Strong links, genuine partnerships: Day 2 of the Pilipinas Conference

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Day 2 of The Stratbase ADR Institute’s Pilipinas Conference was equally insightful as Day 1. On this day, the discussions centered on how the government can most effectively collaborate with the private sector in bringing about economic recovery, and sustained and inclusive development.

Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno opened the session on Nov. 22 by commending the strength and resilience shown by the business community during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He then said that effective public-private coordination holds the key to a host of desirable economic activities.

“We cannot achieve any of this alone,” he said, referring to the government’s goal of creating more high quality and green jobs, and investing in infrastructure, digitalization, and human capital development.

It is not just Secretary Diokno saying this. The Filipino people themselves have spoken on the matter. A Stratbase-commissioned Pulse Asia survey, conducted in September, showed that almost nine in 10 Filipinos agree that the private sector plays a crucial role in accelerating economic growth, and that the government and the private sector should engage in partnership to sustain the country’s recovery.

And because of people’s awareness of the crucial role of the private sector, it follows that 89% of respondents, with 62% strongly agreeing, are convinced that the government and the private sector should be partners in economic recovery.

Respondents believe there are several ways in which the private sector can help boost the Philippine economy, the most prominent of which are creating jobs (69%), helping uplift the lives of Filipinos out of poverty (65%), expanding livelihood opportunities (49%), and improving healthcare systems (37%).

Other areas of cooperation identified in the survey were improving the quality of and access to digital services (27% nationwide), managing natural resources and taking care of the environment (19%), developing public infrastructure (16%) and improving the quality of education (12%).

A highlight of the second day was a forum participated in by chief executives of some of the country’s leading corporations. The business leaders shared their insights on what they thought were priority areas that the government should focus on if the Philippines were to shift from a consumption-driven economy to an investment-driven economy.

The CEOs said they wanted to see a policy environment where the rules are clear and consistent.

“Money is the most cowardly of objects,” said Makati Business Club Treasurer and former Sun Life Philippines CEO and Country Head Rizalina Mantaring. “So, if you’re investing billions into the country, you have to be certain that rules won’t suddenly change. Sanctity of contracts, transparency, and rule of law are important for encouraging people to invest in the country.”

“We need to find a way to get all the information in a way that is clear, transparent, and that gives companies the certainty in order to run their business efficiently,” said ICTSI Executive Vice-President and Chief Risk Officer Christian Razon Gonzales.

Cosette Canilao, Aboitiz InfraCapital President and CEO, said it was important for the government to come out with real, transparent, and predictable qualifications so that the private sector can submit real unsolicited proposals.

The captains of industry also agreed that the manufacturing sector holds a lot of promise for the Philippine economy — but that it would be a big challenge.

“Manufacturing is a long-term investment for the country,” said PLDT President and CEO Alfredo “Al” Panlilio.

Ayala Corp. President and CEO Cezar “Bong” Consing said the Philippines can refer to the experiences of Japan, China, and Korea in transferring resources devoted to consumption toward investment.

“I think it’s about time we adopted a production mindset,” said Philippine Women’s Economic Network Founding Chair and President Ma. Aurora Geotina-Garcia. “There’s been a lot of focus on services because of the talent that we have and the strong characteristics of our citizens, but I think we should look more seriously at producing more for local consumption,” she said.

Ms. Geotina-Garcia added that MSMEs are a big recipient of the manufacturing sector “so we have to have the objective of really including them in the value chain.”

Equally important are investments in human capital development — both in basic education and in the existing workforce.

Ms. Mantaring talked about their goal of redefining the K to 12 program so that schools produce graduates with skills aligned with the demands of industry, specifically in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) areas. Technology companies are willing to engage in enriching people’s skills, Mr. Panlilio said. Mr. Consing suggested that a good approach would be firms competing for graduating seniors in a bid to hire and develop them, instead of graduates competing for choice spots in firms.

The CEOs agreed that a bright point these days is the government’s willingness to engage the private sector. Mr. Panlilio cited the greater number of opportunities for the private sector to dialogue with the government, as shown by, for instance, the creation of the Private Sector Advisory Council.

There is now a better venue for collaboration, Ms. Canilao said, with a frank discourse on creating an enabling environment for investments.

Trade and Industry Undersecretary Alfredo Pascual closed the conference by saying that the government creates long-term value by building relationships with and among stakeholders, linking knowledge and skills, capital and resources, and the all-important market players to each other.

As for the Stratbase Group, this is, we hope, the value we provide, our humble contribution: bringing people together, providing the platform for interaction, provoking thought, sparking conversations, and translating all these into actionable policy recommendations, which we hope helps make a difference in people’s lives.

There is no single sector that can and should drive the nation’s affairs. There are no formulaic solutions or quick fixes. We acknowledge the complexity of what we are up against, the diversity yet interwovenness of our interests, but also the singularity of our aspirations — a better, more secure life for Filipinos, where they will not only survive, but flourish.

This article was originally published in BusinessWorld.

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