In the luncheon meeting organized by Philippine President Benigno Aquino at the Manila Hotel yesterday, Nov. 21 he thanked the Korean government and various Korean private institutions for their support to the Philippines. Citing several key projects that were accomplished and that opened up employment opportunities for Filipinos, the Philippine President assured the Korean contingent which included no less than Korean President Lee Myung-Bak that the Philippines would lay the groundwork for more effective and cooperative growth.

Read the full speech of the Philippine President below:

His Excellency Lee Myung-Bak, President of the Republic of Korea; distinguished members of the Korean delegation; Philippine Cabinet members present; Mr. Son Kyung-Sik, Chairman and CEO of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Dr. Francis Chua, thank you for your very unusual introduction; members of the Philippine-Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry; honored guests; ladies and gentlemen:

Good noon.

The alliance between the Philippines and Korea was forged over 60 years ago—as Ambassador Chua said—when more than 7,000 young soldiers composing the Philippine Expeditionary Forceto Korea (PEFTOK) were dispatched to the Korean Peninsula to fight in defense of democracy. Despite the fact that we were contending with a serious communist insurrection of our own, Filipinos of that era still saw it a great honor for the Philippines to contribute in the attainment of freedom in a country a bit far. One of those proud Filipinos was my father, Benigno Aquino Jr., who became the youngest war correspondent to cover the Korean War at the age of 17. What my father experienced in Korea imbibed in his youthful mind the very principles that guided him throughout his life—the value of sacrifice, the importance of hard work, and the inner strengthand faith one must possess in order to successfully safeguard the freedom of his fellowman.

With 60 years of warm diplomatic ties behind us, the same ideals bolster the positive collaboration that exists between the Philippines and Korea, constantly expanding and deepening in a dynamic manner, characterized by rapid and sustained growth in recent years. Today, our  bilateral relations with Korea encompass diverse fields, with ample opportunities for comprehensive, cooperative ties in the areas of politics, culture, investment and trade, defense,education, and most importantly people-to-people exchanges.

As our nations further cement our ties based on the shared value of democracy, human rights,and free markets, the future holds much promise for both our countries. In 2010, Korea was the Philippines’ 5th leading trading partner, with total trade reaching US$6.08 billion, an increase of over 25 percent compared to the previous year. With foreign direct investments approved byInvestment Promotion Agencies valued at US$ 691.3 million, Korea was also our country’s third top investor in 2010, accounting for 16 percent of total IPA-approved foreign direct investments.These figures underscore the importance of seizing much greater investment opportunities for our countries in the years to come, engaging in expanded trade both in volume, value, and variety of goods.

As the quality of life in Korea continues to improve, the demand for services in the fields of education, travel and health services, and communications are also increasing. Korea importsaround 70 percent of their agricultural products needs, opening up greater business prospects for Filipino exporters of agricultural products such as frozen vegetables, sauce preparations,confectionary, fishery, and fresh fruits. Now, with a stable economic environment, a credible government, a talented, hard-working work force that is highly proficient in English, the Philippines has never been in such excellent position to offer boundless opportunities for Korean investments. The signing of the renewal of the memorandum of understanding between the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which we will witness shortly, serves as an impetus that will push our nations much closer to a common future of sustainable progress and mutual economic stability.

Indeed, the Philippines is now open for business, and I’m encouraging each and every one of you to be part of it. The growing number of Korean businesses in the Philippines that are thriving andshowing strength in agriculture and fishery, in renewable energy, in shipbuilding, in tourism,medium and small enterprises, garments and textiles, and PPP projects should easily clear any doubt or apprehension looming above anybody’s head. Allow me to thank our loyal Korean investors such as Hanjin, KEPCO, and Phoenix Semi-conductor who continue to place their bets on the Philippines. The jobs you have provided for the Filipino people serve as a lifeline to many of my countrymen, who have been hanging on the edge of poverty, and has had a ripple effect ontheir families and their communities. Thank you for your continued belief in our workers, and for your unwavering confidence in the Philippines.

Rest assured, this trust and confidence will not be misplaced. In fact, we have been vigoruous ininstituting reforms to improve the overall business climate of the country. We are doing this by simplifying and making processes more open and predictable, ensuring that everything we do and how we do it is clear, honest, and transparent. Our administration has addressed in anupfront way the reasons why private interest in the past has been dampened, if not converted intocynicism. We are taking greater charge in exacting accountability of how public funds are spent.We have already reformed how the government spends its money, mainly by reducing opportunities for corruption. In the government budgeting process, we have implemented a zero-based approach to ensure more efficient use of our resources. Budget items are reviewed, piece- by-piece, to determine their relevance, effectiveness, and vulnerability to leakages. We terminated programs that could not deliver, and strengthened those that proved their importanceand contributions to the welfare of our people. With the reforms that we are implementing to ensure good governance and prudent fiscal management, the Philippines is in a better position toguarantee that our projects ultimately redound to economic opportunities for our people.

What we intend to achieve is simple: an economy where growth is powered by private enterprise, but for the benefit of the greatest number of citizens; a nation where free enterprise is harnessed for growth, in an environment that promotes transparency, equal competition, and accountable governance. We are well on our way to achieving this goal, and with Korea as our close ally, we will definitely realize our collective aspirations sooner than expected.

And I must say [on a] special note: In an earlier roundtable discussion, a Korean firm by the name of Daelim, which has a Tagalog-sounding word that is equivalent of “dark,“ is engaged in the power sector, which will bring light to our people in our country. May this be the harbinger of our future together.

Thank you. Good day.

Thanks to Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) for the photo.

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