Business leaders all over the Philippines and foreign delegations from various parts of the world gathered last October 26-27 in Marriot Hotel for the annual Philippine Business Conference (PBC), the country’s premier results-oriented dialogue between government and private sector decision-makers.
Organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the 41st PBC focused on building synergies and strategic alliances to deliver the promise of competitive environments, global integration of economies and value-added formation of industries to enable business to gain competitive advantage to grow and expand more quickly and efficiently.
This year’s theme “One. Global. Filipino: Synergies in Partnerships for Global Competitiveness,” touched on investment opportunities in the local, regional and global settings; highlight success stories and global and regional trends on business competitiveness including strategies for business and economic growth, developing a world-class infrastructure, and advancing international trade partnerships.
“We need the government to come up with sound policies and strategies to leverage our competitive edge. This situation highlights the need for an intensified collaboration between and among the private sector, development partners, and the government,” PCCI President Alfredo M. Yao said in his opening speech.
The business conference opened with a keynote speech from Vice-President Jejomar Binay who asserted the need for infrastructure projects that was lacking in the previous years. The speech was followed by talk from International Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer Philip Kucharski who asked the Philippine government to ratify the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).
“Only 22 out of 160 governments have ratified the agreement, and only a handful more have plans to do so in the coming months, although the EU (European Union) is about to ratify in the name of its 28 members. That’s why I’d like to use this opportunity to encourage the Philippine government to ratify the TFA as quickly as possible and to put in place an ambitious approach to implementing the agreement in conjunction with the private sector,” Kucharski said.
Two panel discussions tackled about competitiveness. One covers the infrastructure sector and the other is on doing business in the Philippines. Included among panelists for infrastructure plenary session are Secretary Rogelio L. Singson of Department of Public Works and Highways; Roberto Locsin, General Manager of International Container Terminal Services, Inc.; Engr. Michael Cosiquien, Chairman of Megawide Corporation; Raoul Romulo, Chief Finance Officer of SMC Holdings Corp.; and Paulinus Kuncinas, Managing Editor of Oxford Business Group.
Singson cited the need for the government to respect contracts in order to ensure business predictability. “We should continue to make sure that government follows what is in the contract, and that regulatory bodies enforce what’s in the contract,” he said.
The first day ended with simultaneous break-out sessions on investing in the Philippine Stock Exchange, cost and benefits of dual training in the Philippines, business and investment opportunities, branding and IP commercialization, doing business in Russia, opportunities in the Middle East, and involving business chambers, associations and enterprises in dual training.
2016 Onwards: Vision for Economic Transformation
Highlight of the business conference was the special session wherein the major candidates for the 2016 Presidential election – Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago pitched to businessmen their economic platforms if they will be elected as the next president.
The initial format was a forum where presidential candidates will be facing each other and exchanging views before the business group. However, Binay requested to do it separately — stating their platforms then answering questions from the moderator one by one.
Santiago, the first candidate to hold the floor, said in her opening statement that she will turn over to her successor a nation that is more prosperous, a people more united and prouder of their leaders, and political institutions that are more stable. Her three priorities are to invest in people, in public infrastructure and in political institutions. The Freedom of Information Act (FOI) will be the first law that she will enact because she believes this is an important tool to promote public accountability. She also believes that the tax system must be overhauled.
When asked on her health, she reiterated that there is no provision in the Constitution requiring a candidate to show medical records. Santiago was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2014 but has overcome it and now cancer-free.
“Can’t you see that I can stand straight and I can look you in the eye? What else do you want? Why are you so nasty? What government do you want to grow into if this is your attitude? Magtulungan tayo. (Let’s help each other) Let’s have a sense of shared destiny, not shared destruction. ‘Yan ang problema sa Pilipinas eh. (That’s the problem in the Philippines.),” Santiago told the audience.
Another issue raised to Santiago was her decision to run alongside Sen. Bongbong Marcos. Santiago For Santiago, it’s not her function to defend the fellow senator but she firmly believes on the capabilities of the senator. “Bigyan natin siya ng pagkakataon dahil nanalo naman na siyang senador. Nanalo siya. (Let’s give him a chance because he won as a senator.) Ibig sabihin (It means) the greater majority do not have opposition to his being a public servant.”
For her final statement, Santiago emphasized the importance of FOI. “With the FOI, concerned parties can ask specific information from department secretaries or agency heads, and the latter are duty bound to comply. That is what the public wants. That is what enhances transparency and accountability—not the selective posting of public information.”
Binay, the second speaker, mentioned in his opening statement that he will focus on a sustainable and shared economic growth through balanced social and economic policies. The three priorities under his presidency are: economic dynamism that will create more jobs and opportunities for the people; social inclusion or expanded social services; and a change in the leadership and structures hindering the rapid development of the Philippines. He also expressed his support for the amendment of the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to encourage foreign investments and create a more vibrant business environment. Similar with Santiago, he will revise the income tax rates.
When asked regarding corruption allegations, Binay told the businessmen “It’s the job of the courts to say what you’re doing is corruption. The moral problem is not corruption, the moral problem is poverty.”
The last speaker during the presidential forum was the most familiar with the business community and PCCI. Having been trade chief once, Roxas felt at home during his speech. In his opening statement, he said that he will continue the programs of the Aquino administration. Roxas focused on the fruits borne from the Daang Matuwid program, especially the government’s investment in the Filipino people and in infrastructure. Daang Matuwid governance stands on three main principles: transparency, rules-based governance, and anti-corruption. Roxas also believed that education is the key to a better future.
Though Roxas believes that tax system should be revised, he said that the tax system is something that should not be done at the heat of the election battle. “It’s the easiest thing: If all you wanted to be is popular, all you have to say is no more income taxes. But what does that do to the government? What does that do to the services, the infrastructure, the economy that all of you are benefitting from right now?”
The former DILG secretary had the longest time during the forum since he also initiated an open forum from the audience. He concluded his speech with “what we’re talking about is more than just an election or an office. We’re talking about the hopes and dreams of all of you, of a hundred million Filipinos, who want for a better life, who want a clear path as to how to attain it. And that is what we’re offering sa Daang Matuwid.”
Senator Grace Poe was not able to join the three other presidentiables due to a miscommunication between the organizer and her office regarding the event schedule but she appeared in the presidential forum and gave a message.
She mentioned public infrastructure is necessary for the country to improve the tourism sector which has a great potential for value added activities and job creation. “We should transform — and this may be a bold move — one of the rooms in Malacañang into an infrastructure war room for projects, with real time feedback capability, if possible,” Poe said.
At the end of the business conference, PCCI submitted a package of business recommendations for the remaining months of the Aquino administration. Areas of reforms includes —legislative, energy, environment, industry, education, logistics, transportation infrastructure, information and communication technology and services, intellectual property, capital market small and medium enterprises development and taxation.