SONA gets thumbs up from businessBy Doris Dumlao, Riza T. Olchondra
An executive of one of the biggest banks in the country said President Benigno Aquino’s affirmation of good governance while implementing reforms would make economic growth more “inclusive” as it would bring down unemployment and poverty levels.
Paul Joseph Garcia, a senior vice president at The Bank of the Philippine Islands and head of Odyssey Funds, said the message of Mr. Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) was also a positive one for investors.
“The boost in infrastructure spending will improve the economy’s competitiveness and attract more foreign direct investments. The Philippines’ economic growth in the first quarter of 2012, one of the highest in the world, would continue to draw more investors into sectors like BPO (business process outsourcing), tourism and gaming, property, financial services, power and energy, retail trade and mining,” Garcia said.
But an activist group said the much-ballyhooed economic growth under the Aquino administration remained inequitable.
Jose Mari Lacson, head of research at Campos, Lanuza & Co., considered the decline in the unemployment rate, expansion of the BPO sector and increasing tourist arrivals the Sona’s most uplifting economic indicators.
“Those were really tangible yet relatively unreported gains of the administration,” he said.
The use, however, of the stock market’s performance to highlight gains amounted to taking full credit for something that could only be partially due to the Aquino administration’s policies, Lacson said.
He said he welcomed the mention of socioeconomic indicators such as health, education, public safety and disaster preparedness because “these contribute to the long-term competitiveness of the economy.”
Legislation on mining
He said he hoped that Congress would heed the call to put in place a legislation on the mining sector that the President had requested. Enacting revenue-sharing amendments would remove much of the remaining uncertainty over the mining sector, he said.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) said the mining industry “will continue supporting the government in developing the industry and promoting environmental protection.”
COMP chairman Artemio Disini said the group was also bent on helping fast-track a much-awaited legislation on revenue-sharing, which is expected to lift the moratorium on new mining agreements.
Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis Jr., Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. president, said
Mr. Aquino’s stress on growth in tourism and investment set a good tone for the rest of 2012 and the coming years.
Jesus L. Arranza, the Federation of Philippine Industries chair, said most of the group’s industry associations and corporate members were bullish on the economy, having noted the governance reforms and improved infrastructure spending of the administration.
“For industries, we’ve experienced a better working relationship with the Bureau of Customs under its present leadership. With a good credit rating and all, yes, we can say the Philippines is open for business,” Arranza said.
The electronics industry, which contributes the most to exports, also observed more interest from foreign investors.
Big and small investors from countries like Japan and Korea have been visiting the headquarters of Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc. (Seipi) in Manila to make inquiries, Seipi president Ernesto B. Santiago said in a text message.
“We just have to see if this will all materialize in the next coming months,” Santiago said.
An official of the Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PamCham) said the President should have touched on proposals to amend the Constitution
“And are we tackling the issues on foreign ownership in the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution?” asked PamCham president Jim Jimenez said.
Guillermo Luz, National Competitiveness Council cochair for the private sector, said the underlying message of the Sona that institutions needed fixing as a foundation for long-term change set the tone for the rest of the year.
“These are efforts that we should build upon year on year since long-term results cannot be expected to be visible right away,” he said.
Several lawmakers described as “realistic, truthful and attainable” the President’s report on the state of the country’s economy and the targets for next year.
Deputy Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella said the economic issues covered comprehensive reform agenda that were achievable in the medium and long term.
Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing said the Aquino administration was doing great. “If you have an honest leader, the rest will follow and the country will benefit because there is no corruption,” Bagatsing said.
Over the top
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello said facts, as mentioned by the President, were indisputable. “But citing fewer selected data would have been more effective,” Bello said. “Things have improved but enumeration of a multitude of data might come across as over the top.”
Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara said the President’s report on the economic gains gave the feeling that Filipinos were finally benefiting from these.
“It is that feeling that there are tangible rewards at the end of the proverbial ‘daang matuwid (straight path).’ The challenge for the country has always been to have inclusive growth and narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots,” he said.
In Zamboanga City, Mr. Aquino’s rosy report has not been felt by the people he calls boss, the poor ones, those who talked to the Inquirer, said.
Socorro Santos, a 46-year-old street sweeper, said she could hardly support her two children. She said she could not become a regular employee of the City Hall because no positions were available.
For environmentalists, Mr. Aquino was silent on commercial logging. “Sixty-eight percent of the loss of forest cover was caused by commercial and legal logging, but the President was silent about holders of a timber license agreement, or the legal and commercial loggers, in his State of the Nation Address,” said Juland Suazo, spokesperson of the environment group Panalipdan. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana, in Manila; Tonette Orejas, Armand Galang and Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon; Desiree Caluza, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Julie Alipala, Germelina Lacorte, Karlos Manlupig and Ayan Mellejor, Inquirer Mindanao