Business: More work for Aquino post-SONA 2015

Chris Schnabel
Business: More work for Aquino post-SONA 2015
Following Aquino's last State of the Nation Address, the business community acknowledges his administration's achievements, but cites areas of improvement – from delayed economic reforms to peace and stability

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III delivered his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27 and focused mainly on highlighting the country’s economic success over his term. (READ: Aquino: PH will be ‘first-world’ within generation if reforms continue)

While the SONA was viewed as valedictory lap by some quarters, the Aquino administration still has 10 months before officially stepping down. The business community is convinced that it still has time to put in place more economic reforms. (READ: What businessmen want to hear from Aquino’s final SONA)

“The President has key members of his team and Congress leaders in place, and still has 6 months to accomplish more before official campaigning and post-election transition,” John Forbes, senior counselor at the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said in a text message to Rappler on Monday.

The priorities should be the continuity of good governance and enactment of more landmark business and economic reforms, he added.

‘Wish list’

The Philippine Business Groups and Joint Foreign Chambers (PBG-JFC), a coalition composed of 18 local and foreign business groups, sent a letter to Aquino on May 15 calling for more reforms in his final year.

In the letter, the product of a month-long consultation process, the coalition called for further action on the following:

  • Establishment of a public-private Energy Council that will draw and regularly update a detailed energy security and price competitiveness roadmap
  • Establishment of the National Privacy Commission and the release of the implementing rules and regulations of the Data Privacy Act and the Cybercrime Prevention Act
  • Creation of agricultural trading centers that will provide farmers and fisherfolk the latest technology, as well as assistance in securing financing and marketing support
  • Revision of the Foreign Investment Negative List to reduce the number of industries where foreign participation remains limited
  • Intensified efforts to implement with minimum delay critical land, air, and sea transportation projects
  • Expanding the ease of doing business efforts of the National Competitiveness Council
  • Early resolution of the Maguindanao massacre trial and the plunder cases against the senators accused in the pork barrel scam and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, as well as provision of additional resources to the judiciary

The coalition also called for the swift passage of the Custom Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), Comprehensive Tax System Reform, Build Operate Transfer Law (amendment to the Public-Private Partnership Act), An Act creating the Department of Information and Communications Technology, and the Freedom of Information Act. (READ: Aquino pushes for FOI law a day after SONA)

Senate President Franklin Drilon  and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr addressed most of these wanted reforms in their respective speeches at the third and last regular session of the 16th Congress, promising to push them through.

What’s missing

Another area not mentioned in the President’s speech was the sector of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Senator Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, a staunch supporter of MSMEs, shared via SMS that he thinks the administration still has the time to “promote their development by enacting further support social enterprises and inclusive supply chains, especially in agricultural areas.”

Providing more incentives for businesses that work with marginalized communities is also well within the government’s reach and would be a big help, he added.

Economists also acknowleged economic progress Aquino has overseen but also noted some areas that need improvement. 

“If there was one missing link, it would have to be the lack of effort to shore up our infrastructure,” said Nick Mapa of Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) research.

According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, the Philippines lags behind regional partners in almost all measures, including roads, power, airports, seaports, and the like.  This happened despite the economy’s stellar growth, he explained.

The country’s outdated infrastructure has long been a source of frustration and concern for foreign institutions such as the World Bank as well as local captains of industry.

“Given the limited number of months left and the possible focus on campaigning, there may be very little else that Aquino can do other than push for more public-private partnerships or government-sponsored projects to break ground,” Mapa said.

Aquino has been popular and if he can introduce amendments to the Constitution regarding foreign ownership in select sectors, “we could see more investment in power and infrastructure development,” he added.

The government’s focus in the remaining time should also be on increasing government spending particularly on infrastructure, said Alvin Ang, former president of the Philippine Economic Society.

Government underspending was one of the factors the administration pointed out, too, for the lower than expected first quarter gross domestic product results.

Ang also noted income tax reform as one of the measures he would like to see passed before next year’s elections.

The administration also should address non-inclusive growth by promoting job security, Emmanuel Layco, economist and professor at the Asia Institute of Management (AIM) said in a text message.

Some of the ways this can be done is to reverse contractualization and outsourcing, Layco said.

Promoting stability

Diligently prosecuting those who misspent pork barrel and earnestly pursuing a peace process with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) would also contribute to growth, he added.

Forbes agreed that stability is important, as “enacting a Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that conforms to the Constitution” would be vital to stability and development.

In his address, the President mentioned that the achievement he is most proud of is restoring Filipinos’ faith in the government. “That is the biggest difference. Once, there was only hopelessness,” and highlighted the role lawmakers have played in this. (Read: Full text of Aquino’s State of the Nation Address in English)

“So much is achieved when we have a Congress that is determined to usher in real progress,” he said.

There is still time, business leaders would agree, to push this progress further. –

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