Police and protesters clash at the end of President Aquino's State of the Nation address (Photo by Jun Mestica)
President Benigno Aquino on Monday cited economic progress as evidence the Philippines was no longer “the sick man of Asia” in his third state of the union address.
Amid protests outside the Congress building in Manila and regular applause from inside the chamber, Aquino said an increase in spending on education, health and housing combined with successive upgrades to the country’s credit rating were the major successes two years into his presidency.
“What was once the sick man of Asia brims with vitality,” he said.
Aquino called for Congress to pass the controversial reproductive health bill which would see the government team up with the private sector to provide universal access to condoms and other forms of birth control in the predominantly Catholic country.
Reference to the proposed legislation prompted one of the loudest rounds of applause from Congress members.
Aquino has identified the bill as one of his administration’s priorities as the Philippines looks to curb a rapidly increasing population of close to 100 million people.
Outside the Congress building, police and protesters engaged in a tense confrontation that resulted in stone-throwing, with at least two photojournalists reported injured.
Demonstrators, many of whom were members of the Philippines' numerous militant groups opposing the central government, called on Aquino to address “people’s issues” including human rights, land reform and the environment.
The leftist group New Patriotic Alliance said Aquino was trying to fool the nation with his speech.
"Many of the so-called achievements of this administration … are all quite meaningless to the ordinary Filipino facing high prices, landlessness and low wages," said Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes.
Environmental party Kalikasan said they were protesting Aquino’s refusal to "pursue a genuinely clean and green governance," policies that formed the basis for his push for the presidency ahead of the 2010 election.
Aquino needs fewer words, more action