Monday, 4 June 2012. On 5 June, he addressed hundreds of representatives from various organisations throughout the UK who gathered at the Intercontinental Hotel in Hyde Park, London.

It was heartwarming to hear a lot of people have travelled from afar with relatively short notice just to see the President. And the ballroom quickly filled up with the excited chatter of those keen to see and hear President Aquino.

The crowd was regaled with songs by renowned Filipino artists based in the UK - including Natalie Chua, Cleo Sagun, Karlene Hayworth, Boboy Santos, the West End Mamas, Joanna Ampil and a dance number from Lahing Kayumanggi.

President Aquino was welcomed like a rockstar by the Filipino community as he arrived around 7pm. He spoke mostly in Filipino. He discussed at length the corruption his administration has unearthed and what they are doing to hold people accountable. He spoke about the recent impeachment of Corona, how desperate measures had to be taken because the country's judiciary system had impeded their steps.

He did not waste time bragging about the country's 6.4% GDP growth (hailed as the second highest in Asia and highest in Southeast Asia), that the Philippine Stock Exchange Index (PSEI) increased 27 times during his term, and that the country was given 7 upgrades on its loans. There is still more work to be done as they are still addressing classroom shortages and promoting the conditional cash transfer programs as an incentive for families to keep the children in school. Housing benefits for the police will soon be realised followed by similar projects for the country's key workers. Tourism is set to grow and a forecast of 4.5m tourists are expected for this year. They calculated, 1 job is created directly or indirectly for every tourist who have visited the country.

We are on track to make sure that the country will be self-sufficient by 2013 when it comes to rice production and resume being able to export again.

He challenged a recent interviewer to come and visit the Philippines by the end of his term to see for himself if the Philippines is still recognisable - quite an ambitious statement for a president with a short term and limited resources. But he reiterated, that with the people's continued trust and support, this can be done.

Video of the President's speech by RTVMalacanang

I have voted for Aquino back in 2010. But have never really been much of a fan. I appreciated the amount of work his administration has put in to set examples and hold people accountable, his humility at reminding us that he remains a servant to the people. Slowly, the Philippines is being seen in a better light. And though a lot of the country's poor have not yet benefited, his recent accomplishments gives us hope that progress is not impossible.

He remains highly criticised. But the heated online discussions on political and even religious issues in the country is a sign that people are starting to engage, facing the problems and forming opinions. If anything, I thought, apathy is our country's greatest enemy.

Six years is a very short time to make lasting changes. One president's accomplishments can very easily be undone by the next as we have seen time and time again. And as much hope is pinned on PNoy, he is still very much learning on the job. His decisions and indecisions all have repercussions to the man on the street. And at the end of his term, people will judge him by what little food the country's poorest can put on their tables.

In the spirit of transparency and accountability, the President has spent the P87.1M budget for the UK and US business trip. Let's hope he practices what he preaches and we'll see the breakdown of these costs soon. But we wish him success on his meetings with the Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama and hope that budget is just a drop in the ocean to the business he'll be bringing back to the country because of these visits.


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