President Aquino says tackling corruption key to growth

President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines said his administration will focus on tackling corruption and poverty, as well as trying to stop the country's most talented people seeking work abroad.

In an interview with the BBC, the President said corruption cases were being filed on an weekly basis.

He said the government would also lift social spending and job creation.

President Aquino came to power 10 months ago.

And while his campaign slogan was "if there's no corruption, there would be no poverty", he is also facing a number of other issues.

Foreign direct investment in the country has been impacted by the economic problems in the US and Europe.

At the same time, export growth has slowed and, as is the case with many other Asian nations, inflation is becoming an increasing headache.

Speaking to the BBC's Sharanjit Leyl in Singapore, the President said that tackling corruption would be one of the main steps in improving the country's economic and social environment.

"We've been filing cases on a weekly basis against smugglers and tax evaders," he said.

"There was an attitude by certain quarters that they were beyond the law, we want to prove that that is not the case.

"We will be compiling the evidence, preparing the cases for officials who have been involved in crimes and for those that have plundered the national treasury.

"At the end point, there has to be certainty of being incarcerated if you commit a crime."

Helping hand?

The President went on to explain his latest plans for reducing poverty in a country where one in four Filipinos live on less than a dollar a day.

He said that the government will expand its "conditional cash transfer" programme, adding that it would make up the biggest part of the social spending plan.

Last year the government signed up 1 million people to the programme, and President Aquino said they wanted to add another 1.3 million in 2011.

"Basically the stipend the government will give to them, will substantially raise their current living conditions," he explained.

President Aquino said the government estimated that there were 4.6 million families that needed support.

"We project two years, before we are able to tackle all of them, when we have the resources to put them on that programme.

"We are helping them survive now, we're investing in their future by keeping their children in school."

Image caption Philippines President Benigno Aquino is on a three-day visit to Singapore

Brain drain

A key part of the future, however, will be ensuring that educated Filipinos do not all leave for other countries.

According to current estimates, some 9 million Filipinos are working overseas, and there are fears this will leave the country short of the skilled labour it needs to prosper.

"We cannot move away from the sense that we cannot prohibit them from going," he said.

"The thrust is that instead of going abroad out of necessity, it will become out of choice because there are alternatives in the country.

"That's why job generation is one of the priorities on our platform."

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