Sunday, July 20, 2014

DOTC Secretary Abaya's Closing Remarks at the Daylight Dialogue

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya delivered the following closing remarks at last week’s Daylight Dialogue: The Good Governance Challenge, held at the MalacaƱang Palace and attended by President Benigno Aquino III, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, public and private sector leaders, and other advocates of good governance and development reform:

A pleasant afternoon to all of you.

I am deeply honored for this opportunity to speak today. This conference lays emphasis on the cornerstone of this administration’s promise to every Filipino: a leadership of integrity, a government of reform, a policy of transparency and accountability to the people, an ultimate goal of inclusive growth.

The Daylight Dialogue, today’s gathering has been called, and aptly so. Each one of us was drawn here today by a common vision for the country – one that has come from many years of darkness and has finally seen the light; one that we will never allow, for the sake of our children and future generations, to ever retreat once more into the shadows and negate the progress we are making today.

We are here for the same reason. We are committed to good governance and reform. More significantly, we are committed to making these changes irreversible.

Today, we have engaged in profound discourses on the success of President Aquino’s administration in pulling the country into the light, and how we can work together towards ensuring that we will never again succumb to the dark. We have spoken about how we will hurdle the challenges thrown our way, and how we will institutionalize government’s accountability to the public.

Today, we have reaffirmed the line that this administration has drawn between black and white.

That line has not always been clear. Many times in our past, black and white mixed together into a palette of various shades of gray, blurring ethics and integrity in government into a confused swirl of right and wrong. This is no longer the case.

Two (2) mechanisms of utilizing public funds which have captured national attention for the past several months and which have been chief discussion points today are proof of that line.

On the one hand, recent events have shed light on the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF, the so-called pork barrel system, a legitimate budgetary appropriation which appears to have been abused by some lawmakers, if the account of several credible whistleblowers is to be believed.

Billions and billions of pesos of taxpayer money is said to have been misappropriated, having been diverted into private pockets instead of worthy projects for the public’s benefit.

On the other hand is the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP, parts of which the Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional, but which has made possible the implementation of numerous projects benefitting the public, rather than being plundered from the nation’s coffers.

Those on the dark side insist that PDAF and DAP are merely different shades of gray. I’m careful with the pronunciations because we Filipinos have this talent of interchanging our “eps” and “fees”: so it is “PDAF” and “DAP.” They are attempting to blend right and wrong into a swirl of confusion, trying to convince the public that black and white are one and the same.

People who have seen the daylight should know better. Manipulating legitimate measures to steal the people’s money is black, creating good faith measures to use public money for the people’s benefit is white.

The line cannot be clearer to those who choose to see with a clear vision, yet it is blurred to those who can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

Good Governance and Inclusive Growth

As Transportation Secretary, I cannot help but talk about trains, planes, and automobiles.

But transportation is more than that. Transportation is access to opportunities. It is the promise of a better future.

Everyday, tens of thousands of people take the bus into Metro Manila from neighboring provinces like Bulacan, Laguna, and Cavite. They brave hours of daily commute just to get to their schools and workplaces.

Why do they do this? Because they cannot afford to live in the more expensive residential areas of Metro Manila, yet many good schools and jobs are located in the central business districts and highly-urbanized cities.

Clearly, they are disadvantaged compared to those who can afford to live in Metro Manila. They spend much more time simply traveling to and from their destinations, and as a result, are less productive and have lesser quality of life. But convenient, affordable, and efficient transportation levels the playing field for them. Transportation presents inclusive growth for students and workers, skilled and unskilled.

Over 30% of the Filipino workforce is engaged in the agricultural sector. Yet a vast majority of our farmers and fisherfolk remain poor.

Why is this? Because they are unable to sell or trade their goods efficiently. Their progress is severely impeded by their lack of access to markets.

Imagine if we have a fully-operational freight rail system running across Luzon, allowing agri-based workers to move their produce hundreds of kilometers in a matter of hours, from their farms and fishing grounds, to their consumer markets. Imagine if we have highly-functional Ro-Ro routes, which allow inter-island shipment of these goods and cargos at affordable prices, expanding even further their market access. We at the DOTC are working on these projects, because they present inclusive growth for farmers and fisherfolk.

We would not be able to pursue these projects and many others if the country does not have a strong economic policy, or sound fiscal management, or a healthy environment for investors. But we are able to do these under President Aquino’s leadership, because of our unwavering commitment to good governance and development reforms, to The Daang Matuwid.

Compare this to the past 15 to 20 years. Hardly any major investments were made, partly due to the negative perception of international investors, the lack of political will, and a deeply-rooted culture of corruption.

Ultimately, the result has been the disenfranchisement of the less fortunate. They have not been given a fair shot, an equal opportunity, to enjoy the benefits of a clean government that serves the people, not those in power.

We have chosen to put an end to those dark days of our history. We have chosen to pursue what is right, and to disabuse all notions that only different shades of gray will prevail in government.

Level Playing Field for All

Through the promise of inclusive growth, this administration is committed to creating a level playing field for all stakeholders.

On our part in the DOTC, we envision erasing the backlog in transportation infrastructure over the next 5 to 10 years, in such a way that the infrastructure we build will meet the country’s needs for the 10 to 20 years that follow.

To do this, we begin with a level playing field in our projects. Fairness, openness, and transparency are the hallmarks of bidding and procurement processes under the law. They are the hallmarks of the procurement process under the Aquino administration.

We realize how any crack in the trust between the public and the private sectors will be difficult to recover from. Just like any wife and husband or girlfriend-boyfriend relationship, kapag may lamat, it will be difficult to find the right adhesive if ever you find one. If we do any act or make any decision which would sow distrust or shake investor confidence in our processes and practices, we may lose all potential bidders for our future projects altogether. This is why ensuring a level playing field both in perception and in reality is sacred to us.

Thankfully, despite all these controversies which have been raised against the bidding out of our projects at the transportation department, numerous companies – both foreign and local – continue to participate in our bids. We take this as a vote of confidence in our work, both in terms of structuring projects, as well as in ensuring fairness, openness, and transparency in our bids.

Rest assured that the path we have chosen is a path of disruption. We are disrupting the status quo, the under-the-table culture, the shady deals and government pay-offs. We may have ruffled many feathers, but we do not mind ruffling the feathers of those who have poisoned our country with their blurring of ethical and legal lines.

As I have said, this administration does not confuse right and wrong. We have drawn the line between black and white. We are committed to transparency, and to never allowing this government to fall into the opacity of darkness again.

Maraming salamat po. The President has called for an NDRRMC meeting in Camp Aguinaldo at 5:00pm. Stay dry. Stay safe.

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