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Be not afraid

At the Easter Sunday Mass I attended, I was struck by the priest’s statement that the phrase “Be not afraid” is mentioned 365 times in the Bible. Apparently, the Almighty wishes to remind us every single day that we should not allow fear to take over us.

That struck a chord in me as I, and apparently many other folks I know, have been fretting over the upcoming elections and the possible results. Many of us are afraid that we would step back yet again from the undeniably progressive steps forward made since the Aquino administration took office. Worse, there may be winning election combinations that may bring us back to the pre-1986 People Power Revolution, the dark days of martial law.

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These are possibilities, but do we need to be afraid?

For sure, we all should have reasons to worry over a possible return to the martial law era. Contrary to some social media posts and memes, those years were not golden years; they were dark days. I always tell the young generation that when I was their age, I had to brave water cannons and tear gas together with tens of thousands of students fighting for jobs and justice and for food and freedom. That if Facebook were existing then, it would have been blocked, as China has done. That they would probably find it amusing that “Voltes V” was banned by the dictatorship simply because the message of freedom it carried was too disconcerting for the powers that be. That they need not imagine too hard what it was like because the Capitol in the “Hunger Games” series and the rise of “He Who Must Not Be Named” in the Harry Potter stories were exactly how things were back then.

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In 1981, the Makati Business Club was formed by Makati-based CEOs sharing the overwhelming frustration that the space for doing business in the country had become very tight as Marcos cronies cornered more and more business opportunities.

The fact that the economy was in shambles further exacerbated the extremely difficult business climate, which, mind you, made our woes over the ease of doing business today look like peanuts. A loved and respected career undersecretary at the Department of Finance recalls how they had to resort to unorthodox measures in the hope of squeezing more credit. He made the picture more vivid by describing the display shelves in a famous shoe-selling store as having huge gaps between the merchandise as there was little to sell or too few with the ability to buy. They certainly had reasons to be afraid.

Many experts here and abroad agree that the Philippines can become a great nation. Doris Ho, a champion of the maritime industry and who successfully chaired the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) last year, always asserts that our people are our greatest assets.  Our continuing success in providing world-class talent in seafaring, business and knowledge process outsourcing, tourism, education, nursing and, yes, especially in domestic help, attest to this great potential. I say especially in the field of domestic help because, as the adage goes, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

So, why are we so afraid of something like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in which the service sector is a key component? We have a competitive advantage in our people, and we can leverage that. We need not be afraid. But there is much to be done.

Which brings us to three possible priorities for the next administration, whoever and whatever will comprise it. First, we will need to further develop our services agenda, aligning with regional agendas such as that of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and identifying our strategic strengths.  The recently reorganized Philippine Services Coalition should be tapped for this.

Second, we need to build an innovation ecosystem that can consider the recommendations of the Congressional Commission on Science and Technology and Engineering. Building the system will require institutional mechanisms and policy measures as part of a long-term strategic innovation plan. A study and recommendations effort led by Abac Philippines is in the pipeline toward this end.

And third, we need to rationalize and strengthen support for medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs).  We can learn from models in other countries, such as Malaysia’s SME Corp. We must look at what we already have in law, such as “Go Negosyo” and the small business corporation laws and, again, build on that which already exists.

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For services, innovation and MSMEs, there are clear paths forward that we should not be afraid to take even if these are less trodden.  Rather than be afraid, it is time we got the needed work done. On April 22, the second public-private sectors’ high-level dialogue will be convened with Cabinet secretaries and heads of the Philippine Business Groups-Joint Foreign Chambers.  The dialogue is part of our country’s Open Government Partnership plan until 2017. Bridging two administrations, this international commitment will hopefully end the vicious cycle of new administrations not building on the successes of the previous ones. It will help deliver much needed continuity to the pursuit of our shared reform agenda.

I would like to think that this is one way for us to better take on the challenge to be not afraid.

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club and president of Integrity Initiative Inc.

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TAGS: APEC, Apec Business Advisory Council, Doris Ho, Elections 2016, Makati Business Club, martial law, MSMEs, social media
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