Bernardo M. Villegas
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Investment Roadshow in US Cities (Part I)



           As the Philippines was being visited by hundreds of top government officials and business executives from all over the world during the World Economic Forum for East Asia during the third week of May, three US cities--Houston, Atlanta, and Philadelphia--hosted the Third Private Sector-Led Investment Roadshow in the United States with the theme "The Philippines:  Asia\'s New Emerging Tiger."  A project of the  Philippine Ambassador to the U.S., Jose Cuisia Jr., arguably the most hard working and business savvy Filipino Ambassador today, the road show was enthusiastically received by top American investors as well as Fil-American communities in the three cities visited.  These road shows started in January 2012 with the first leg covering Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco.  The second of the series included Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston in April 2013.  This year it was much easier to "sell" the Philippines as an investment destination after Standard and Poor upgraded the economy to triple B.  The international press was full of reports about the Philippine economy being second only to China in GDP growth.

          As head of the private sector panel that gave the presentations on the economy as a whole and on specific growth sectors, I was impressed with the very positive feedback we got from the SRO audiences we addressed in the three cities.  Those who accompanied me in the road show were Mr. Reinerio "Bong" Borja, one of the founders of the BPO industry in the Philippines; Mr. Alfredo Austria, President of DMCI Project Developers Inc.; Mr. Philip Romualdez, President of the Philippine Chamber of Mines; and Mr. Martin Pascual, Director of Pascual Laboratories.  In previous road shows, the speakers were Mr. Jesus Zulueta, CEO of Ward Howell-ZMG; Mr. Isidro Consunji, CEO of DMCI Holdings; Mr. Roberto Juanchito Dispo, President of First Metro Investment Corporation; Mr. Benny Araw, Senior Vice President of Benguet Corporation; and Dado Banatao, famous Fil-American software entrepreneur from Silicon Valley.  Other than Ambassador Jose Cuisia and the respective consul generals of the key US cities, all the speakers were from the private sector and could freely discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of the Philippine economy.  It was highly appreciated by the audiences that we were not issuing official propaganda from the Government and could openly speak about such issues as the very slow process of rolling out the Private Public Partnership (PPP) projects and the political bickerings in the rehabilitation of the areas damaged by Typhoon Yolanda.

          In Houston, there was great interest in the energy sector, the BPO/KPO industry, tourism and health.  We were impressed by the vibrant economy of this port city that seemed to have been spared the ravages of the Great Recession.  Governor Rick Perry paid tribute to the Fil-Americans residing in his state:  "The fast growing migration of Filipinos to our great state parallels the national trend and will only augur well for the future of our Lone Star state.  Our Texans of Filipino-American descent have already made invaluable contributions to our progress over the years, and for these we are most grateful.  It gives me great pleasure to note also  that sometime in the colorful history of our state, when it was still a Spanish possession, Texas used to be called \'La Nueva Filipinas\' by the early Spanish settlers, who reportedly came from the Philippines."  I must say that in all the nine cities we have visited in the last three years, the contributions of the Fil-American populations were very obvious in the professional sectors, especially in health, education and finance. In Houston, we were also impressed with the way the Vietnamese-American communities were very generous in raising funds for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.  We were informed that all over the United States, the Vietnamese communities have a very deep sense of gratitude for the hospitality that was shown to them by Filipino communities in the refugee centers during the Vietnam-American war in the 1970s.

          Being in the petroleum center of the United States, the investors in Houston expressed a lot of interest in the energy sector of the Philippines.  We were fortunate that one of those who attended the forum was Guido Delgado, former President of the National Power Corporation during the Ramos Administration.  He brought with him some American investors who are already considering investing in a power plant in the Philippines.  We encouraged them and the others in the energy sector with the information that the largest foreign direct investment in the Philippines in the last four years was a one-billion dollar investment by AES, the largest US electricity enterprise based in Virginia.  In fact, the CEO of AES was part of the delegation headed by the US Secretary of Commerce who met with President Benigno Aquino III during the last days of May.  AES has done such an excellent job upgrading the 600-megawatt coal-powered plant it bought from NPC in Masinloc, Zambales, that its owners are eager to invest in another 600-megawatt project.  What is needed is for our policy makers, as Mr. Delgado also pointed out, to be convinced that there is no danger of oversupply.  The Department of Energy should realize that as the economy grows at 7 to 9 percent per annum in the next ten to twenty years, we need every amount of additional energy that can be produced by forward-looking investors.  Common sense should tell them that it is a chicken-and-egg problem.  They should not make the mistake of the first Aquino Administration in 1986 to 1992 which seriously underinvested in  power plants so that the economy was practically crippled with electricity shortages during the first years of the Ramos Administration. (To be continued.)