Bernardo M. Villegas
More than ever, private business groups should be organizing road shows in foreign countries to promote investments in the Philippines. For more than 30 years now, I have literally circumnavigated the world leading road shows in North America, Europe and Asia promoting investments in the Philippines even when the Philippines was still considered the sick man of Asia. As some of my friends know, I can always present the Philippine economic situation as a half-filled glass and help foreign investors identify opportunities for investments even in an unfavorable economic environment, such as those we experienced in the 1980s and early 2000. I usually team up with banks or executive search companies that can always cite success stories of those who are brave enough to defy unfavorable conditions. I always make it a point not to have any government official among the speakers so that the audience will realize that we are not on a propaganda mission and that the weaknesses and threats of the Philippine environment will be given due coverage. My experience is that there are always positive results of these road shows.
Sometime in early October last year, I joined a private group that conducted road shows in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. Our group was composed of Philippine-based Canadian firms in insurance, BPO-IT and finance. I partnered with Mr. Ray Canilao of Global Executive Solutions Group that wanted to identify opportunities for Filipino professionals to migrate to Canada and fill in the serious shortages of manpower in this country. We realized that we were working against great odds because of the poor relations between the heads of state of the two countries. President Duterte and Prime Minister Trodreou have not been exactly in good terms with one another. In fact, I realized what we are up against when the driver of a taxi we took in Vancouver asked the question, after realizing we were from the Philippines: “How is your murderer President?” Our image is that bad among some of the Canadians, even among the common folks.
We were not discouraged. Fortunately, we had testimonials from two of the most successful Canadian enterprises in the Philippines: Sunlife, which is the number one insurance company in our country and Telus, the largest telephone company in Canada that employs thousands of Filipino workers in its BPO operations in the Philippines. Telus currently employs 15,000 BPO workers and plans to hire 3,000 more in the coming months. As Mr. Julian H. Payne, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said before the road show was launched, “The purpose of the team in visiting Canada is to provide a political and economic briefing on the situation in the Philippines for trade and investment, as the private sector see it.”
The speakers in the panel advised the audiences in both Vancouver and Toronto to ignore the political noise, especially coming from our very unpredictable President, and focus on the following engines of growth of a rapidly growing economy (one of the fastest growing in Asia): 1) More than US$30-billion annual remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that are fueling a consumption-led growth; 2) A thriving BPO-IT sector earning some $25 billion and employing some 1.2 million well-paid workers; 3) a strong local market of 105 million generating, among others, some 60 million domestic tourists annually; and 4) the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program with an annual budget of 6 % to 7% of GDP. Over the next ten to 20 years, the Philippine GDP can grow at a minimum of 6.5% annually with an upside of growing at more than 8% annually if the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program actually takes traction. As a recent independent World Bank study indicated, it is very possible that in 2040 the Philippine GDP per capita can grow to $9,000 making the Philippines a high middle-income economy.
A common reason cited by representatives of Canadian companies why they invest and operate in the Philippines is the country’s young, growing and English-speaking population. Some of the business people in the audiences also expressed interest in the agricultural sector because of the abundant agricultural resources and the tropical climate which enables year-round farm production. We were frank enough, however, to tell them that we still have to put our act together in endowing the countryside with the necessary rural infrastructure (such as Thailand and Vietnam have done) and to clarify what will take the place of the expired Agrarian Reform law. We also encouraged some of the mining firms represented in the audiences to demonstrate to the Philippine Government that there are Canadian mining firms that are practicing responsible mining by protecting the environment from abusive practices. A concrete result of the road show is the request of some of those who attended for Mr. Canilao to pursue the possibility of exporting more Filipino professionals to Canada. There are already some 800,000 Filipinos who have migrated to Canada. They are among the more highly appreciated workers, especially in such sectors as health, education, finance, information technology, and hospitality.
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