Manila, Philippines – If the Philippines is to stay competitive in the next decade, policy reforms that will ease starting and doing business in the country need to be in place, as entrepreneurship and agribusiness will be crucial in promoting job creation and inclusive growth.
This was the theme underlying the afternoon panel discussions of the 5th Arangkada Philippines forum held Tuesday, March 1, at the Marriott Grand Ballroom, Pasay City.
“We need legislation to become more competitive,” said Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, one of the speakers at the forum and current chairman of the Senate committee on trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship. “Inclusive growth must be more than a buzzword and government initiative; it should be everyone’s priority,” Aquino added.
Not easy to do business
“What’s good for businesses is good for the country,” said entrepreneur and urban planner Architect Felino “Jun” Palafox, who was in the audience during the forum. He added that, due to his work overseas and transactions with foreign businesses, it became apparent to him that the Philippines is falling behind in terms of ease of starting and doing business. “In Dubai, for example, you can have your business registered within a day. I don’t know how long it usually takes here,” he added.
Ebb Hinchliffe, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham), shared that in a survey of 189 economies, the Philippines only ranked 165 in terms of ease of starting a business, adding that, since 2011, the country has experienced multiple downgrades in terms of ease of doing business, “And the Philippines is still in the lower half of the ASEAN-6 (pertaining to the older and more economically-advanced members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). It should be more competitive,” he added.
Guillermo Luz, private sector co-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council, said that what ails the Philippines is the lack of proper implementation, not the lack of policy.
Legislation, reforms for competitiveness
Aquino, over the course of his 2-year term as a senator, was able to pass eight bills which he believes would ease starting and doing business in the Philippines. He cited his three M’s for enabling Filipino entrepreneurs: money, mentorship, and market. “Our policy reforms have revolved around these three M’s,” he added.
Most notable of these is the GoNegosyo Act, which enabled the creation of GoNegosyo Centers all over the country. “The idea for the GoNegosyo Centers is to provide these three M’s,” added Aquino. “And it’s good that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is taking over its operations,” as this makes the GoNegosyo Center a one-stop shop for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to apply for a loan, register their business, or get mentorship.
Aquino was also able to pass the Microfinance NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) Act, the Youth Entrepreneurship and Financial Literacy Act, and the Philippine Competition Act, which he sees will have the “potential to transform our local business environment.” “More players in a sector can only lead to lower prices and better quality of goods for consumers,” he added.
But even with these improvements, Aquino believes that the Philippines can do more to ease starting and doing business by way of legislation. He added that the country needs a multi-stakeholder approach to advance entrepreneurship and competitiveness, which can be done through the convergence of efforts and solutions among different government agencies, such as the DTI and the Department of Agriculture, among others.
Ambassador Roberto Romulo, who has been a presidential senior adviser on international competitiveness since 2001 and adviser to the public-private partnership task force on globally competitive industries, received this year’s Arangkada Lifetime Achievement Award, and through his acceptance speech, made a case for improving the state of agriculture in the country.
“I’m not alone in recognizing the role of agriculture in the growth of our country…. Yet, the sector remains weak, and farmers and agri-workers remain the poorest of the poor,” Romulo said.
He asked business leaders and government officials present in the forum to revisit and empower the role of LGUs (local government units) in the growth of the agriculture sector.
Like Aquino, Romulo also recommended a multi-stakeholder approach to dealing with the agriculture problem, by forming a multi-stakeholder alliance with the vision of advancing pro-poor, climate smart solutions.
Minimize bureaucracy, maximize governance
Business leaders present at the forum also raised the point that minimizing bureaucracy and maximizing good governance can also ease doing business in the country. However, “there are a lot of bold reforms that needs to be done in order to minimize bureaucracy and maximize governance in the next decade,” said John Forbes, senior adviser at AmCham.
“The private sector also has to do its part, because there’s also corruption in business,” noted Ramon del Rosario, chairman of both the Makati Business Club and the Steering Committee for Integrity Initiative. “The next leader [of our nation] should have integrity, but should also inspire different groups to work together toward a common vision,” that of good governance in both business and the government, he added.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said that bureaucratic reforms for the next decade must focus more on increasing transparency and accountability. “We also need meritocracy—the government recruitment system should also be more competitive and merit-based,” she added.
Carpio-Morales recommended that there also be an Investment Ombudsman, to “ensure prompt action on investor grievances and speedy resolution of investor complaints.”
Inspired by the best practices of the business community, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said she wants to modernize the judiciary by making automation a top priority, ahead of organizational development.
“We’re in the business of delivering justice. And as with any business, we should have the best technology in automation,” seeing that it can ensure the integrity of court records and the litigation process, and will enable judges to make the best use of their time. “If businesses can do it, why can’t we [the judiciary]?” Sereno added.
Automation means that all judiciary processes will be transmitted and done electronically—from filing cases, paying fees, releasing docket numbers and reports, even the court hearings. This 5-year Enterprise Information Systems Plan of the judiciary, which covers the procurement of hard infrastructure, is seen to promote a faster, fairer, and equal justice. “The gold standard for public service must come from the judiciary,” said Sereno.
Toni is the deputy associate editor of Entrepreneur.com.ph. Follow her on Twitter, @toni_antiporda.