Manila, Philippines – What are you looking for in the next President of the Philippines?
This is a question often asked of Filipino voters, especially now that the campaign period for the Philippine national elections has officially begun.
This was also the question posed to the members of the Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) of the Philippines during the press launch of its 5th Arangkada Philippines Forum on Tuesday, February 9.
Julian Payne, president of the Canadian Chamber (CanCham) of Commerce of the Philippines, noted that this year’s forum will be different, in part due to the forthcoming national elections. “The forum will be held at the end of the (Aquino) administration, and at the beginning of new one—we don’t know yet who the (next) leaders will be,” added Payne.
But members of the JFC were keen on the qualities that the next President should have.
1. Openness to international trade
Ebb Hinchliffe, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) of the Philippines, said that the next President of the nation should promote ease of doing business in the Philippines, especially with foreign markets.
Payne of CanCham added that the next President should be open to international trade, and should ease existing restrictions in foreign direct investments (FDIs). Currently, the Philippines is among the more restrictive economies in Southeast Asia when it comes to FDIs. Under the Philippine Constitution, foreigners are limited to 40% ownership in businesses and real estate, while they are fully restricted to own or exploit the country's natural resources and own any media outfit here.
2. Boldness to reform policies
Henry Schumacher, external affairs vice president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), said that there are certain policy reforms that need to be addressed by the next President of the Philippines, namely those for infrastructure, manufacturing, and job generation.
Payne of CanCham said that policies relating to the country’s Internet connection and broadband infrastructure should also be addressed. “Internet speed should be treated as part of the country’s infrastructure, in the same level as electricity and transportation,” Payne added.
“If the Philippines wants to stay competitive, especially in the knowledge processing and business processing sectors, it needs faster Internet and data privacy protection,” Schumacher of the ECCP added. Tax reform is also high on the JFC’s agenda, added Schumacher.
3. Good governance and integrity
Schumacher of the ECCP said that good governance and integrity still remais as the “backbone” of all the policy reforms that the next administration might bring to the plate. Part of this good governance is also pursuing the peace process in Mindanao. “Mindanao is high in the agenda of foreign investors—we need peace in Mindanao,” Schumacher added.
Transparency and accountability are also considered crucial for good governance, which is why Payne of CanCham was disappointed that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill did not push through. “The FOI bill not being passed during [Aquino’s] administration is really disappointing,” Payne added.
The FOI bill was an important part of President Benigno Aquino III’s Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan of 2012-2016, and laid out reforms and initiatives for greater transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in governance. Payne of CanCham hopes that the FOI bill, or something similar to it, could be passed in the next administration.