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What some in business think

/ 12:07 AM December 04, 2014

Last Monday, my firm, Wallace Business Forum, held its fourth Quarterly Roundtable (QRT) for the year for our clients who are senior executives of large Filipino companies and multinational corporations. At each of these meetings we conduct a survey. You may find the results interesting.

The first question was: “How do you gauge the President’s performance in the past six months?” It was pretty much split between a good job (44 percent) and an average job (44 percent). A 12-percent few thought he was doing poorly. This split hasn’t changed much since 2011, and compares very favorably with the impression of President Gloria Arroyo where a miniscule 10-15 percent thought she was doing well, and over 50 percent thought she wasn’t.

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The next two questions were a bit tougher: Is he making the necessary tough decisions, and is he aggressively pushing them? Here the perception was not as good, as a majority (56 percent) thought he wasn’t, although half thought that when he did make a decision he was aggressive in pushing it.

As to Congress, it has never ranked as well, and in the recent survey it didn’t rank well at all with the bulk of the respondents believing that both chambers are not doing a good enough job. I put it down to the pork barrel controversies and too much time spent on inquiries “in aid of legislation” rather than on passing needed laws.

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Mind you, I don’t consider the number of bills passed as a measure of performance. The Philippines has far too many laws already. But what’s needed is the passage of bills that make a meaningful improvement in the lives of the people (the ones on sin taxes, reproductive health, K-to-12, and scholarships for top graduates of public high schools are examples of good measures passed) and that improve the business environment, thus enabling the country to draw more investments that will eventually generate jobs and livelihood for millions of Filipinos.

The business community is becoming ever more active in a coordinated approach we’ve not seen before (highlighting the importance they give to these suggestions) in pushing for bills considered necessary to create jobs.

High on the list of what they want is amending the economic provisions in the Constitution, and creating a Department of ICT (information and communications technology). Other important measures include lowering the corporate income tax to attract more investments; passing the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, the antismuggling bill, the Freedom of Information bill, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic law, Fiscal Incentives Rationalization (to harmonize the 186 incentive-giving laws and at the same time make the Philippines a competitive investment destination); and passing the labor code amendments (the Philippines’ poor ranking in global surveys in terms of labor market efficiency more than justifies the need to amend its antiquated labor policies), Fair Competition or Anti-Trust regulation, central bank charter amendments, Cabotage Law amendments (to allow foreign vessels to engage in coastwise trade in the country), and Build-Operate-Transfer Law amendments.

Mr. President, passing these will create jobs.

The courts fare no better, with 64 percent of the respondents giving the Supreme Court only a passing grade and the rest considering its performance as not very good. The lower courts were worse, with 36 percent ranking them as very poor performers, added to the 29-percent not very good. A third of the respondents had cases in court—a far too high number for companies that operate within the bounds of the law.

But something must be going right because 67 percent saw sales increasing so far this year by an average growth of 24 percent, and with profits more or less matching. That’s something I’m sure some of the multinational subsidiaries in other countries would love to emulate.

And that has been the kind of performance for some time now (I of course put it down to listening to our sage advice). But what is particularly heartening is that almost all of the respondents—80 percent—are investing more, by an average of P1.5 billion each. That’s a clear vote of confidence in the country. Most of it is in expansion (44 percent) and upgrading (33 percent), and the rest in new business activities. That’s confidence that the future looks good.

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Which brings us to the truly fascinating question: Who will be in charge of that future? Sen. Grace Poe led the pack by a considerable margin despite her claim that she’s not ready. I put it down to a woman who’s come through as intelligent, clean, decent, thoughtful and balanced. Being the daughter of a popular movie actor (the late Fernando Poe Jr.) is no longer a badge that has to be carried; 23 percent preferred her.

Next in line, at 15 percent each, were Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson, and Sen. Miriam Santiago. Vice President Jojo Binay, and Senators Alan Cayetano and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. trailed with 8 percent each.

Trouble is, this is not the voting public; they could have much different ideas. And our group thought this is how the electorate at large would vote: VP Binay will win by an overwhelming margin (50 percent) versus the next most likely candidate, Poe (25 percent). Roxas, Santiago and Cayetano were given a less than 10 percent chance of winning. As to who’d be VP, it’s Poe if she wants it.

But that’s today. As former British prime minister Harold Wilson once famously said, “A week is a long time in politics.” Well, we’ve got 68 weeks to go, anything can happen. Who knows, we might see an “under-the-radar” politician making a meteoric rise in voter preference rating in the coming weeks, and eventually winning the presidency. This eventuality is not peculiar in Philippine politics. Nothing is peculiar in Philippine politics.

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