Aquino: No crony capitalists under my leadership

How is President Aquino handling the country's economic opportunities, risks and the key players?

MANILA, Philippines – Under President Benigno Aquino, the Philippine economy is one of the world’s fastest growing and a darling among foreign investors in search of a safe haven.

With his anti-corruption campaign, businessmen and investors are betting on an economy that grew an impressive 5.9% in the second quarter or 6.1% in the first 6 months.

Aquino tells Rappler this growing number of interested investors makes the playing field less vulnerable to being controlled by a few.

LALA RIMANDO: The names of MVP or Ramon Ang of San Miguel competing for the same projects?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: They (MVP and Ramon Ang) are not the only competitors. There are also foreign players that also want to be part of it. What would be wrong is if we have crony capitalists, regardless of their efficiencies they keep winning anything and everything. And I don’t think there has been any allegation that we favor one group over another.

He cites as an example a conversation with a Filipino billionaire who lost in a bidding for a government-owned property.

PRESIDENT AQUINO: In fact one of the best conversations I’ve had, I think, was with Andrew Tan…They bidded for the FTI property, they lost. He reported this – ‘Sir, we bidded, we lost, but that’s ok with us… First time in my experience to have somebody interested in something, bid, lost and still smiling and happy. ‘Perhaps not successful here, we have a different priority but everything was fair and I can expect the same treatment when it’s my turn to win.

Key industries in the Philippines have been associated with a few families, thanks to strong lobby on lawmakers that parceled out rights to monopolized businesses.

Under Aquino, some businessmen have a hard time getting favorable policies.

Aquino is bent on imposing higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol–two businesses that, for decades, were made affordable through legislation.

PRESIDENT AQUINO: I think we have a lot of advocates in the house and senate to be able to reach between P30 and P40, at least, for both products.

Mining firms are facing the same dilemma.

LALA RIMANDO: Do you like mining?
PRESIDENT AQUINO: In the sense that it will provide job opportunities and revenues, yes…But at the end of the day, the vast majority of our populace is not involved in mining but is also at risk, especially in mining areas. So the interest of the majority, in fact the entire populace, should be the primary consideration, rather than just a specific sector.

Instead of mining, he favors tourism as a key dollar-earner and economic player.

Only under Aquino’s watch is there a firm policy to increase competition among airlines, bringing in more dollar-spending tourists.

There is one area where President Aquino waveres: tapping private companies to shoulder the cost of infrastructure.

PRESIDENT AQUINO: Perhaps we started off with the wrong premise… Doing it in a purely PPP (public private partnership) fashion presents the choice that, if there is no other means of effecting that particular project, then you will have to bear certain privileges that you grant the proponent to get them or entice them to do it. Or the project in turn becomes more expensive because you have no other choice.

While major road, airports, irrigation and flood-control projects are delayed, he singles out a road project that he wants finished when he steps down in 2016.

PRESIDENT AQUINO: Yesterday, I reminded Sec. Purisima and incoming DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) Sec. Abaya and outgoing DOTC Sec. Roxas, that the NLEx-SLEx Connector Road is something that I want to inaugurate and to drive on while I’m still president…You can approach it on economic basis. It fosters more efficient transfer of goods between north and south.

Two groups are eyeing this road project: San Miguel Corporation and Metro Pacific Investments Corp., the two conglomerates that already control the country’s biggest infrastructure, power, airline, telecommunication, mining, alcohol and other businesses.

With 3 more years in Aquino’s term as Philippine president, many will watch and hope that this playing field remains competitive for all.

Lala Rimando, Rappler, Manila.

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