By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Improved access to farm produce, flexible e-learning for all students, and implementation of National ID system, and digital connectivity topped the 10 most urgent actionable business recommendations for implementation at the 2nd Sulong Pilipinas eConference — a multi-sectoral consultative conference seeking to gather broad-based support for the Philippine government’s proposed Economic Recovery Program.
This year’s Sulong Pilipinas, an annual workshop that started in 2016, was able to gather recommendations with specific timelines for implementation in 10 sectors – agriculture, education, food and security; financial inclusion and digitalization; health (emergency response); infrastructure, transportation, and logistics; manufacturing; peace and order; services (tourism and BPOs); and social protection.
Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), presented the Sulong Pilipinas 2nd e-Conference recommendations to the government’s economic team represented by Finance Undersecretary Tony Lambino for submission to President Duterte.
“We believe that these (recommendations) represent the most urgent measures that the government must take to ensure that our country and our people, especially the most vulnerable, recover from COVID-19 in as quick and sustainable a manner as possible,” said Yujuico.
Foremost, on the improvement of access to farm produce, Sulong Pilipinas recommended that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry, together with local government units (LGUs), should set up a system where small farmers can efficiently deliver their produce to food hubs located in various cities and provinces where prices are regulated by LGUs by 2020.
On education, Sulong Pilipinas said that to ensure continued learning for all students, especially those from lower income families, the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education should partner with LGUs and private institutions to provide flexible learning materials, free Wi-Fi connection, and access to computers for both students and teachers before the start of the next school year.
National ID system
For financial inclusion and digitalization, the business community recommended that the government should implement the national ID system and ensure digital connectivity of all government agencies and LGUs as soon as possible.
Ranking fourth among the 10 recommendations is for the legislature to pass a bill that will provide guidelines and mechanisms on how the different government agencies, non-government organizations, and private organizations can efficiently and effectively provide aid to affected areas and communities as soon as possible to strengthen the government’s response mechanism to pandemics
Completing the top five recommendations is for the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to implement policies that will allow an increased number of service providers, and at the same time, the executive and legislative branches of government to certify the Open Access in Data Transmission Bill as urgent and ensure its passage into law by July, 2020 to improve Internet connectivity and accessibility in the country.
The sixth actionable recommendation is for the Department of Transportation (DOTr), together with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, to allow the operation of mass public transportation, including buses and jeepneys, while ensuring that these adhere to the highest healthy and safety standards with guidance from DOTr. It also recommended more sustainable transportation modes and open more and wider pedestrian and bike lanes within the year to improve availability of public transportation as the country manages the impact of and recovery from COVID-19.
To strengthen the manufacturing sector, Sulong Pilipinas urged that the value chains and linkages between agriculture and manufacturing be strengthened for improved collaboration, prioritization of homegrown resources and raw materials in supply chains, and enhanced product specialization
Peace and order
To align peace and order initiatives with good governance, Sulong recommended that the Department of National Defense, Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines should reaffirm their commitment to the rule of law and to defend and uphold the Constitution, as well as engage multi-sectoral dialogues to promote cooperation rather than animosity across sectors of the society within the next two months.
To improve the competitiveness of Philippine tourism and support the development and growth of the sector, local government units (LGUs) and the Department of Tourism should improve coordination, align efforts, and work together to craft a more detailed recovery plan by 2021.
The business community also pushed for further opening up of the economy. The last Sulong recommendation urged that to increase foreign direct investment and ensure job creation and preservation, Congress should pass the Public Service Act, Foreign Investment Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the liberalization of the agriculture sector by August, 2020.
“We are excited to see the recommendations from this Sulong Pilipinas e-conference – and the other conferences that the government will hold – transformed into new and improved policies and concrete action,” said Yujuico.
On the part of the PCCI, Yujuico said they are ready to do what they must in providing employment, reviving economic activity, and contributing to the recovery of the Philippines.
“The past few months have shown us the dire needs that must be addressed, the systems that need to be changed, and the different ways that the government can improve its service to the public. Of course, this crisis has also shown us the importance of pulling together as one nation – that everyone has an important role to play in reviving the economy and in ensuring the health and well-being of our fellow Filipinos,” said Yujuico.
Yujuico noted that from the very beginning, Sulong Pilipinas has been unique in its approach to participatory governance – instead of private meetings, open and meaningful discussions; instead of small groups, a wide variety of representatives from different sectors.
Above all, he said, Sulong Pilpinas respect for new ideas and a clear desire to act on them, such as how the government is continuously improving connectivity through the “Build, Build, Build” program; made serious progress on the comprehensive tax reform program; and passed the national ID, ease of doing business, and universal healthcare laws.
For these reasons, he said, the PCCI has always been an active participant across the different Sulong events held in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao since 2016.