Inclusiveness defined, AMEN

COMMONSENSE By Marichu A. Villanueva

Now that it’s done and over with, we can now all make a collective sigh of relief. We could only thank God that once again our sense of Filipino nationhood prevailed. We had another successful staging of international events without any untoward major incident to mar any of it.

One after the other, the Philippines hosted the just concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum with dialogue partners Australia, Canada, China, European Union (EU), India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russian Federation, the United Nations, the United States, and the East-Asia Summit (EAS).

By today, all 20 heads of state who flew here one after the other have all left except for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who stayed to complete his state visit here. 

The Philippines formally turned over last night to Singapore the hosting next year of the ASEAN Leaders’ summit. A few militant groups tried but failed to disrupt the international gathering last Monday while President Rodrigo Duterte went about his tasks as chairman of this year’s ASEAN Leaders’ summit.

Their noisy protest rallies ended up in water and sound dispersal actions by the police after some protesters turned violent. The protesters tried to get near to the ASEAN summit venue at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City to dramatize their cause and purportedly to have their voices heard. A few scratches here and there, broken arms and limbs to both policemen and rallyists but all’s well that ends well, as we say.

They made another attempt yesterday to get near the PICC but they were stopped at their tracks, this time with no more provocative acts. Observing maximum tolerance, kudos to our government security forces from both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for job well done.

While these governmental activities were taking place at the ASEAN Summit at the PICC, parallel conferences and meetings were also held by the private business sector from these participating countries. While the ASEAN leaders dealt with the policy directions, captains of private business sectors were doing the brass tacks to turn into reality the dream of economic integration and inclusion to all people of the ASEAN region.

The ASEAN Business Advisory Council also headed by the Philippines was convened by presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Jose Concepcion III as chairman. Speaking at the ABAC, President Duterte rallied support for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) as the “game changers” that will really promote healthy competition in the market.

“MSMEs are considered game changers as they can offer more options in the market and their presence also eliminates monopoly of trade and fosters healthy competition in the industry,” the President pointed out.

Records would show MSMEs constitute more than 90 percent of businesses in Southeast Asia and have played significant roles in job generation and economic growth. In the Philippines, Concepcion noted with dismay the MSMEs are at the bottom of the economic pyramid. With this in mind, Concepcion convened the Asean Business-Investment Summit (ABIS). The three-day conference took place at the nearby Solaire Hotel and Casino also in Pasay City.

In the case of the Philippines, President Duterte promised to allot more state funds to programs supporting MSMEs to spur economic activity. “Next year, I would like to make some late changes in the GAA (General Appropriations Act) – the annual budget. I would like to pour more money on this medium, small, and micro enterprises,” the President vowed.

Apparently, the promotion of the MSMEs would largely have to come from the government coffers.

At the second day of the ABIS, it was the turn of big business leaders in the region like ports tycoon Enrique Razon, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Tony Fernandes, who are top chief executive officers (CEOs) of the largest corporations who talked on how to bring about economic inclusion for all, especially MSMEs.

They joined the discussions on the ASEAN Infrastructure Development “Building for the Future.” It was a takeoff from the “Build, Build, Build” program in the Philippines being undertaken by the Duterte administration.

“We have a lot of catching up on certain infrastructure which governments have to do. There are certain infrastructure projects that private sector can do,” Razon cited.

Razon should know where he is talking about. He has been dealing with governments all over the world through his International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) that owns and operates roughly 28 container ports and terminals worldwide from Manila to Madagascar.

Citing Philippines has fundamentally changed the way it does business, Zobel sees the need for the government to do more to achieve inclusive growth. Zobel, chairman of the country’s oldest conglomerate Ayala Corp., noted the Philippines has gone a long way in terms of development.

“For inclusiveness to kick in, economic growth must move up seven, eight to nine percent. Six to seven percent growth with population growing is like walking on a treadmill,” Zobel said. The Philippines needs to have a global set of standards in terms of governance and transparency to attract more investments, he added.

In his keynote address at the ABIS last Sunday, President Duterte formally launched the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurship Network (AMEN), a project that seeks to put into action economic inclusion as the means to narrow down the development and income gap of all people in the region by promoting MSMEs.

So far, 143 MSMEs are members of the AMEN, 50 of them coming from the Philippines. They are men and women who succeeded to grow their MSMEs and have graduated to become big players soon. And as payback, they are partnering and mentoring new and aspiring MSMEs to succeed.

Now, how do you define inclusiveness? For MSMEs, it simply means being given a break to enter the big market and be part of the big competition. For now, the ASEAN way calls it AMEN.

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