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Monday, April 22, 2024

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BEYOND SIGHT: Slowly But Surely

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By Monsi A. Serrano

With the recent upgrade of the Philippines given by Fitch Ratings from credit ratings to investment grade, we can say that we are on the right track — slowly but surely. But of course, so many people will be asking the inevitably question: “What will be the effect of this to the common people?

To my mind, there are 4 factors that made us reach this milestone. First is the continuous influx of foreign remittance from our “Bagong Bayani”, our beloved Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and our hardworking immigrants. Second, the strong presence of the Business Process Outsource (BPOs). Third, the export industry despite of the slowdown and lack of support from both local and national government. And last but not least, the good governance being done by the present administration under the tutelage of President Simeon Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

While our country is now rated as investment friendly and this would certainly attract investors. The government needs to come up with economic programs that would encourage long-term investment and not just bargain hunting and short-term stocks trading. The investment must generate employment, not just a “stop gap employment” which is what really happens now. There must also be some reforms to be dome in economic law like allowing foreigners to buy land, own company and other truly investor friendly laws. In the retail industry alone, our country is not investment friendly. While there is a liberalization of retail law, allowing foreigners to do retail business in the country, but with very stringent limitations or restrictions. I really do not know whether this is also lobbied by a greedy corporation like ShoeMart (SM), whose business ethics remain questionable because of their continuous contractualization, lack of care for their employees amd environment despite their claim of being the “Good Guys”.

As long as there are no competitors and no leveling of playing fields in the retail business, other retailers will continue to abuse their position in the market exploiting their fellow Filipinos, consumers and also the environment. But if only the government would allow other big retail giants in the world like Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Costco, Metro, IKEA, Tesco and other players to do business in the Philippines, then it would be our country that will ultimately benefit from this and exploitation from the existing players will cease. There will be price war, many choices for consumers and above all long-term employment for Filipinos. But as long as the Philippines is filled with incompetent and corrupt politicians, who only think of themselves and even field their children to perpetuate themselves in power, then the “investment rate” that we painstakingly gained from Fitch Ratings will just remain a curl on the tail of the pig. It doesn’t serve the purpose, but somehow it tickles the ham.

I have spoken with so many expat and diplomat friends who want to put up a business in the Philippines but got turned off because of their bad experience in the country. Because apart from the above concerns on the retail law, another turn-off to them is the immigration system in the Philippines, it sucks big time! Some unscrupulous immigration personnel who made easy money by milking from the willing prey to facilitate their visa in a thunderflash have victimized many of my foreign resident friends. This is one of the things that I believe President Aquino should reform. There must be a “green lane” for foreign investors that is fast and efficient, not the rotting old system of bureaucracy. The last time I spoke with former BID Commissioner Marcelino Libanan, he even showed me how they improved their system. I know that there are still a lot of honest and dedicated people in the immigration, my good friend Immigration Administrative Division (IAD) chief retired Lt. Gen. Alberto Braganza, who is always willing to help in case I have some concerns regarding immigration and also Mr. Jake Teaño, career officer in the BID who happens to be a childhood friend.

The Philippines has a lot to offer compared to our neighbors in the ASEAN region. But only if little by little we will make Philippines a truly investment haven and truly a fun place to live and to spend a holiday without fear of being held up, kidnapped, robbed and hurt.  This is not impossible to achieve. As long as the government is dead serious about walking through the straight path, only then that we will achieve our ultimate dream, that the Philippines is no longer a sick man of Asia, but rather a robust and friendly man of Asia welcoming all the friendly guests who want to Have Fun and Invest in the Philippines. We cannot eradicate corruption in a blink of an eye. It’s a Herculean task, that’s not done overnight and by one person. It’s everybody’s business.

Yes, we are truly on the right track. Corruption may still be palpable, but as long as the government never ceases to make conscious efforts in their goal for good governance and combat corruption, then each year will be a better year for every Filipino. On hindsight we can all say, “We are definitely better than yesterday” — slowly but surely.

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