As one of the founders of a so-called influential business chamber my hope was that it could be a forum for constructive ideas, and so it was during the dark days of martial law when my chamber defied rigorous censorship by the regime by putting up an underground press that chronicled the abuses of the regime.
There came a point when an editor was hauled to the Eastern police district for interrogation. Had it not been for the foreign correspondents he would have been locked up for the duration of martial law.
Against this backdrop it was indeed a big disappointment that my club would join the chorus of voices emanating from business chambers which I thought was the height of naiveté and ignorance. Their advocacy for the passage of the RH law now pending in the highest court defies economic logic which they are supposed to be the proponents of — a situation where a big portion of the population has now joined the labor force and ready to accommodate labor-intensive investments now crowding export processing zones and a large service sector to produce a higher level of income, productivity and employment boosting the GDP.
Never mind the fact that the surplus labor in the country has found employment abroad and is responsible for the impressive current account surplus in the balance of payments with its inward remittances of almost P100 billion a month. Never mind the fact that our young and growing labor force has become a magnet for business process outsourcing making this country the second biggest in the world. Never mind the fact that the growing remittances from overseas workers has triggered a consumption-driven economy that is responsible for the second highest growth rate in this continent which in turn has created a multiplier effect producing the housing boom, the erection of supermarkets in rural areas and the Philippines becoming the texting capital of the world, not to mention an acceleration of domestic travel judging from the expansion of the domestic airline industry and maritime travel.
And what have the business chambers contributed to the economy? In the fifties our entrepreneurs relied mostly on the crutches of exchange allocation, high tariff protection and tax incentives to produce an imported-capital intensive assembly operation in urban areas, resulting in the benign neglect of agriculture which continued to rely mostly on a two-crop export program. All of which activities produced very minimal impact on the economy even if it produced abnormal profits for members of the business chambers who can count on the biggest tax-evaders and technical smugglers in the country and who still continue to exploit local labor through contractual arrangements which deprives a vast number of employees the social security due them.
Some of the leaders of the business chambers are also known to bankroll the candidacies of politicians who have not produced much impact on the development of this country and who on the contrary have depleted much needed development funds by diverting these to their pockets via the pork barrel system.
Indeed we face today an unholy alliance of political dynasties powered by politically-entrenched economic elite. These are the political Pharisees and the economic Scribes of biblical times.
If one wonders why the strong advocacy of the chambers for anti-natal legislation and population control, one only has to examine from the roster for members of that very influential lobby group – the pharmaceutical firms and their allies who expect to reap a handsome bounty from precious tax money that has been earmarked for reproductive health paraphernalia like condoms, pills, injectibles, etc., money that could have been better spent for rural puericulture centers, CT Scan and much needed dialysis equipment.
Those who do not belong to this category are those multinational firms that have conveniently found shelter in the business chambers who are heavily influenced by depopulation policies of their increasingly secularist and liberal home governments.
As for the rest – these are the naïve Filipinos who think that they are “with it” if they follow the popular mantra of less is more. For a people who are easily swayed by imported sub-culture from the West this is not surprising!
In the meantime the PR companies in our midst are feasting on the substantial budget allocations to media by the proponents of the contraceptive campaign.
Former ambassador Jose V. Romero is the author of two books on the Philippine economy and another analyzing the coconut levy fund. He is a former Business Editor of The Manila Bulletin.