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Noynoy Aquino with Cesar Purisima
In this Oct. 14, 2014 photo, then-President Benigno Aquino reads a copy of The Philippine STAR next to his finance secretary Cesar Purisima.
Malacañang Photo Bureau/Gil Nartea, file

Full text: Cesar Purisima's eulogy for former President Noynoy Aquino

Cesar Purisima (Philstar.com) - June 24, 2021 - 4:07pm

The following is the complete text of former finance secretary Cesar Purisima's written eulogy for late former president Benigno Aquino III.
 

I share the profound grief of the Filipino people on the passing of former President Benigno S. Aquino III.

My deepest condolences to the Aquino family, and to the wider family of public servants who served with honor under his presidency.

I owe President Aquino a debt of gratitude for the opportunity of a lifetime for my 6 years of service in his cabinet as Secretary of Finance and as head of his economic team. It was President Aquino’s strong mandate and unwavering resolve that made those 6 years particularly fulfilling ones as we sought to, as he mentioned in his inaugural speech, “travel far on the right path, and…bequeath a better future to the next generation.”

President Aquino demonstrated principled leadership in realizing those hopes for our country in the 6 years he was in office. The turnaround story of the Philippines – from Asia’s sick man to Asia’s bright star – is without doubt one of his greatest legacies. He left office with a Philippines more optimistic about its future, having ended the vicious cycle of doubt and having entered a virtuous cycle of confidence.

His 6 years in office was proof of his fundamental thesis: that good governance delivers great economics.

I recall with pride, how we raced past our peers and even outpaced China at times to post economic growth figures that were among the world’s fastest. Indeed, the 6-year growth average of 6.2% during his administration was the Philippines’ highest in 4 decades.

A key pillar of President Aquino’s enduring legacy is fiscal sustainability, having reduced debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) to historic lows of 44.8% by 2015 and having weaned the country off foreign debt, with external financing also at their lowest share in the portfolio at 34.8%. The Philippines’ historic first ever investment grade in 2013 was also the direct result of his leadership. The international community saw how the Philippines walked our talk on fiscal consolidation and granted us 24 positive credit ratings actions – the most in history – and made us the world’s most upgraded sovereign back then.

President Aquino also strongly pushed for revenue reforms – from the landmark Sin Tax Reform Law of 2012 and the GOCC Governance Act of 2011, to difficult revenue administration and enforcement reforms – that further expanded our fiscal space. The 6 years under his leadership were thus the most intensive period of investment the nation had enjoyed in decades. Our investment in our people’s education, social services, healthcare, and infrastructure, all expanded both in proportion to our GDP and to our national budget. The widening of fiscal space during his tenure has afforded us the ability to keep investing more while remaining in good fiscal standing over the years.

President Aquino ended his tenure with a record low 5.8% unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2016, and with high consumer and business optimism. Our standing in various international rankings likewise improved dramatically, jumping 38 notches in the World Economic Forum Competitiveness Report from 85th to 47th, while climbing 39 and 45 places in the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom and the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report during his presidency.

For people who remember history by the numbers: these are just some of the irrefutable figures of the tangible gains the great economics of President Aquino’s good governance had delivered.

For people who remember history by its grand narratives, President Aquino was a uniquely singular figure in recent political history. His principled leadership consistently put people over politics, prudence over populism, refusing to let expedient electoral games get in the way of his sacred responsibility to the Filipino people. The character of his conviction shone the brightest in the most difficult moments: time and again, I saw him face down tough choices between the judgment of history on the one hand and the treatment of headlines on the other: always making a dignified decision for the former no matter the immediate repercussions.

President Aquino was a transformational leader who humbly took the long view, one who understood perfectly how change is always an ongoing process in a continuum, and how we ran but a small leg of a never-ending relay race for the betterment of our people. They say power corrupts, but with President Aquino, it seemed as though, perhaps bearing the abiding pain of history – at once both deeply personal and immensely national – the presidency always maintained a knowingly careful and responsible relationship with power. His was a presidency that deeply understood the weight of consequences each decision carried, no matter how far-reaching or long-enduring such consequences were.

His presidency is a lasting reminder of how far our will to hope and hunger for change can take us. When President Aquino left office, the Philippines was full of heady optimism. It felt like the morning again after a particularly long and dark night. His presidency empowered all of us Filipinos to believe that we can do and be better, and that the Filipino is indeed worth fighting for each and every day.

His sudden departure – no doubt too soon – leaves us with little time to reflect on his place in history. I am certain there will be a fuller reckoning of his outsized impact on our nation’s trajectory. As we celebrate his life and honor his memory, let us turn our deep grief to profound hope. In these difficult times, under the dark cloud of a long pandemic, may his legacy endure to remind and inspire our nation of a bright future we once greeted – and can meet again – if only we rise to the challenges of the moment.

I join the nation in paying our solemn respects. Rest in eternal peace, former President Benigno S. Aquino III.

 

Cesar V. Purisima is the former secretary of the Department of Finance.

CESAR PURISIMA NOYNOY AQUINO
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