I was back in Davao to attend the Consultative Workshop with the Business Community, June 20-21, convened by President-elect Duterte’s economic team led by incoming Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez. Officers and members of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce & Industry were also there as strategic partner. The event was organized by Sulong Pilipinas. Present from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were some 300 titans of industries, owners and executives of big and important businesses, champions and advocates of good business practices and MSMEs. The 10-point agenda are:
Continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies, including fiscal, monetary and trade policies.
Institute progressive tax reform and more effective tax collection, indexing taxes to inflation.
Increase competitiveness and the ease of doing business. Draw upon successful models used to attract business to local cities and pursue the relaxation of Constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership, except as regards land ownership, in order to attract direct foreign investment.
Accelerate annual infrastructure spending to account for 5 percent of GDP, with Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) playing a key role.
Promote rural and value chain development toward increasing agricultural and rural enterprise productivity and rural tourism.
Ensure security of land tenure to encourage investments, and address bottlenecks in land management and titling agencies.
Invest in human capital development, including health and education systems, and match skills and training to meet the demand of businesses and the private sector.
Promote science, technology and the creative arts to enhance innovation and creative capacity toward self-sustaining, inclusive development.
Improve social protection programs, including the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, to protect the poor against instability and economic shock.
Strengthen implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law to enable all, and especially poor couples to make informed choices on financial and family planning.
The aim was to generate appreciation and actionable recommendations from the business community on the incoming administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda.
So after the backgrounders given by incoming Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning and NEDA Director-General Ernesto Pernia (in so many words and graphs, he practically affirmed the overall soundness and positive results of the Aquino Administration’s economic achievements) and Mr. Dominguez (he said they culled the 10-point agenda from the different speeches given by Duterte during the campaign. I say, for the most part they are a continuation of what the PNoy team has done over the past six years). The incoming cabinet secretaries present (I don’t remember their names and areas) were given time to articulate their significant plans for their areas. Then came the animated open forum.
After lunch, we all buckled down to do the workshops, although, half of the attendees seemed to have taken a break. The discussions were convivial, upbeat, positive and hopeful. Workshop 1 asked for feedback on the 10-point agenda and Workshop 2 was about actionable recommendations to better implement the 10-point agenda. In our group, since we were in different business and industry sectors, our ideas, concerns, issues and recommendations were numerous and diverse. We were asked for our top three, but we submitted five.
On Day 2, the atmosphere was still convivial, upbeat, positive and hopeful. There was another round of open forum with the incoming cabinet secretaries, but this time they were the ones who asked questions for the business folks to answer.
Then, PCCI President George Barcelon and Mindanao Business Club Chairman Vicente Lao presented the results of the workshop to PE Duterte in summary; the important details were not flashed onscreen but were discussed, and I forgot the first three.
4. Improve internet and telecommunications services.
5. Deliver support services to farmers (financing, technology, logistics)
6. Responsible mining with local value added, such as processing and limiting raw ore exports.
7. Develop regional industries and prepare the local workforce.
8. Improve transport networks across the country.
9. Review the Conditional Cash Transfer Program.
10. Reduce bottlenecks in the implementation of PPP and infrastructure projects and respect the sanctity of contracts.
The atmosphere was still convivial, hopeful, positive, and upbeat. Then PE Duterte spoke, joked, used the p-word and rambled on—it was as though I was listening to his campaign speech again and midnight press conferences. The cabinet secretaries on the stage were busy talking to each other or texting or looking bored.
Some businessmen, mostly from Mindanao, rushed to him after the program for photo ops. But the excitement has gone, there was a pall of disappointment. PE Duterte has said he does not excel in economics, he gets dizzy looking at the charts and graphs; his specialization is criminal law. Even at the hotel, nobody talked about the conference anymore. Business as usual. Ho-hum.
Let’s pray for our country. Let us help our country. I believe in the incoming Finance Secretary, Sonny Dominguez, and in a number of the incoming cabinet secretaries. This is the first ever such consultation meeting between the incoming cabinet members and the business community—this should give us hope—which is a good start, a step in the right direction and a show of openness. Let us pray that they serve our country and not just abide by what PE Duterte wants or dictates.
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