His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
During the New Year’s Vin d’Honneur
[Delivered at Malacanan Palace, Manila, on January 14, 2016]
The New Year traditionally presents us with an opportunity to look back on where we came from—precisely to see what is left undone and to enable us to chart our future course. This time of year also lends itself to nostalgia, which is why this will be a longer toast than normal and I hope you can forgive me: this is, after all, my final New Year’s toast as President, and I find that there are so many things to recall and be thankful for.
The changes we see in the Philippines today were unthinkable when we first started in 2010. In those days, the problems seemed so vast. However, we were not intimidated. We saw the truth: No matter how great the challenge, no matter the lows we have experienced, these also always represented opportunities to rise to far greater heights.
This philosophy is the spirit behind every aspect of governance. For example, the devastation wrought by calamities has led to a determination to build back better: in constructing resilient infrastructure, and in fostering more inclusive communities. In 2012, Typhoon Bopha, or Pablo as we call it, destroyed entire fields of coconut trees from which the farmers of Davao Oriental made their livelihood. The fundamental question was: What would they live on for the next five to seven years, while they waited for the trees to mature again? Out of this came alternative livelihoods, amongst them, The Hot Pablo Chili Project, which took as little as four months to reach maturation. What pleasantly surprised us was that this substitute actually produced significantly greater incomes than the principal livelihood. In the aftermath, I had expected my conversations with Davao Oriental Governor Cora Malanyaon to be about relief, cash for work—our dialogue would always be how to help our people survive. In truth, she told me, between construction, Hot Pablo, and other interventions, their economy actually thrived in the aftermath.
Furthermore: In 2013, the resilience of Filipinos after Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda inspired the compassion of the world—and turned the Philippines into a leading voice for the most climate-vulnerable nations.
In just five and a half years, we have come so far. Economic growth has never been more vibrant; prospects for sustained and equitable progress have never been better. Investments in health, social services, and in education, this early, have led to millions rising out of poverty, and an empowered citizenry who can participate more in nation-building. It is clear: the Philippines has gained a new prominence in the world.
Today, in marking the New Year with you for the last time as President, I could not be prouder—or more thankful for everything we have achieved together. One hundred million Filipinos began the virtuous cycle of change in 2010 and worked with us to ensure its progress, aided by so many partners and friends from the world over, like all of you here.
As members of the diplomatic community, you know that forging stronger bilateral ties requires more than words and wishful thinking. To produce actual results, there must be commitment and action. During my time in office, I have had the good fortune to work with so many of you in whom I saw a deep desire to help Filipinos and, by so doing, help your own people. You have done your countries proud. On this occasion, perhaps, you will permit me to thank all of you by highlighting the work of certain envoys as examples of the entirety:
There is of course, the dean of the diplomatic corps, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, who has worked closely with us not only in ensuring the success of last year’s papal visit, but also in uplifting the lives of Filipinos. We thank Ambassador Guy Ledoux, former head of the European Union delegation in our country, who was instrumental in our achievements in aviation, agriculture, trade, and even in the peace process.
Ambassador Philip Goldberg of America has played a vital role in the consistently close ties between the USA and the Philippines, especially in forging a strengthened bilateral defense cooperation. Former Japanese Ambassador Toshinao Urabe and his successor, Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa have worked to enhance our countries’ strategic partnership, for instance, through facilitating significant humanitarian assistance and official development assistance, as well as the successful state visits to both nations. In particular, Ambassador Urabe helped to arrange the initial meeting with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Tokyo, serving as the foundation on which both parties built trust and mutual good will—which remain key to the peace process.
We also thank former Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell and his successor Amanda Gorely, for the extensive assistance they have helped to facilitate: almost immediately, in the wake of calamities. There is also Korean Ambassador Jae-Shin Kim, who has been an able representative of his country: Helping to strengthen trade and investment between the Philippines and Korea, and also to coordinate projects we undertook for our countrymen like the construction of schools in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
I cannot forget former and current Indonesian Ambassadors Yohanes Legowo and Johnny Lumintang; as well as Malaysian Ambassador Dato Mohd Zamri Bim Mohd Kassim—they have all done extraordinary work in strengthening the cooperation and friendships between our people, particularly in the anti-terrorism effort and humanitarian relief.
Of course, we express a special gratitude to those who have helped us along the path to peace: Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Japan, Norway, the European Union, Libya, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and all those who continue to trust our determination to bring lasting peace to Mindanao. I am thankful that you did not give up on us, and that you remain advocates and champions of peace.
Again, there are so many more I wish to thank, but I am afraid that if I were to name all of you one by one, the length of this toast could rival or even exceed my last State of the Nation Address. [Laughter] You know that I am not a well-travelled individual. Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously said that all politics is local; and we certainly had a lot of problems on our own shores. Suffice it to say: through your efforts, all my foreign visits have been resounding successes; our work has led to much benefit. In you, we see able partners and friends of our people.
I have every confidence in my countrymen, and I know they will not let our efforts go to waste. Come May, the Filipino people will choose my successor, displaying the same commitment to positive transformation that they have shown over the past five and a half years. The straight path will open farther and wider well into the horizon of our nation’s future.
I know you will continue to journey with us along this very path. After all, cooperation between our nations has already borne fruit: for example, the agreement we reached during the COP21 in France—one that embodies our commitment to address global climate change, and pave the way for a cleaner, safer future for all. The COP21 was proof positive that we can look beyond parochial concerns, and find a solution together.
It is my hope that we can maintain, and even enhance, the already good relationships we hold, for the benefit of all. This is the key to overcoming the rest of the challenges facing us: from the rising number of refugees seeking sanctuary, to the evil of extremism, and to the ever-present battle against inequality and corruption. These are massive, daunting undertakings—that much is true. Yet they also represent opportunities for us to help millions of people to live peaceful, secure, dignified lives—to put enough food on their tables, to live free from fear, and to pull their weight, as we all do our part in building a better world.
With this, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, may I propose a toast:
To my countrymen, the source of our strength and hope, they who hold in their hands the future of the Philippines;
To the friends of the Filipino people, may each success we share be the building blocks to help us reach far greater heights that we may not even be able to imagine today;
To the unity that binds all of us today—a unity that has allowed us to work under the guidance of the Almighty, towards promoting inclusive growth, safety, and stability across our borders.