Bernardo M. Villegas
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Philippine Economy In Good Hands (Part 3)

             It would be a distortion of reality if this article stating that the Philippine economy is in good hands would focus only on the competent and honest government officials who have been assembled in the Cabinet of President Marcos Jr.  Over the last thirty years, we also have seen significant improvements in the motivations and performances of our leaders in business and civil society.  In fact, even if our prayers are heard that President Marcos Jr. will lead us as a good President, as he requested the public the night the Senate ratified his election, his government will fall short of achieving a progressive, just and humane society if the private sector do not have equally competent, honest and experienced leaders.  Having been part of the private sector for all my professional life, I can say that we have also gone a long way in building institutions and practices in our business enterprises, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations that strongly complement a good government in eradicating poverty, protecting the environment and inculcating the right values and virtues among the citizens. 

            Let me start with the business sector.  It is notable that President Marcos Jr. himself recognizes that he needs very much the assistance and advice of the business sector.  A good number of our top business managers have been asked by the President to constitute at least five advisory groups with whom he intends to work closely in formulating strategies, policies and plans in the following sectors:  food and agribusiness, digital/connectivity sector, healthcare and wellbeing, job creation and infrastructure/tourism.  I know a good number of the specific individuals he has approached and I can vouch for their sincerity in working for the common good of Philippine society, over and above making their respective businesses profitable.  As mentioned earlier, these people he approached are the right kinds of “cronies,” since they are not interested in getting close to the President to protect their respective vested interests or to obtain undue favors but really to make sure that in these areas in which the President will ask for their advice and assistance, the common good is the paramount consideration.

            These are the entrepreneurs and corporate executives who during the pandemic spent hundreds of millions of their own funds to supplement the government’s resources in putting up quarantine facilities, providing free vaccines and other relief goods related to the pandemic, conducting feeding clinics, and supplementing the cash aids given by the Government to the neediest of the poor.  Especially worth mentioning was the GoNegosyo movement founded by Joey Concepcion through which hundreds of top businessmen spent very valuable time to mentor microentrepreneurs to help them improve their operations.  Even before he was sworn in as President last June 30, President Marcos Jr. attended the launching of the expanded entrepreneurship mentoring program called 3M on Wheels.  The three M’s stand for Mentorship, Money and Market.  All three form the foundation of Go Negosyo’s mission to promote entrepreneurship among Filipinos, especially among micro-entrepreneurs. There will be Money and Market booths to introduce facilities for small-business lending.  Specialists in different marketing channels will be on hand to introduce solutions that cover everything from establishing stores, digital platforms, logistic solutions and digital payments.

            Equally important in the assistance given to microentrepreneurs and small farmers is the increasing trend toward social entrepreneurship or social enterprise put up by new business entrants  or retired executives.  Among the young who venture in businesses, one can discern an interest of using digital or other modern technologies to improve the profitability of microenterprises or small farmers.  For example, like Mayani (a social enterprise) is doing, small farmers are given access through their smart phones to see the prevailing prices of their products in the markets so that they are not shortchanged by the middlemen.  Other social enterprises are focusing on providing warehousing or cold storage facilities to small growers so that they can prolong the shelf life of their farm or livestock products.  Another social enterprise put up by a retired banker has enabled hundreds of “mom-entrepreneurs” (also called Nanays) to market their home products through a website in the internet.  An increasing number of people going into business are combining their mission to help the disadvantaged with using their entrepreneurial skills in putting businesses (rather than NGOs) so that they can be more sustainable in the long run.  The younger generation of people going into business are racking their brains about how to combine making a reasonable profit with solving a problem of society, especially the problem of eradicating poverty.  Other problems of society that these social entrepreneurs are trying to address through their businesses are cleaning the physical environment, improving the quality of basic education or strengthening the family as the foundation of stable society.  The Government of President Marcos Jr. can benefit a great deal by tapping the talents and idealism of this new breed of social entrepreneurs.

