Manila, Philippines — The next administration needs to improve ease of doing business and modernize the agriculture sector in order to bolster the economic growth of the Philippines in the next six years.
This was the message of the vice presidential candidates present at the GoNegosyo Talks Meet the Vice Presidentiables Forum held Monday, March 14, at the Manila Polo Club, Makati City.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero of the Nationalist People's Coalition; Representative Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo of the Liberal Party; Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. of the Nacionalista Party; and Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, also of the Nacionalista Party, were all at the event to discuss their different platforms to improve the agriculture sector, promote entrepreneurship, and ease doing business in the country.
However, vice presidential bets Senator Alan Peter Cayetano of the Nacionalista Party and Senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan II of the United Nationalist Alliance were no-shows during the much-anticipated forum.
Charter change, foreign direct investments
The forum kicked off with a discussion about foreign direct investments (FDIs), and the need to amend economic provisions in the constitution in order to increase FDIs flows to the country.
“We need to increase FDIs in the Philippines,” said Marcos, but added that it can be better achieved by focusing on funding public infrastructure projects rather than charter change.
“It's not the constitution getting in the way of FDIs—according to a survey, it's unstable policies and lack of infrastructure,” seconded Escudero.
Trillanes, while for amending the economic provisions of the constitution, said that it would not bring in much improvement in terms of FDIs as long as there is war in Mindanao, reminding the audience why maintaining peace and order in the country is high on his agenda if elected vice president.
Currently, the constitution only allows foreigners 40% ownership in businesses and real estate, and they are fully restricted to exploit the natural resources and to own any media outfit in the Philippines.
It should also be noted that from January to November 2015, FDI inflows in the Philippines hit $5.45 billion, a 3% decrease year-on-year, and still lags behind the average FDI inflows of its neighbors in the ASEAN-6 (pertaining to the older and more economically advanced countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, namely Indonesia; Malaysia; Philippines; Singapore; Thailand; and Vietnam).
Modernize agriculture sector
“We will allot 10% of the national budget for developing agriculture,” promised Escudero, in the event he and running mate Senator Grace Poe wins the elections. This budget allocation, Escudero added, will be for the development of more farm-to-market roads; for better crop insurance for farmers; and for improved research and development for the agriculture sector. “So that even small farmers will know which seeds are better suited for their area, thereby improving their yield and land productivity,” Escudero added.
Marcos, while also pushing for more farm-to-market roads, added farmers also need improved public infrastructure for irrigation. “We also need to stop the smuggling of agricultural products,” Marcos added.
Trillanes, on the other hand, wants to have more farming cooperatives. “Through farming coops, it will be easier for the government to give subsidies to farmers,” said Trillanes, adding that modernizing farming practices will also be made easier if the government training agencies will deal with farming coops instead of individual farmers.
In order to have a better grasp of the problems plaguing the agriculture sector, agriculture has been linked to the issue of nutrition and food security in the (Manuel “Mar”) Roxas-Robredo platform of government. “Small farmers need mentoring, market linkages, and access to capital,” said Robredo, adding that better post-harvesting facilities will also minimize a farmer’s losses incurred during the processing, storage, and transportation of their produce.
Agriculture development remains a hot topic this election season as more than one-third of the Philippine population relies heavily on agriculture as a livelihood, yet the entire sector makes up only 11% of the GDP (gross domestic product).
Expanding agrarian reform
Inextricably linked to agriculture is the issue of agrarian reform, which, the vice presidential candidates concur, should move beyond the discussion of land distribution. “Agrarian reform shouldn't stop at land distribution,” said Escudero.
“Agrarian reform would work if land is distributed to coops rather than individual farmers—that way, they can't sell off the lands that easily,” said Trillanes, reiterating the importance of farmers’ cooperatives to agriculture development and agrarian reform.
“Agrarian reform didn't work because it stopped at land distribution—we need to also properly equip the farmers about proper land management,” said Robredo, adding that under the Roxas-Robredo agricultural development plan, she will improve the way land is distributed and managed in the country.
Currently, local farmers own about 3 hectares of land, on average, with profit still subject to the volume of yields that their piece of land produces.
Promoting entrepreneurship, ease of doing business
Since this was a GoNegosyo Forum after all, the vice presidential candidates were inevitably asked about how they plan to promote entrepreneurship and ease doing business if they get elected.
“SMEs (small and medium enterprises) need 3 M’s from the government in order to succeed, and those are money, market links, and mentoring,” said Robredo. She recognized Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, who was in the audience during the forum, for having passed eight bills during his term which revolved around these 3 M’s as well.
“The biggest problems of SMEs are access to capital and ease of doing business—some LGUs (local government units) actually get in the way of doing business,” said Trillanes, which is why he wants to implement training for local government officials on how to better handle business registrations and other transactions.
For Marcos, giving funding and training for small business owners is high on his agenda as he recognizes the role of SMEs in employment generation. “However, we also need to streamline business processes to lessen the bureaucracy and to actually ease doing business,” Marcos added.
Of the vice presidentiables, Escudero was the only one who linked ease of doing business with Internet speed. “If the private sector will not invest in faster Internet, then the government will,” said Escudero. “We can ease doing business by spending on faster Internet to lessen human intervention when it comes to business registration and processes,” he added.
Currently, there is a duopoly in the telecommunications industry in the country, with the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT) and Globe Telecom, Inc. having 70% and 28% of its market share, respectively. The Philippines Competition Act, one of the eight bills passed by Senator Aquino, is seen to break this duopoly, with the Philippine Competition Commission tasked to study the competitiveness of the local telco industry. - Toni Antiporda