Business waited for news on big-ticket projects
Business leaders and analysts on Monday welcomed President Aquino’s emphasis on improving governance in his State of the Nation Address (Sona), but they voiced disappointment over his failure to expound more on his so-called PPP (public-private partnership) projects, macroeconomic targets, and solutions to problems plaguing local enterprises.
The Sona “falls short of investor expectations that the President will dwell more on the PPP (public-private partnership framework on infrastructure-building) which has been taking some time to take off,” said Asiasec Equities chief strategist Manny Cruz.
Many investors had been looking forward to these big PPP projects, which the President unveiled in his first Sona, as a potential growth catalyst in the years ahead.
Peter Angelo Perfecto, the executive director of the Makati Business Club, said the business community had expected the PPP program to figure prominently in the Sona.
“I think this administration is being extra careful of not repeating past mistakes. He mentioned the dredging project again, which could be an inference on the PPP,” Perfecto said.
In his speech, Mr. Aquino mentioned the P18.7-billion Laguna Lake dredging project, which the government stopped because it was an “ill-advised plan.”
Francis Chua, the president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said the feedback from the business community on the PPP program was that the movement had been “a little slow.”
“But we understand why. What they’re doing now is cleaning the backyard, to see that things are in order so everything will be clean and transparent,” Chua said, adding that this is in line with the administration’s anticorruption stance.
No market-moving news
Joseph Roxas, the president of Eagle Equities, said there wasn’t any market-moving news in this year’s Sona and no forward-looking announcement for the business sector.
“I would have wanted to hear more about the solutions,” Roxas said, noting for instance the perennial problem of high electricity costs in the country.
Astro del Castillo, managing director of First Grade Holdings, noted that the President cited the huge gains in the stock market index as an indication of investor confidence in his administration.
But Del Castillo added the Sona “wasn’t even enough to feed the (stock market) bull to run. I didn’t hear anything about the economy especially given that we’re facing a potential global financial crisis triggered by the so-called debt crisis in America.”
Appeal for support
A few hours before Mr. Aquino delivered his Sona, the Palace urged the country’s leaders, including the opposition, to support his vision for a government that “puts our countrymen’s welfare first.”
“We hope that our leaders, regardless of their political affiliation and persuasion, will rally behind the President’s blueprint for development, which seeks to improve the lives of our countrymen,” Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., said in a statement.
Ochoa said the President had already pointed out that while there had been gains in his administration’s efforts to address the concerns of the nation, “we all have to work together to ensure the fulfillment of his vision of a government that puts our countrymen’s welfare first.”
He said the administration was committed “to govern conscientiously, use its resources wisely, provide jobs and economic opportunities for our people, protect the environment and secure our borders.”
Business leaders and analysts were one in commending the Aquino administration for doing a good job in curbing corruption and in filing cases against officials involved in graft.
Perfecto said the appointment of retired Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as the new Ombudsman was a step in the right direction.
“We’re happy about her appointment. We look forward to the filing of stronger, more consistent cases,” he said.
But John Forbes, a senior adviser of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said the antigraft campaign was not enough to make the country attractive to foreign investors.
“Many foreign investors are looking not just for a government that is less corrupt and displays sound macroeconomic management. They have been asking for a more welcoming investment climate that reduces their business costs and creates new investment opportunities,” Forbes said.
“Making the Foreign Investment Negative List less negative would be a good start to a more level playing field for foreign equity. Keeping the status quo most likely means the Philippines will continue to receive the lowest levels of (foreign direct investments) among the Asean economies,” he added.
Still, both Perfecto and Chua agreed that the administration was headed in the right direction.
Chua hailed government efforts to bridge the jobs-skills mismatch. “We agree with the President on education, that there should be proper matching between education and industry needs. The PCCI has been trying to move with this over the past years. This will help to dramatically reduce unemployment,” he said. Reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Doris C. Dumlao, Abigail L. Ho and Daxim L. Lucas
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