Bernardo M. Villegas
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Investment Roadshows in US Cities (Part II)

           In Atlanta, our hosts included, among others Coca Cola, UPS and CNN.  Coca Cola organized a breakfast roundtable in cooperation with the prestigious World Affairs Council.  Among those who attended the RTD were former Senator Joseph Tydings and former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas.   I light-heartedly commented that I no longer have to be a "prophet of boom" in the Philippines because our economy is already booming and will continue to boom for a long time to come.  There was a sense of optimism among the forty or so VIPs present and they agreed that the Philippines can be a strong partner of Atlanta as a major trading center, especially in food products. In fact, our delegation made an industry visit to RV Industries, a Philippine investment in Atlanta that is engaged in the manufacture of processed food and beverage products from coconut imported from the Philippines.  RV Industries supplies candy manufacturers in the U.S. with desiccated coconut as well as bottled coconut juice (with the brand Vita Coco).  It may be remembered that in a visit to the U.S., President Noynoy Aquino was photographed holding Vita Coco in his hands, enthusiastically endorsing coconut water from the Philippines.  Philippine business in Atlanta is ably promoted by Honorary Consul General Ray Donato, a long-time resident in the U.S. and former neighbor and school mate of mine at De La Salle University.  Those who want to inquire about prospects of trade with Atlanta may get in touch with him at raydonato@mindspring.com or with Ms. Lori Davis at atlphilconsult@gmail.com.

          Our message to UPS and similar logistics enterprises in the US was that the Philippines has the advantage of being in the geographical center of the whole of East Asia, the Southeast Asian country closest to the advanced territories of Northeast Asia such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, not to mention the largest economy in the world today, China.  As more and more of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects are unlocked, there will be significant improvements in the quality of our airports and seaports, especially in such areas as Clark, Subic, Poro Point, Batangas City, Iloilo City, Cagayan de Oro City and General Santos City so that we can be truly a transshipment point in the Asia Pacific region for American business.  International chains of hotels owned by US business can also source highly qualified hospitality personnel from the young, growing and English speaking population of the Philippines.  Mr. Bong Borja had convincing data that showed the Philippines as the center for business process outsourcing, knowledge process outsourcing and especially the rapidly expanding data analytics sector, not only in Asia but all over the world.

     In Philadelphia, the co-organizer was the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.  The forum was held in the Irvine Auditorium on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of numerous Filipino CEOs, including Ambassador Cuisia himself.  There was much interest expressed by the participants in the BPO/KPO sector, in health and pharmaceuticals, tourism and education.  The Americans were encouraged when I expressed the opinion that there is still a chance that some of the restrictive provisions of the Philippine Constitution against Foreign Direct Investments may be removed through an amendment process that is strongly supported by Congress but for which the President and some Cabinet members have no enthusiasm.  Contrary to opinions expressed by some Filipino nationalists, there is evidence that American FDI investments will flow in bigger amounts if we open up more strategic sectors like public utilities, mining, and real estate to foreign equity capital.             The Philadelphia leg culminated in a fundraising event for Haiyan survivors where a good number of Fil-Americans, especially medical doctors, pledged more financial help in the reconstruction of communities damaged by the super-typhoon.  Philip Romualdez, who is deeply involved in the reconstruction of Eastern Visayas, presented the status of the rehabilitation efforts and delivered a very strong message that only the private sector--both business and civil society--can accelerate the restoration of normalcy to the affected areas.  Unfortunately, the Government is still hampered by red tape and bureaucracy as well as partisan politics so that numerous households are still living in very precarious conditions.  It was urgent that the private sector take the lead because the rainy season is upon us and millions of households must have sturdier homes to protect them from the elements. I was edified with the way both the American and Fil-American audiences that we addressed responded very positively to our appeal for continuing assistance. I got carried away by the generosity and love of country shown by the Fil-Americans that I belted out the song "Bayan Ko" duly accompanied with a  guitar by a Filipino virtuoso.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia