Speech by Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada
July 28, 2000
Co-Organized by the Asia Society and American International Group (AIG)
I thank the Asia Society, its Chairman, Mr. Hank Greenberg, and President, Ambassador Nick Platt for this great opportunity and honor to meet with you.
Heads of Asian States, including my own, have come to this city and met with the good members of the Asia Society to see if they might be able to catch the attention of the financial and cultural capital of the world. Even if only briefly, on behalf of their distant lands. As a Filipino, I could lay claim to an important edge over your other visitors: I represent a people whose association with you no other in the far east can easily match - a relationship that has spanned more than one hundred years and which has taken many forms.
No other country in the region has patterned so many of its democratic institutions - from its legal and political systems to its business and educational systems - so closely to yours. The Philippines has three million Filipinos living among you as fellow citizens and permanent residents. And no other ally in the region has stood by you through all the wars in the last six decades - from the Pacific war to the Korean war, from the Vietnam war to the Cold War.
But much has happened to the global community since our partnership underwent its last transition in the early 90's, when American military presence in my country ended. So, I make this visit - the first by a Philippine President in the new millennium - to enhance our century-old alliance and guide it to a new era of partnership. In this new world order, with interdependence and new security challenges intensifying. We anticipate the character of our alliance to make another transition.
As with any long-standing partnership, our alliance has seen both bad times and good. One difficult phase occurred within the first year of my watch, during the deliberations over the Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA. The VFA sought to allow US military forces to conduct joint military exercises and training with our forces in Philippine territory. It also provided the legal framework for the treatment of US personnel during the period of the exercises and training.
The debate was intense and the fight was no small political feat. Once the decision was made to pursuit it, however, my administration stood its ground and faced the opposition head on. The VFA was ratified and Philippine-American Defense Cooperation has been revitalized.
Political and economic challenges such as this have marked the first two years of my term as President, the financial and economic crisis that affected our region was triggered from beyond our borders and control. Yet had an inevitable impact on our economy, especially in the banking, industry and other sectors.
Other crises, such as what hit our Philippine Stock Exchange earlier this year, have had a more domestic character, surfacing from within our private and public institutions. These events cannot be excused nor brushed aside and they have served to pinpoint areas that required reform. Yet, even as they have served as a wake-up call, they also, ironically, have been the best demonstration of the basic soundness of our economic fundamentals and the resilience of our political system.
It is generally conceded that among the countries directly affected by the Asian crisis, the Philippines managed to pull itself through relatively unscathed.
In 1998, during the worst year of the crisis, the Philippines recorded a GDP contraction of only half a percent. That contraction could not even be primarily attributed to the original financial crisis but rather to the impact of adverse weather on our agriculture.
Last year, Philippine GDP grew by 3.2 percent. And for the first semester of this year, we anticipate a GDP increase of over 4 percent.
My assertions on the resilience of the Philippine economy are not mine alone. Allow me to quote from a recent IMF study on the Philippines, entitled Philippines: Toward sustainable and rapid growth. "On balance," it says, "the Philippine economy has been able to weather the regional crisis better than most of its neighbors, reflecting more favorable starting conditions as well as the pragmatic implementation of sound macroeconomic policies."