Government employees who dedicate their lives to public service are hard to come by. But one person fills the bill, and her name is Lilia B. de Lima.
The director general of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) since it was formed by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1995, De Lima concluded last Oct. 19 a two-week, six-country road show to invite investors from Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to do business in the Philippines. Veering from the usual practice in government-sponsored trade promotion and investment road shows, De Lima set out with a mission of two people—herself and her executive assistant of 18 years, Lita Malicdan—and relied on the resources of Philippine embassies or consulates in the countries she visited.
Here’s a glimpse of her all-work-and-no-play schedule: She arrived in Europe on Oct. 6. The next day, she was in Oslo presenting a paper on the opportunities for Norwegian investors in Philippine economic zones. On Oct. 9, she was in Copenhagen inviting Danish businessmen to take a keen look at the Philippines. She delivered the same sales pitch in London on Oct. 11, in Warsaw on Oct. 14, in Budapest on Oct. 16, and in Prague on Oct. 18.
Peza is an investment promotion and incentive-granting agency attached to the Department of Trade and Industry. De Lima’s record must be why four presidents decided to keep her at its helm. From 16 economic zones with about 400 companies in 1994 under the preceding Export Processing Zone Authority (or Epza), Peza under De Lima grew to 293 ecozones with more than 3,000 locator companies employing nearly a million people as of August of this year. The investments during the Epza years from 1986 to 1994 amounted to P22.3 billion. In contrast, the investments under Peza from 1995 to 2012 reached P2.31 trillion. And the Philippines now has 65 manufacturing ecozones, 18 agro-industrial parks, 18 tourism ecozones, two medical tourism centers, and 190 information technology parks.
De Lima’s hard work has not escaped the attention of the private sector. In 2010, she was declared “Management Man of the Year” by the Management Association of the Philippines, the first and only woman thus recognized by the prestigious organization in its history. (She shared the award with businessman Ramon R. Del Rosario Jr., president and CEO of Phinma.) The award required, among others, “integrity, leadership and management qualities; contribution to nation-building and values formation, and effective stewardship within the confines of the highest standard of business and management practice.” The MAP also cited De Lima for “courage, professionalism and ability to transcend politics and resist pressures while effectively serving under four Philippine presidents and consistently preserving Peza’s integrity as an institution.”
Why invest in the Philippines? De Lima stresses some compelling reasons why the world’s businessmen should seriously consider this part of Asia. The Philippines’ competitive edge remains in its workers being among the best in the world (“literate, English-speaking, easy to train, hardworking and very friendly”). The other reasons are the Philippines’ strategic location, its being a hospitable and comfortable second home for expatriates, fiscal incentives for export companies, and ease of doing business (Peza is a one-stop shop for all government agencies involved in investments, and a “non-stop shop” as Good Friday is the only day of the year that it is closed).
In January 2012, Peza was the only ecozone agency cited for best practices worldwide by the World Bank’s investment arm, International Finance Corp.
Perhaps one very important consideration that De Lima wants to emphasize in all her investment-promotion trips is the fact that there is no graft and corruption in Peza. “I would like to make a difference. Corruption deters foreign investment,” she said.
In these times when corruption from Customs to Congress is the stuff of daily news, De Lima presents the best example of a competent and hardworking public servant. It takes sacrifice and a sense of patriotism to work like she does. If even a tenth of the bureaucracy had the same work ethic and dedication, this country would be truly prosperous.
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