WHAT had taken entrepreneurial daring and caring in 1995 to build the nation’s call center industry – expected to rake in total revenue of $25 billion this year – may ground to a dead halt by June 2016, such death assured by devil-may-care antics of an aspirant to the presidency.
The business process outsource industry began when upstart entrepreneur Joey de Venecia was introduced to how business is done in our strangled neck of the woods – a House of Representatives lawmaker demanded P10 million in exchange for the franchise to a telecommunications firm he had put up with a Thai outfit.
It dawned on him that the cost of doing business in the country has to make allowances for corruption, another name for decay; a way to go for corpses and maggot-infested carcasses. “An industry upstart like me may lose money but need not lose moorings or even a wry sense of humor,” he related.
“Even so, I called up my dad to let him know of my disappointment, ‘Ganyan ba talaga ‘yan? May P10 million? How can I do telecoms business if I waste outright P10 million for nothing?’ ”
By 1995 he obtained a paging franchise and a license for a telecommunications outfit amid killer competition. All the “big boys” had gone ahead in the playing field – PLDT, Smart, Globe, Bayantel, Islacom, even Index, his paging company which focused on corporate clients, had to tangle it out with the early leaders in the business that catered to a wider consumer base.
But profit was thinning. And it was becoming difficult to turn up money to pay his people. In a gambit of sorts to keep the core business intact, he sold Index to Easy Call, the biggest paging company at that time. De Venecia kept his people, the paging staff – the first batch of call center agents.
Refitting the outfit was made quick and pain-free for the employees. What he did was turn that 500-strong division into a call center called Q-Interaction, “a service help desk for firms in the American mainland that needed support for internet connection and handled medical and financial transcription.”
Q-Interaction became the first Filipino-owned call center in the Philippines – that which began the BPO industry averaging $20 billion in yearly earnings, giving steady jobs to more than a million Filipinos while generating at least 120,000 new jobs each year.
Change is coming for the call center business. Wannabe President Rodrigo Duterte y Roa has warned the United States and Australia that he will cut ties with them when he sits as President. That can be unsettling for both US and Australia, whose BPO companies in the Philippines accounts for the employment of over a million Filipinos.
The Duterte threat was trotted out after the American and Australian envoys criticized him for his rape comments about missing out on the gang rape of American missionary Jacqueline Hamill. He wanted to have the first go at her and Duterte supporters cheered him for that.
Duterte often makes good his threat of killing people. He may likely kill the BPO industry.
A few more threats
Duterte expressed his desire to throw out the window our ownership of the West Philippine Sea in exchange for China to build a railway system in Mindanao. He believed it to be a fair tradeoff that will provide greater benefit to the country.
Erstwhile lawmaker Ricky Sandoval, whose family owns a fleet of fishing vessels based in Navotas-Malabon, estimates that the West Philippine Sea generates a yearly fish catch of $21 billion, not to mention untapped reservoirs of gas and crude beneath the seabed.
It did not occur to the longest-serving Davao mayor that giving away even a portion of the national territory constitutes treason, a betrayal of our country, a culpable violation of the Constitution. Selling off our people’s birthright for a mess of potage is also akin to betrayal of the Messiah for 30 pieces of silver, a great feat for one worthy of being a Judas.
He could do away with murder, and carry out such grandiose bargain sale to the peskiest claimant to our territory by setting up a revolutionary government once he is elected as President, so he crowed to his cheering groupies and fans.
The lawyer in him knows that such acts, if carried out, would pronto prompt Congress to impeach him. His countermove that he revealed to avid fans would be to abolish Congress.
For a 71-year-old, Duterte can still send shivers of kilig to his most loyal followers as he plies out threat after threat and promises that don’t sit well with good sense. Maybe – he knows that the average lifespan of Filipinos is 76 years old – he sees it coming and he wants a grand spectacle before a final exit.
What he’s been threatening to do, what he promises the hordes whose loyalty he commands doesn’t smack of politics.
He’s winning, we’re losing
Duterte’s pronouncements have pumped up a higher level of fear on a quaint class of people who aren’t exactly criminals. Say, a few more notches to his popularity ratings among Filipino voters sent shivers up the spines of investors, fund managers, and traders who may likely be shivering in fright at the prospect of a Duterte presidency.
Thus, they have taken steps, which ought to explain why we’re seeing a see-saw effect of sorts. Duterte’s popularity ratings rise some more, the peso suffers a thrashing and those jittery investors, fund managers, and traders are pulling out whatever they can. So the Philippine currency sinks a little bit as these fund managers – their clients are mostly old people seeking modest returns for their life savings or retirement pensions – sell a few hundred millions of pesos to buy euros, dollars, whatever stable currencies that can ensure margins in the money markets.
And damn, too, those nervous investors who have plunked down a few millions in shares of Philippine corporations, they’re selling out and seeking stability of their investments elsewhere. They’re fleeing as cowards do.
Cowards all. So different from the bravado and bravery that Duterte has been proclaiming here and to the rest of the world.
Rest assured that a Duterte win and loss of confidence in the Filipino is in the offing.