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4 PHL Presidentiables Face Business Leaders, Fail to Impress

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PASAY CITY (PHLTODAYUSA) —Four major candidates for the president in the 2016 election next year have appeared before businessmen and pitched their economic platforms but many businessmen reportedly were not impressed.


The occasion was the 41st Philippine Business Conference (PBC) of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the Marriott Grand Ballroom in Pasay City on Tuesday, October 27.


The four are Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Mary Grace Poe Llamanzares, former Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.


The consensus among businessmen was that while all four tackled issues that were expected in a business setting, none focused on the issue close to PCCI’s main advocacy, which is the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sector or the backbone of the local economy.


PCCI president Alfredo M. Yao said he was impressed by the four, but said he was looking for “more.”


“Not pertaining to any presidentiable, but I’m looking at a leader with a strong political will. Whether unpopular or popular, if you think that’s right, do it. Have political will (to make decisions),” said Yao.


Yao said it would take at least two decades to have confidence in a fully recovered Philippine economy. “Maybe another two or three terms (presidents) before we can recover.”


“As a citizen – and for me as a businessman – I’d like to see a president who will do what he or she says he or she will do,” Yao added.  He also prefers a leader who is practical and has common sense. “You don’t need a complicated solution. I practice that in business and in life.”


PCCI honorary chair, Sergio Ortiz-Luis, for his part, said most of the candidates spoke about political agendas such as Charter change, taxes, and infrastructures.


“Basically they are all saying the same thing and there’s nothing new. It’s a question of – do you agree with them or not?”


Both Ortiz-Luis and Yao have not decided who to vote yet. “Malayo pa, matagal pa, marami pa mangyayari,” he said. But if there is one thing he wished the presidentiables spoke about, it was SMEs. “I would have wished that (they talked about) financing for SMEs.”


Poverty is the moral issue of the time and it is what his administration will focus on, said Vice President Binay at the forum.


“The moral problem actually is not corruption, the moral problem is poverty. That is what I have to face, not a fight against all these allegations but a fight to alleviate poverty in the life of every Filipino,” Binay said.


In his opening statement, Binay said his administration will focus on “sustainable and shared economic growth” through balanced social and economic policies.


“This administration may lay claim to the country’s economic growth and credit rating upgrades, but the average 6.3% per year from 2010-2014 would have been more meaningful if it induced the creation of more stable jobs and opportunities for our people,” Binay said.


“Our economic agenda is simple: sustainable and shared economic growth. I’m convinced that inclusive growth is possible with the right mix of social and economic policies by a government that is sensitive to both the needs of its residents and those who do business in the country,” he added.


He also noted that it would take a strong political will from government leaders and the help of the Filipino people to ensure that the effect of the country’s economic gains will be felt by all.


“We need a sustained 7-8% GDP growth per annum to reduce poverty even faster and to attain more inclusive growth sooner. We can achieve this with the right policies, proper implementation and timely delivery of priority projects. And we shall see to it that economic growth and progress are cascaded to the poor and marginalized,” he said.


“It can be reinforced with a more effective monitoring and supervision of priority programs and projects, and with the continued cooperation and support of the business sector. When government enables businesses to flourish, it also enables itself to help more of its people. It’s a shared responsibility and mutually beneficial situation; it’s a win-win for all,” he added.


Binay expressed his support for the amendment of the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to encourage foreign investments and create a more vibrant business environment.


“We shall work towards a market-oriented and pro-business environment that will allow local and foreign firms to flourish in the Philippines,” Binay said.


“First, we must amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution that currently restricts the entry of foreign investments in some major sectors of the Philippine economy. This single step serves as the impetus that will help address nagging problems in our country, such as, unreliable and expensive power, poor infrastructure, and lack of jobs,” he added.


Binay also reaffirmed his support for the enactment of the Fiscal Incentives Rationalization Bill; Build-Operate-Transfer Law amendments; Right-of-Way Bill; Creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology; and the Reduction of the high levels of personal and income tax rates.


Binay said his administration will focus on strengthening the mining, manufacturing, and agriculture saying these sectors create more jobs.


“Our program of government covers increasing agricultural productivity, making the manufacturing and export sectors more competitive, and supporting environmentally- and socially-responsible mining,” he said.


Senator Grace Poe promised to the country’s business leaders that eliminating red tape would be the focus of her administration in the first 100 days if elected president in the 2016 elections.

”Under my watch, red-tape should not be a profit center for government,” Poe told the PCCI.

Citing the newspapers report on Tuesday, Poe said the outdated regulations cost the Philippines some P140 billion in opportunity losses.

Poe emphasized the need to legislate a new anti-red tape law that would reduce the business application process from 15 steps to at least the level that businessmen have been enjoying in other countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

”If you’re starting a mom-and-pop operation, or if you’re in a sole proprietorship, working for your home with no employees, why should you spend 45,000 in fees and licenses alone? In the ease of doing business we have proved quite a bit but it takes about 15 steps to start a business in the Philippines while in Thailand it just takes 4 steps,” Poe said.