            Obviously, the Government can obtain the biggest help to increase investments and job creation from the traditional businesses that are primarily established for profit.  These have also undergone significant changes over the last thirty years in terms of corporate social responsibility.  An increasing number of them are paying more than lip service to sustainability reporting.   Even if they are not social enterprises per se, they are incorporating environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) goals into their corporate mission.  The richest Filipinos are visibly reinvesting their wealth in expanding their traditional businesses and diversifying into other industrial sectors and regions within the country.  Among the  most visible ones are the Villar group, the Ayalas, the Aboitiz group, the SM group, the Megaworld group, DMCI Holdings,  SMC, ICTS, and many others. It is reassuring that the business people who are among the close friends of President Marcos Jr belong to these very successful business people.  There is much less probability that they will become the parasitical cronies of the past who substituted political patronage for business acumen and entrepreneurial talent in building their business empires.

             Recent announcements of these conglomerates indicate their plans of investing trillions of pesos in the next two or three years in mega projects, especially in real estate, infrastructures, manufacturing, agribusiness, finance, and public services.  They are the ones who can help bring up our investment to GDP ratio to the more than 30% prevailing among our East Asian neighbors.  In fact, it may not be wise to impose a wealth tax on these billionaires as long as they are reinvesting their wealth in businesses that benefit the country, not only in creating jobs, but in addressing social problems through the numerous philanthropic foundations that they support through their CSR programs.  It would be wiser to tax heavily the luxurious or conspicuous consumption expenditures of the billionaires and multi-millionaires who own these conglomerates.

            Much also has happened in the civil society sector directly related to achieving sustainable and inclusive economic development.  The Philippines stands out in the emerging markets of the world in the number of NGOs that have been put up by private citizens who want to contribute, among other social goals to economic development.  The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) is probably the role model of these NGOs.  In the field of education, the most visible NGO is the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) that has been very active in using resources of the business sector to work with the Government and Academe in addressing the serious problem of the very low quality of basic education that our youth receive in the public elementary and high schools.  It can also be mentioned that practically all the big businesses have put up foundations to help improve the quality of private higher education through endowments for physical facilities and very generous scholarship funds to help the children of the low-income households to access quality education in the best private universities and colleges.  Also worth mentioning are privately sponsored technical institutes put up by private individuals and institutions to address the shortage of technical skills which can be a serious constraint to the industrialization programs of the country.

            In fact ready to heed the call of President Marcos Jr. in his speech during his inauguration on June 30 for all Filipinos to “to put our shoulders to the wheel and give that wheel a faster turn to repair and to rebuild and to address challenges in new ways to provide what all Filipinos need” is lawyer and former Vice-President Leni Robredo.  The day after inauguration of the new President, private citizen Leni Robredo announced the launching of Angat Pinas, Inc that will continue the works of the Angat Buhay program which she started during her tenure as Vice President.  This “umbrella” NGO will mobilize the resources and talents of the hundreds of thousand of Filipinos, especially the millennials and the centennials, who helped her unselfishly during her campaign for the presidency.   The NGO will primarily have four pillars, similar to what the Angat Buhay had in the past six years.  These are health, education, disaster relief and rehabilitation, and community engagement. 

            At the height of the pandemic, Robredo—despite the limited resources she was allotted by the previous Duterte Administration—managed to provide transportation service as well as dormitories to frontline workers.  Her office also provided vaccines to market vendors and drivers, and free health consultation to those in need.  In the field of education, Angat Buhay provided free dormitories to children who live far away from their homes.  I also personally witnessed, as a member of the Dualtech Foundation, how her office of Vice President, sponsored some of the poorest youth from Mindanao to be able to study at one of the leading technical schools in the country, the Dualtech School.  This technical school is famous for implementing the German dualvoc system that provides electro-mechanical schools to children of the poor so that they can be employed in factories especially in the CALABARZON region.  It is edifying to see how Leni Robredo is responding to the call for unity from President Marcos Jr.

            Yes, with the excellent economic team put together by President Marcos Jr., the Philippine economy is in good hands.  A greater reason for optimism, however, is found in the final words of President Marcos Jr. in his inaugural speech: “And if you ask me why I am so confident of the future?  I will answer you simply, I have 110 million reasons to start with, such is my faith in the Filipino.  Believe. Have hope. The sun also rises like today and as it will tomorrow.  And as surely as that, we will achieve the country all Filipinos deserve.”   For comments, my email address is