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With Due Respect

Unleashing entrepreneurial ingenuity (2)

This is the second part (the first part was printed last Sunday) of my speech during the opening luncheon of the general assembly of the Asean Law Association:

Entrepreneurship in Asean. Let us now examine Asean. Our region is the focus—yes, the darling—of the world. Some members, like Singapore, have attained First World status. Malaysia and Thailand are exemplars on how to propel economies. And during the past few years, the VIPs of the world—Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines—have exhibited enviable records of GDP growth.

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Why? Because our peoples’ entrepreneurial spirit had been unleashed even if inadequately in some places; because our permanent institutions are being strengthened and relied upon, instead of upon the apron strings of our temporary leaders; because our educational standards have been uplifted and have released the spirit of the fisherman in us; because our governments are learning that the best way of governing is to govern the least and to allow people to freely use their innovation and initiative, interfering only to check avarice and to level the playing field.

Indeed, the primary role of government is to create just societies; to focus on improving access to the basic necessities of food, clean water, education, infrastructures, healthcare, decent incomes and jobs; to honor commitments made in good faith; and to protect property rights.

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The peoples of the world and of Asean have different histories, traditions, cultures, ideologies and mindsets. But I dare say, all of them need liberty and prosperity.

Some countries, taking into account their unique backgrounds, start with improving their people’s economic lives first and restrict temporarily in measured stages their political liberty. Some others begin with political liberty, thinking that their economy would flourish as a necessary consequence. Still some others rise with a combination of both liberty and prosperity at the very beginning.

I think that such differing starts and focus are necessary in the growth of nations. But I also firmly believe that eventually and inevitably, all the peoples of the world need and deserve liberty and prosperity in equal measure.

Sharing prosperity. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, an American of Korean descent whom I met during a reception hosted by our President Benigno Aquino III, grimly said that “the world/s richest 85 people have as much combined wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion.”

The 2014 “Key Indicators” of the Asian Development Bank show that this glaring disparity in wealth distribution is not as grotesque in the Asean region. Indeed, Asean as a whole is fortunate to suffer less poverty and to enjoy more affluence than many parts of the world. Still I say that we cannot ignore the injustice of wealth inequality and the need to share prosperity.

Let me illustrate why. Let us say that our next-door neighbor contracts the deadly dengue disease. Would we not help him fumigate his house and drain the idle water in his yard because the culprit mosquito is capable of flying into our home, without respecting our fence and our legal certificate of home ownership?

Of course, we will—out of self protection, if not out of love for him. In the same manner, if a bird flu epidemic breaks out in Cambodia, the neighboring countries, if not the entire Asean community, would surely come out and help eradicate the disease, remembering that the birds causing the disease will not respect or care about the sovereignty and territorial limits of states.

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The above examples are simple. But from simplicity really comes the wisdom of sharing and caring for the less fortunate, for the poor, for the least, lost and last.

Eliminating impediments. Indeed, our general assembly’s theme of “Sharing Prosperity” and, specifically, our desire to solve the legal challenges that impede our altruistic goal should be foremost in our minds when we tackle, in full session or in separate workshops, the various topics we have drawn to meet these challenges.

Some legal impediments to the Asean integration of trade, investments, services and skilled labor may be formidable, like constitutional restrictions on ownership of land, media, public utilities, natural resources and the like. Consequently, they may take some time to resolve. But some are really simple, like facilitating the opening of new businesses.

Karl Kendrick Chua, senior country economist of the World Bank, in a speech on Jan. 29, 2015, said that “in the Philippines, it takes 34 days and 16 steps to start a business, and it costs 17 percent of per capita income, compared to 6 days, 3 steps, and 7 percent of per capita income in Malaysia.”

Certainly, the lawyers of Asean can easily help solve this simple problem by tapping Malaysia as the model. Indeed, we can solve many legal impediments by simply sharing the solutions already formulated by our Asean brothers.

I am sure that this afternoon and during the next two days of our general assembly, the simple problems can be resolved immediately while the formidable ones can be planned more intensely in future meetings.

Today, at the start of our general assembly, I see happy and optimistic faces among you, my dear colleagues. And on our last day, as reports of our workshops are read, discussed and approved during our closing session, I expect to see even happier faces for, by then, we would have accomplished our mission.

(Full speech at cjpanganiban.com and click speeches)

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TAGS: Asean, Asian Development Bank, Benigno Aquino III, entrepreneurship, Jim Yong Kim, Karl Kendrick Chua, world bank
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