Bernardo M. Villegas
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Heightened Interest Among U.S. Investors

           Thanks to the auspicious combination of a most hardworking Honorary Consul, Ethel Mercado, and a well-organized and active Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce (PACC) in North Texas led by Gus Mercado, the Dallas-Fort Worth leg of the recent U.S. non-deal investment road show in which I participated attracted some 165 top business people, the largest audience among the twelve cities visited by this private sector group over the last four years.  A similar group of Phil-American volunteers from the Houston chapter of PACC mounted an equally successful business conference in Houston in 2014, making the state of Texas the largest source of actual and potential investors in what was readily recognized as the new Asian Tiger, the Philippine economy.   There were top executives from American Airlines, Rio Grande Pacific Corporation, Fluor Corporation, Texas Instruments, U.S. Trust, Bank of America, AIG, and International Perkins Cole Law Firm, among others.  More importantly, there were numerous small and medium-sized enterprises represented, thanks to the very active networking done by members of the PACC, who spent sleepless nights preparing for the big event.

          As in all the cities visited over the last four years, the whole Philippine delegation was accompanied by Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., who during his watch, has already visited 42 of the U.S. states and plans to have visited all 50 states before he steps down from his post.  This is a record that would be extremely difficult to break by future Ambassadors.  Over the last forty years, I have joined road shows all over the world but have never encountered an Ambassador as indefatigable as Joey Cuisia, as he is called by his friends.  It would be a pity if he will not be considered for a Cabinet position in the next Administration, whoever wins the Presidency. His having been Governor of the Central Bank, Chairperson of the Social Security System and now Ambassador to the U.S. coupled with his wide and rich  experiences as a CEO of leading business enterprises, both national and multinational, will make him  eminently qualified for a top post in future Governments.

          The leadership of Ambassador Cuisia, ably supported by hardworking Phil-Americans like the Mercado couple,  together with Myrna Obligacion-Carreon, Region Chair of the PACC, Texas, and numerous other volunteers in the state of Texas, has aroused a great deal of interest in investment opportunities in the Philippines, especially in the areas of infrastructures, energy, public utilities, transport, Business Process Outsourcing and IT, health services, medical tourism, agribusiness, and education.   The private sector panel of resource persons, which I led, did its own share of informing the Americans and Phil-Americans present in the various fora, not only in Dallas-Fort Worth, but also in Pittsburgh and Seattle, about the happy developments that have converted the Philippines from the “sick man of Asia” in the last century to the New Asian Tiger in this New Millennium.   We did not have to do much propagandizing.  Our audiences had already been primed by many glittering reports from the World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank, Standard and Poor, Goldman Sachs, Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, and many other international agencies and financial institutions about how the Philippines is the “fastest growing economy in East Asia,”  “the least vulnerable to the slowdown in China and other adverse global developments,” “the rising star among emerging markets,”  “the breakout nation,” and other equivalent superlative phrases.

      In fact, our being exclusively from the private sector (we had no Government officials in the panel) gave us the license to also bring up the negative features of the Philippine economy, such as the indecisiveness of some Cabinet Secretaries in the implementation of the Public-Private Partnership projects, the terrible traffic situation in Metro Manila, the generally poor state of many of our airports, the high costs of power,  continuing corruption at some LGU levels, and the intractable  red tape and bureaucracy that make the Philippines rank low in indicators of “ease of doing business.”  By being forthright about these challenges and weaknesses, we gained in credibility in the many positive things we had to say.  Many potential investors in the various audiences responded by telling us that the favorable conditions significantly outweigh the threats and weaknesses so that they have been encouraged to take a closer look at the opportunities in the Philippines.  Some of them were even explicit in identifying the Philippines as the gateway to the 650 million consumers in the emerging ASEAN Economic Community.    Even before we could return to the Philippines, we were already bombarded with emails about their wanting to visit the Philippines and arranging for meetings with potential trading and investment partners, especially in infrastructures (a very large group is keenly interested in building a railway from North to Southern Luzon), IT-BMP, human resources (especially nurses and caregivers), transport and tourism.

          Because of the excellent networking of Honorary Consul Ethel Mercado and the Phil-American volunteers,  within a period of twenty four hours, Ambassador Cuisia and the panel of private sector speakers (Ronaldo Elepano, Jr. First Vice-President for Business Development of DM Consunji, Inc.; Jose Mari Mercado, President and CEO, Information Technology & Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP); Mr. Gilbert Camasura, Partner of ZMG Ward Howell-International Consulting Firm; and Juan O. Pena, President, RAGI, Inc.) were able to interact with hundreds of members of the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce which tendered a dinner in which Ambassador Cuisia was the Keynote Speaker.  After the Forum, the Ambassador and the Philippine delegation were received by the senior officials of technology giant Texas Instruments and were given a plant tour of its modern and state-of-the art manufacturing facility in Richardson, Texas.  At four different events, all within 24 hours, the Ambassador was able to impart the message of the Philippines a top investment destination to more than 1,000 receptive business people in North Texas.  I was so enthused by the reception we received that I quipped that in the same way that Texas was known historically as “La Nueva Filipinas” (The New Philippines), it is very possible that should there be a massive inflow of U.S. investors from the State of Texas into the Philippines in the next ten years, the Philippines could very well be known in the future as “La Nueva Tejas” (The New Texas).  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.