Time to work harder says DTI’s Cristobal | Inquirer Opinion
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Time to work harder says DTI’s Cristobal

His dad, said new Trade and Industry Secretary Adrian “Che” Cristobal Jr., was a “softie” at heart. We were exchanging whispered asides as he handed over bouquets to me and another birthday celebrant, blogger Chay Santiago, at the Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel media forum. I happened to mention to him that I had worked with his dad, writer and bon vivant Adrian Cristobal, when he was still writing a column in this paper, and observed that beneath the gruff exterior hid a man with a wicked sense of humor and loads of charm.

I still remember the older Cristobal gifting me with a book (titled, interestingly enough, “Feminisms,” that weighed about three kilos) and his demanding to know, about a week later, why I hadn’t written about the book yet. I said, How could I read such an enormous tome which I had a hard time just plowing through? Come to think of it, before it was swallowed whole by the floods of “Ondoy,” the book remained largely unread on my bookcase for years afterward!

But I guess the new head of the Department of Trade and Industry shares far more traits with his writer-father than just a name. He strikes one as all-business—a blessing given his title—but glimmers of wit, humor and even idealism shine through his words. He is also, I would guess, somewhat of a feminist. His wife, Dina Ocampo, is a sister TOWNS awardee for her work in education, and he seemed to have no problems with the fact that she chose to be known professionally by her maiden name. Maybe he read “Feminisms” from cover to cover!


These days, though, Cristobal says, he has no intention of merely passing the time in the remaining months of the P-Noy administration. He readily admits to being “coterminous” with the current office holder, but says the economic momentum set in place by, among others, his predecessors, augurs well for a brighter future for the country.


* * *

“In the past three or four elections,” says Cristobal, “economic growth has risen an average of 7 percent” after the takeover of a new administration or set of officials. So he is confident of the country doing even better this year.

But this is also because, he explains, the fundamentals have been set and reforms in fields like “governance, policies, competitiveness and sustainability” are well nigh “irreversible.”

And echoing an assertion made by P-Noy in his last State of the Nation Address, Cristobal says that given the momentum set by the economic growth spurt of the last six years, and the demographic changes taking place, the Philippines can indeed reach the vaunted status of a “First World economy” in the not-too-distant future.

Cristobal’s experience with the DTI, where he served in various bureaus before being promoted to undersecretary and then secretary was mainly with technical and licensing concerns and with negotiations with foreign governments. So he says that during his remaining months at the DTI, he would want to make up for his “lack of experience” in regional operations and in working with and for “MSMEs,” the current buzzword for micro, small and medium enterprises which still need considerable assistance from the government.

Among his planned forms of assistance is a dedicated team to work with MSMEs on dealing with, say, Customs and how to hurdle their documentary requirements and procedures.


Also in the pipeline is the creation of some 100-150 “negosyo centers,” where entrepreneurs can avail themselves of services like registration, design and packaging, and even training in basic procedures.

* * *

Where does Secretary Cristobal see “green lights” in the economy?

First, he says, there is need to “move up the value chain” in an industry such as electronics, which is currently the top driver of exports. He is launching a serious and intensive training program for integrated circuit designers, for instance, to raise the status of the industry and protect it from the incursions of other countries with cheaper labor costs.

Among the industries vying for the title of “the new BPO,” he says, are coconuts (virgin coconut oil and coconut water), coffee and cacao, but only if “they can solve kinks in the supply chain,” chemicals, organic products, shipping (we are currently No. 4 in the world), and—would you believe—aerospace, with some locally-based firms already engaged in manufacturing components for Airbus.

* * *

The DTI is also in the midst of negotiating with partners in regional and international trade bodies, such as the Asean and its partner economies, as well as with the European Union and the European Free Trade Association, whose members include “small but wealthy” nations in the continent.

“Now is the time to work harder,” says Cristobal, replying to a comment that he can very well just engage in a “holding action” until the elections in May. “We will make each day count,” he says of his remaining time in office.

A lawyer by training, Cristobal says he’s looking forward to reconstituting the law firm he had to leave when he accepted the invitation issued eight years ago to join the government.

Other trade secretaries, he was told, have used their time in the office to catapult themselves into politics and even national positions. Is he not even tempted to go this route?

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Cristobal smiles and says: “I think I should run first for barangay chairman before I give national politics a try.” He seems to be telling the truth when he says he is looking forward to returning to the private sector, but at least until the elections we can count on a public servant like him to serve the country with everything he’s got.

TAGS: Adrian Cristobal Jr., Department of Trade and Industry, economy, Growth

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