My article last month shared the contents of a letter to President Aquino, which was signed jointly by the Philippine Business Groups and Joint Foreign Chambers. Another important letter sent to the President was signed by business groups that were part of the 3rd National Conference of Independent Business Clubs held in Davao in November 2013. Sharing the contents of this letter to the President is my concrete contribution to the call of the private sector not to allow the reform agenda to lose steam amid all the noise created by the PDAF scandal and the DAP debate.
The following recommendations were endorsed jointly by the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Cebu Business Club, Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Iligan Bay Chamber of Industries, Iloilo Business Club, Makati Business Club, and Mindanao Business Council. The recommendations are seen as key levers toward strengthening regional competitiveness in the pursuit of sustained inclusive growth:
“In light of recent disasters experienced by our country, the need to improve our preparedness and response capability comes to the fore. These can be bolstered by the establishment of logistics management and infrastructure specially designed for emergencies. Thus, it is imperative for the government to invest in training programs and develop disaster preparedness measures, as well as to define the specific responsibilities of authority figures. Suggested courses of action include the strengthening of Emergency Response Teams of local government units for immediate mobilization. Also, given the strong spirit of bayanihan among our people in times of distress, we suggest that a system be put in place where this sense of volunteerism can be maximized. Thus, we suggest the establishment of a ‘National Guard’ for disasters, which will serve as our ‘quick response units’ before, during, and after a calamity.
“The business community has always been open to contributing to the Mindanao peace process. We ask the government to consider engaging the business sector in consultative dialogues and to institutionalize a feedback mechanism, both of which are essential for setting the foundations of the Bangsamoro Basic Law. This inclusive form of dialogue can be an effective platform for a collective and coherent approach to holistic development. Beyond Bangsamoro, this can become a model for a public-private partnership on peace and development in other negotiating tables.
“In light of the forthcoming Asean Integration, the business sector is aware of the need to boost its competitiveness. Thus, we commend your government’s continuous efforts to consult the private sector in crafting industry roadmaps, whose success is hinged on an enabling environment that the government can provide through legislation and physical infrastructure. We also note that key deterrents to improving our competitiveness are the recurring challenges associated with the high cost of logistics and domestic shipping charges, and that your administration is considering options to address this issue.
“Ensuring energy security takes on greater importance as the country’s economic growth continues to accelerate. Therefore, we support government initiatives that establish connectivity among the country’s power grids and facilitate investments in energy. We hope that this will entice more players to invest in power generation. To cite a specific model, we would like to laud the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) for developing a one-stop shop for fast-tracking the application process of Mindanao’s power projects.
“Experience suggests that economic zones are effective in providing an environment conducive to business. Examples of complementary industries which may locate within these zones are manufacturing and agribusiness, among others. Thus, establishing additional industry-specific economic zones in the regions may be beneficial to areas lagging in inbound investments.
“The Philippines remains competitive with regard to its mineral resources; however, the country has yet to take advantage of the economic opportunities (these) provide.
In this context, we support the resolutions reached during the 3rd Mindanao Mining Summit, which may be applied in the national context. We also call on the government to promote the development of responsible mining and its supporting industries. As a parallel measure, revenues must be fairly distributed in order to encourage local government units to support the industry.
“We believe that the Regional Development Councils (RDCs) are effective avenues to directly address development challenges of each region. As such, the organizational structure and role of the RDCs should be strengthened. Among other things, this can be done through supporting priority industries identified by the region. One option is to include industry representatives in the RDC similar to the organizational set-up in Region XI, and to improve the project selection process which should be based on objective engineering studies free from political influence.
“In our letter last year, we highlighted the need to establish the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which is a key component to sustaining the growth momentum of the ICT sector. The establishment of a DICT is integral in building the country’s ICT infrastructure, facilitate the storage of massive amounts of data, and provide for a freer flow of information within and outside the Philippines.”
An upcoming meeting of the seven independent business groups with Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo will help chart a way forward on these proposals. Mr. President, there are many in the private sector who share your commitment to a sustained reform agenda for inclusive growth. We must all stay the course and work together.
Peter Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club.