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MANILA, Philippines – Eighteen local and foreign business groups have reiterated to President Benigno Aquino III 6 social, political, and economic reforms that he needs to address in the latter part of his term.
These include good governance, inclusive growth, better infrastructure, energy security and price competitiveness, increased foreign direct investments, and reduction in smuggling, the Philippine Business Groups and the Joint Foreign Chambers (PBG-JFC) told Aquino in a letter dated July 21 – 7 days before the President delivered his 5th State of the Nation Address.
While acknowledging that the country is now in the ranks of Asia’s best economic performers, PBG-JFC lamented that a substantial dent on unemployment and underemployment has yet to be felt by Aquino’s bosses – the Filipino people.
The groups believe that “sustainable agriculture and responsible mining will substantially assist in our shared aim of inclusive growth.”
They reiterated their position that mining also holds the potential of bringing in more foreign investments.
PBG-JFC said the existing Philippine Mining Act is an effective piece of legislation if properly implemented.
However, they said, “we should ensure that we have an internationally competitive fiscal regime for mining, which gives the government a fair share of net mining revenues, as well as ensures an equitable and reasonable return for investors.”
The groups added that in deciding on the mapping of “no-go” zones, the value of potential mineral projects should be balanced and weighed against agricultural, tourism, and other considerations.
On infrastructure, the businessmen back a multi-airport system, consisting of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Clark, and a future third airport and are calling for a shift of cargo traffic from the Port of Manila to the ports of Subic and Batangas. (READ: Aquino: More PPP projects awarded than past 3 admins)
On power, they are unanimous in saying there is no need to amend the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) and instead just implement it properly, so as not discourage investments in the sector. (READ: Power emergency: What it means)
“A roadmap toward energy security and electricity price competitiveness, which takes into account all the elements of the energy sector from generation to distribution, must be formulated at the soonest time and likewise made available to the public,” PBG-JFC said in their letter.
To increase foreign investments, the groups are encouraging government to consider proposals to open certain areas of the economy to greater foreign participation, such as revising the Foreign Investment Negative List pending any amendments to the Constitution.
“… Revise the Foreign Investment Negative List by reducing the list of industries where foreign participation is limited. Relevant legislation should be introduced in the near future for this purpose,” they said.
The PBG-JFC acknowledged that the administration’s efforts to stamp out corruption has started to bear fruit but said it is imperative that public officials, both past and present, who are proven to have been involved in the misuse of public funds, be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
The groups also said they are aware that the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act and various measures on anti-smuggling are moving in both chambers of Congress, but they fervently hope that such measures be immediately enacted and enforced. (READ: Customs: A year after SONA shaming)
The groups also urge Aquino to pass the Freedom of Information Act before his term ends. (READ: Still no mention of FOI law in Aquino’s 2014 SONA)
A weekend prior to SONA, member groups of PBG-JFC shared their SONA “wish list.” (READ: Businessmen’s SONA ‘wishes’)
Aquino’s SONA on July 28 earned mixed reactions from various business groups.
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman emeritus Francis Chua said the President enumerated the successful projects of his administration with due credit to his Cabinet and anyone who helped along the way.
“This is a sign of leadership. He also impressed upon us [that] he will continue to fight for the country and masses. I think he is sincere in serving the people,” Chua said.
Employers Confederation of the Philippines president Edgardo Lacson said that Aquino’s second-to-the-last SONA was actually a “status report” of what his administration has accomplished so far.
While he appealed to his bosses’ emotion, the message delivered was overall “impressive,” Lacson added.
“The delivery and message were clear. The numbers are impressive. He sounded so sincere, more conciliatory, and unifying,” Lacson said.
Lacson also noted that Aquino “indirectly” accepted the Supreme Court decision over the Disbursement Acceleration Program by seeking Congress’ approval for supplementary budget.
Management Association of the Philippines communications committee vice chair Pacita “Chit” Juan expressed frustration over Aquino’s lack of plan to address climate change effects in the country and the looming power crisis, as well as harnessing the potentials of renewable energy.
“There is even no mention [on how the energy crisis would be addressed]… it’s not even top-of-mind,” Juan said in a Google Hangout forum following Aquino’s SONA.
A social entrepreneur, Juan also noted Aquino’s failure to mention any plan for reintegrating overseas Filipino workers into the enterprise space.
Meanwhile, former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno gave Aquino a “failing grade” in infrastructure development. He said the public-private partnership (PPP) projects his administration has awarded so far should be called “post-PNoy projects.”
Diokno pointed out that most of these projects would be completed after Aquino’s term and that he only awarded 7 out of about 55 projects.
“And these are not large projects, by the way …. To say that 7 out of 55 was bigger than what previous administrations had done … is a wrong comparison. The correct [basis for] comparison is what was his intention and what has he done now. And [based on what he has done], that was a very poor performance,” Diokno said in a Google Hangout following the SONA. – Rappler.com