Thank you very much, Mr Ayala, other leaders of the Socialist International, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, welcome to the Philippines and secondly, thank you for being our partners in fighting poverty.
The Socialist International has been a living part of our contemporary history. The nations governed by social democratic parties in Europe were among the first to lend unequivocal support to the accession of President Cory Aquino after the EDSA revolution in 1986.
In more recent times, Bert Gonzales, who is now in my Cabinet, worked with social democrats within the foreign ministries of Spain and France, as the Philippines was sinking into a political crisis in early 2000.
At the time, I was Vice-President, and I had the opportunity - as mentioned by Mr Ayala - to meet with him, the Secretary General in London. This was before we had another EDSA revolution that brought my administration to where it is today.
My sincerest thanks to the leaders of the Socialist International for your abiding faith and support. I am glad you are here in the Philippines. God must have inspired you to hold your meeting here at a time when we need to address burning issues in regional security, the harmony and solidarity of nations and the future of democracy.
A major facet of the war against terrorism is being played out in our corner of the world. The Philippines is home to a minority of Muslims, but when viewed within ASEAN, we are home to the most vibrant Christian minority of South-East Asia. But when it comes to the fight against terrorism, we have unity in diversity. We have an agreement with Malaysia and Indonesia to join hands in depriving terrorists access or sanctuary in our common seas and the islands around them. This is in the context of an ASEAN declaration against terrorism, and also in the context of an even larger APEC declaration.
Enveloped in these alliances is the participation of American troops in training exercises so that our soldiers will be better equipped and better trained to fight the Abu Sayyaf threat in Southern Philippines. We are one with America and the international coalition to fight terrorism in any and all of the theatres of conflict. This is our policy and we shall not relent in its pursuit.
On the other horizon, the Philippines is blessed with a deeply rooted culture of peace. As President, I cannot allow a fratricidal war against our own people. The Asian way is more of peace than war and in the pursuit of peace. I am supported by the social democrats in the Philippines and even the social democrats in other parts of the world.
Norway and Sweden are helping in our peace negotiations with the revolutionary left. Our reaching out to these countries for support comes from the fact that the PDSP, a coalition partner of my government, is a member of the Socialist International. Through the PDSP I have channelled my appeals for international support for peace in the Philippines and our region. And we have been greatly supported by Bert’s counterparts in Northern Europe.
We've also reached out to the Islamic countries in shaping the path of peace in Mindanao. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, OIC, was instrumental in the success of the four-year negotiations for peace with the Moro National Liberation Front. And at present, Malaysia is a very welcome facilitator of our ongoing peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
And peace, I believe is gaining ground.
Over 16,000 rebel returnees have already been granted amnesty and are on their way to becoming reintegrated with mainstream society.
We will defeat terrorism, but we will not allow a religious war to happen in our region. We will join hands with America and the Islamic world to win the peace in the end for our people, for the people of ASEAN, for the people of all mankind.
The social democrats will be our enduring partners. Even as I speak, you are active in organising inter-faith dialogues. Our social democrats in the Philippines are active in organising inter-faith dialogues in Mindanao as part of our bid to isolate religious extremism from the mainstream Muslim and Christian communities.
The country needs peace to uplift the Filipino people and empower the communities. We need peace for progress, and we need peace to fight poverty and destitution. With peace, more farms can be tilled. More bounties on the sea can be harvested. More crops can be reaped and sold.
Our fight against terrorism is part of our broader goal to fight poverty. Our vision of eradicating poverty within the decade is anchored on a comprehensive development plan that revolves around four major components:
The first is an economic philosophy of free enterprise appropriate to the 21st century. We believe that this philosophy is the one that will create jobs especially in the neediest sector and areas. And will east the burden of the poor;
The second component is a modernised agricultural sector founded on social equity. This will bring economic development to the rural areas, where most of our poor live. This will also enable the poor to be participants and not mere beneficiaries of the development process;
The third component is a social bias toward the disadvantaged to balance our economic development plan. We hope that this will bring immediate relief to the longest-suffering sectors living in the fringes of society;
The fourth component is to raise the moral standards of government and society, because we need high moral standards to be the foundation for good governance.
We have been guided by real, visible and measurable targets. Most of which were highlighted in my first state of the nation address to Congress last July.
Economic growth in 2001 created a million and a half jobs in the Philippines, reducing both the unemployment and underemployment rates, and cushioning the negative impact of last year’s global slowdown.
We pumped in an unprecedented 28 billion pesos for our agricultural modernisation programme to strengthen the social equity of our farmers and fisherfolk. We granted security of land tenure to 150,000 urban poor families and 100,000 rural farm families. More than 34,000 low-salaried workers have already been given financial assistance for their housing needs.
We have identified more than 1,600 villages - we call them barangays - that are not served by any school buildings. By 2004, we hope to have school buildings in these barangays.
We have also stabilised the prices of prime commodities which make up the bulk of the market basket of the poor. The price of rice has been stable during my administration. We have also set up more than a thousand rolling stores all over the poor areas of our country to enable the poor access to even lower priced rice.
We have embarked on a programme to enrol half a million individuals from the urban poor in the national health insurance programme to give them access to affordable quality health services. We have almost doubled that target. We have exceeded our target for health insurance coverage for urban poor by more than 85 per cent, and we have cut the prices of common medicines bought by the poor by one half.
We are implementing the Grameen bank strategy for micro-financing. And we would like to cover at least 300,000 women every year.
We are also taking steps to safeguard our natural resources. A sustainable forest management programme has been adopted to protect, develop and conserve our forests.
We are infusing common sense, discipline, accountability and integrity in governance, based on three principles: first, a sound moral foundation to guide our leadership at all levels; second, a philosophy of transparency in all government transactions; and third, an ethic of effective implementation throughout the bureaucracy.
My government’s obligation to the Filipino people is not a mere promise of a better life. It is a vision stated in specific terms and in terms of that vision, I would like to see a government being able to bring about an environment that puts food on the table. That creates jobs. That provides relevant education. That gives shelter to the neediest sectors.
Poverty is the primary enemy. There is more evil in being hungry, ignorant, sick and suffering from injustice. It is the duty of every free nation to work, to fight this evil in the world.
We are all affected by terrorism. We must all work together to wipe it out. We all recognise that poverty feeds terrorism. We must extend our present coalition for peace into a coalition for prosperity, and mount an earnest programme for poverty eradication and economic development.
Until the underlying forces that make our poor vulnerable to exploitation are neutralised, the peoples of the world will never be able to live free of the dual scourge of poverty and terrorism. We are all in this together. We must act together, now.
Seeing you here gives me great hope and deeper faith that we will prevail. So to our dear friends, our brothers in the Socialist International, thank you again for coming to our country. And thank you for your contributions to our peace and security, and for being with us in the struggle for democracy and human dignity.
Mabuhay! And God bless us all.
(Check against delivery)