Davao City: Business leaders on Tuesday presented 10 key recommendations that President-elect Rodrigo Duterte said will be considered when his team finalizes the country’s economic policy agenda for the next six years.
Delegates to a two-day conference dubbed “Sulong Pilipinas: Hakbang Tungo sa Kaunlaran” (Onward Philippines: A Step Toward Progress) have trimmed down hundreds of recommendations that included strategies for agriculture, fisheries, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), responsive governance, dependable bureaucracy, feasible infrastructure and human resources into a 10-point wish list for action by the incoming government.
“I assure you we will study and review it. It’s a matter of just doing it,” Duterte said.
At the conclusion of the workshop spearheaded by incoming Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, in partnership with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Mindanao Business Council (MinBC), about 450 participants presented a narrowed down list of top 10 recommendations as follows:
• Comprehensive tax reform—including the reduction of corporate and personal income taxes as well as lower capital gains tax rates patterned after the taxation systems of Singapore and Hong Kong. To compensate for the deficit resulting from reduced tax rates, the foremost suggestion is to increase excise taxes by expanding the definition of luxury goods.
• National ID system—participants agreed there is a pressing need for such an ID system that will allow government agencies to provide more targeted social services and prevent double-counting or leakage. The system is expected to improve access to health, education, food, shelter, and conditional cash transfer programs, aside from enhancing peace and order.
• Ease of doing business—automation and streamlining of processes at the local and national levels were recommended to reduce processing time for permits and bottlenecks in land titling. Other suggestions to cut red tape were: expansion of the “single window” concept, extension of validity for various licenses, and use of “negative confirmation” for government approvals.
• Improvement of internet and telecom services—amending the existing telecommunication law or Republic Act 7925 should be prioritized, along with the passage of a law to regulate wireless/mobile internet services to make the Philippines competitive with its Association of Southeast Asian Nations neighbors. To ensure enhanced connectivity, workshop participants recommended the creation of internet cooperatives in far-flung areas similar to existing electric coops.
• Support services for farmers—delegates proposed the adoption of value-chain development in rural-based enterprises, including agriculture and mariculture.
Recognizing the vast untapped potential of the agri-sector, they recommended a support system through financing, technology, and logistics to raise rural productivity and employment.
• Value-added, responsible mining–participants want the next administration to limit and gradually eliminate the export of mineral ore. Instead, they recommended a shift to value-added processing that would facilitate a strong domestic mineral products industry.
• Development of regional industries–there is a need for a national strategy to determine sectors where the country has the greatest competitive advantage and optimize the value of our land, people, and other resources. Delegates suggested an action plan to identify industry clusters and regions where SMEs should locate to avail of lower transport, energy, and logistics costs.
• Improvement of transport networks–a clamor to fast-track infrastructure projects nationwide resonated among the participants. Priority should be the development of regional airports, seaports, and mass transit projects such as the North-South Railway, C-6 Expressway, Cebu Bus Rapid Transit, and Davao Port projects.
• Review of the Conditional Cash Transfer program–perceived as a program that promotes dependency on government, the CCT must be reviewed to allow for long-term intervention that teaches the poor to catch fish rather than receive dole-outs. Participants suggested enhancing social protection initiatives through skills development, cash for work, livelihood projects, among others.
• Reduction of public-private partnership bottlenecks and respect for contracts–concrete measures should be made to remove roadblocks preventing speedy implementation of vital infra projects, such as right-of-way issues and lack of synergy between local governments and national government agencies. Delegates want an assurance from the incoming administration that existing and future contracts will be honored.
“I assure you we will study and review [the list of recommendations]. It’s a matter of just doing it,” Duterte said.
Nevertheless he cautioned, “During the campaign, I did not give any economic programs to present. I am a lawyer and I never pretended to be an economist. So do not expect me to just discuss with you these economic programs, especially taxation.”
The President-elect emphasized that besides the recommendations of the business community, he was maintaining his firm stand against corruption.
“There cannot be progress or development in the community unless there is law and order. Corruption must stop now. I don’t want corruption, it makes me sick,” he said.
Business welcomes Duterte initiative
Business leaders welcomed the initiative by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s team to consult with them in mapping out a 10-point economic agenda that seeks to including strategies for agriculture, fisheries, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), responsive governance, dependable bureaucracy, feasible infrastructure, and human resources comprehensive agenda economic on a comprehen.
Meanwhile, the participants lauded Duterte’s economic team for convening the consultative conference.
“This is the first time we are being consulted by an administration even before it assumes office, and we helped put this together because this is the most comprehensive consultation that you can ever see,” PCCI honorary chair Donald Dee said, citing the range of attendees coming from provincial, regional, national, and international business chambers.
Incumbent PCCI President George Barcelon said, “Having the government and private sector sit down to discuss and reach a consensus of what needs to be done is a very positive development.”
He said the PCCI is supportive of the broad-based socioeconomic agenda because “they’re talking agriculture especially in the rural areas, and that has an encompassing impact on poverty.”
Foundation for Economic Freedom President Calixto Chikiamko believes that “getting opinions from a diverse set of participants will enable the next government to come up with policies that would make sense to everyone in all the regions.”
He said the socioeconomic agenda lacks specifics and needs to be fleshed out, but found the statement of Sec. Dominguez that “the Duterte administration will be good for business” heartening.