The leading presidential candidate said reducing red tape would result to more foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country.

”It is quite an achievement that the government has P6 billion in foreign direct investments but our neighbors have more than that, P8 billion in Vietnam and in Thailand even more,” Poe said.

Poe said she would also continue the fight against graft and corruption by passing into law the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, the same measure which the Senate approved under her watch as chairperson of the committee on public information.

”So one thing, is to continue our fight against corruption, we should make sure that red tape is reduced,” Poe said.

The lady senator said she would also give priority on making the Philippines one of the favorite tourist destinations by building more infrastructure projects and business climate.

”Tourist arrivals in the Philippines is also something that we should increase now our average is a little around 5 million tourists a year whereas Thailand has 26 million and a little bit more in Vietnam. I think that this is an area, tourism, where we can have an added value in terms of employment and in terms of opportunities,” Poe said.

Poe also said she would push reform in the country’s tax code with the objective of reducing tax payments.

”I think that we should re-classify the different brackets for taxes. We are one of the highest in Asia and yet our government services still have to be improved. From 2011 until the present, we have about P600 billion in unspent fund in the government and reducing taxes will only take away about P30 billion, so when they say what programs we have to cut, we don’t even have to cut programs we just have to be more efficient in being able to roll out our projects so that more opportunities will be created,” she said.
Poe said agriculture is also in need of support of the next administration considering it is one sector that the highest poverty incidence.

”The majority of our countrymen are dependent on agriculture but we need to increase mechanization, we need to give them the proper insurance, the crop property insurance, the farm to country road for our farmers,” she said.

”I know that this is said every now and then but I need small water impounding facilities, we need more dam for irrigation, 500,000 hectares of land still needs to be irrigated. There’s a question about whether we need to be rice self-sufficient, or we should have food security. But definitely we should think of food security and the livelihood and insistence of our farmers,” she added.

Poe stressed the need for next government to make business sector as its important partner.

”We will not be successful if we do not help each other and I can guarantee you that having been raised by parents who are also entrepreneurs, I understand the challenges that face the business community but we belong to the small business owners, what more the many others trying to get a loan from the bank, trying to get their permits approve, so these are the things that I feel that we can concentrate on so that we can increase foreign direct investments and so we can also help our local businessmen,” Poe said.


Santiago said the country needs to prepare its people through improving health and education services to ensure faster economic growth and to trickle down the effect of this.


The lawmaker added she will continue the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program but in a more cost-efficient way by involving the local government in implementation.


Public infrastructure in the Philippines should be at par with other ASEAN neighbors, according to Santiago.


For Roxas, he said that he will continue the programs of the Aquino administration in investing on people and infrastructure which he noted as key structural reforms of the current government.


Roxas mentioned that the government has enacted to close classroom backlogs, invested P65 billion for CCT Program, and spent P75 billion in 2014 as PhilHealth reimbursement.


In terms of infrastructure investments, total capital outlay of the government has tripled from P175 billion or 1.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to P570 billion this year. For 2016, the government allotted PhP800 billion for infrastructure projects or approximately 5.0 percent of the country’s GDP, Roxas cited.


Poe, in her message to PCCI, said public infrastructure is necessary for the country to improve the tourism sector which has a great potential for value added activities and job creation.


The four presidentiables all vowed to select and appoint competitive cabinet members to ensure programs will be effectively implemented and delivered.


Tax reforms and FOI

Binay, Poe, and Santiago stated the need for tax reforms particularly in lowering corporate income tax (CIT) and personal income tax (PIT) rates.


Santiago vowed to reform tax system within six months of her administration while Binay said tax reforms will be a priority and he will reduce gradually CIT rate if he will be seated as the next president.

Poe is more concerned on the reduction of individual tax payment.


Roxas, on the other note, said he is open to reducing income tax rates but the initiative needs to be studied “very closely” and should be put in “very sober and non-populist” discussions -- not in time of elections.


He noted that the philosophy of the current administration is to invest back to people their taxes through improved public service.


The two lady lawmakers will both push for the enactment of Freedom of Information (FOI) as a law while Binay and Roxas did not mentioned the pending legislation.


Distinct initiatives

Santiago’s distinct initiative she told to the business group is “passing a law authorizing the use of public funds to support dominant political parties” which she stressed will create a stable political institution in the country.


This will also push political parties to be accountable for the mistakes of their own candidates and leaders that will be in government positions, according to Santiago.


Poe, alone, mentioned the importance of tourism industry in the country.


She aims to further increase tourist arrivals in the country by improving public infrastructure.


Binay, on the other hand, targets to focus on poverty reduction by providing more jobs.


He said this will be possible through supporting industries that are very active in employment such as manufacturing and export.


Roxas vowed to sustain the country’s economic momentum and reclaim its position as center of modernity and growth in Asia by continuing the initiatives of the Aquino administration on transparency, rules-based governance, and strong fight against corruption.


He noted that the cry during the past elections was ‘change’, but for the first time, the country now has reasons to push for ‘continuity’ of government programs and initiatives.


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