MANILA, APRIL 8, 2013 (MANILA STANDARD) By Christine F. Herrera - PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III compared the economy to Christ on Easter Sunday, saying the country had risen from the dead, but opposition leader and Vice President Jejomar Binay said the vast majority of Filipinos were still suffering and that the nation had yet to be reborn, and liberated from the chains of poverty, hunger and injustice.

“Jesus’ return from the dead represents the hope that each Filipino has held on to despite the defeat and suffering brought about by corruption and systematic deceit,” Mr. Aquino said in an Easter message in Filipino, referring to the previous administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“And it is clear to anyone with reason that, in the same way that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, our country is rising once more and reclaiming our dignity. Ever since we returned the full strength and power of government to the people, ever since we chose to turn away from a culture of selfishness and impunity, we have been able to carry our nation forward on the straight path to progress,” he said.

Mr. Aquino again cited his government’s P40-billion cash dole to the poor under the conditional cash transfer program, saying it benefited over 3 million poor Filipinos.

He said the government would also address the 66,800-classroom shortage, and become self-sufficient in rice and begin exporting the commodity too this year.

For this reason, the government is preparing for the likelihood that more Filipinos who are working overseas will seek opportunities back home.

“There is no doubt. By always choosing what is right and by caring for our fellow men, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ,” President Aquino said.

“We have saved the country from certain failure, and we are today reaping the fruits of success,” he said.

But Binay, president of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, said the Filipinos’ suffering has continued to this day.

“Many of our fellow Filipinos are still experiencing dark hours in life – the suffering and pain, the misery and disappointment – but with Christ’s grace, there is redemption, restoration, and renewal,” Binay said.

“Easter Sunday is a significant occasion to start a new life in faith, and a time to celebrate our personal triumphs after going through life’s challenges,” UNA said in a statement.

“We, in the United Nationalist Alliance, are one with the nation in carrying that symbol of hope. We pray that our country would finally be resurrected and liberated from the chains of poverty, hunger and injustice,” Binay’s UNA said.

The President’s congressional allies, meanwhile, said “resurrection would not come to those who work less” and urged Filipinos to work harder to sustain “the phenomenal growth” achieved under the Aquino administration.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles said the latest Fitch credit ratings upgrade was “short of having a miracle.”

Nograles, Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento and Iloilo Rep. Jerry Trenas, in a joint statement, said the Filipinos should work harder to sustain President Aquino’s reform agenda.

Sarmiento said the fruit of the country’s economic growth, which was a result of sound economic policies and a no-nonsense campaign against graft and corruption, is “not easily translated into quick economic relief for the country’s poor.”

“Economic growth doesn’t quickly translate to a better life for the poor. We still need to work hard because no matter how good the economy has become, it is still impossible to reap the benefits of our economic growth if we just sit and wait for the good things to come,” he said.

“A good economy is not like winning a lottery ticket where everyone becomes rich in an instant,” Sarmiento said.

He said that trickle-down effect of a country’s improving economy would take at least five to seven years of sustained growth before it reaches the poorest of poor.

In five to seven years, Sarmiento said, the benefits would come by way of more available employment, increased opportunities for small and medium investments, free but quality education, improved health care, wider social welfare programs such as the CCT, increased social housing “and many other government projects that would help uplift the lives of the poor.”

“And to truly extend the benefits of the country’s economic growth to the poorest of the poor, the people need to work even harder and united in supporting government efforts to cut bureaucratic red-tape that drives away investors,” Sarmiento said.

Trenas said the rise of the Philippine credit rating to investment grade should open a wider door for foreign investments and maximize the nation’s long-term economic potential but would nonetheless require a more cooperative labor sector to achieve industrial peace.

“Labor unrest is a big turn-off to potential investors. Our improving economy will not be translated into more investments and more employment if we don’t have industrial peace. We should be able to offer our country as a better investment destination if compared with our neighbors including China,” Trenas said.

Nograles that the latest Fitch credit ratings upgrade should end all skepticism on President Aquino’s ability to run the country’s economy and encourage the people, rich or poor, to rally behind his administration’s bid to defeat poverty through a sustained war against graft and corruption.

“First and foremost of the confluence of eventful reforms is the government’s drive for a more transparent and efficient governance. We all have to be part of the cleansing process and win the war against graft and corruption in all levels of the bureaucracy,” Nograles said.

Nograles said that to be able to enjoy the benefits of the country’s growing economy, Filipinos should seize all available opportunities “such as reinventing themselves from mere seven-to-five employees to small and medium scale entrepreneurs.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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