340 heads are better than one | Inquirer Opinion
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340 heads are better than one

Last week I talked about the importance of meetings. I attended one, which set the incoming administration’s stage. There we were at Day Minus 10 and already, then President-elect Rodrigo Duterte had met with business; appointed members of his Cabinet and conferred with them several times; come out with a 10-point economic agenda; and gotten criminals and corrupt policemen shaking in their boots.

Here is a new President who promised action from Day One (well, even before Day One). We may well see six years of action after six years of lethargy and inability to make crucial decisions. Six years to not even decide where to put an international airport do not impress.

The meeting was the Sulong Pilipinas (Forward Philippines) Forum in Davao City. I has been skeptical. There seemed to have been little prepreparation. I didn’t see anything on it till last Friday, and then only the sketchiest of programs. But I should have known better; Filipinos just know how to organize conferences. Everything was in place, and it all worked.

But one change I’d like to see is the junking of the interminable introductory “niceties.” If I interpret Duterte correctly, I think he fully agrees with me: Let’s just get down to work. Forget the welcoming generalities and long-winded introduction of speakers (just hand out CVs, if you wish). And dispense with the acknowledgement of all the dignitaries present, ending with “and ladies and gentlemen.” As one of those, I feel insulted. Is an “honorable gentleman” really more important than us?


Anyway. The new head of the National and Economic Development Authority, Ernie Pernia, set the stage by telling us where the economy was and what we could expect. Then incoming Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez fleshed out the 10-point economic agenda in refreshing detail. The best of it all: consistency. Duterte’s team isn’t going to throw the baby out with the bath water; they’re going to continue President Aquino’s plans, programs and projects, at least in the main.

Then came the best bit of the first day: the afternoon. We were split into groups of eight or so to discuss the 10-point agenda and our comments, for posting on a series of 10 boards along the wall. After that was done, we had to come up with the five issues we considered of highest priority/top importance for Duterte to do. These suggestions were then tested by sending the members of a table to another table where two were left to challenge the priorities chosen.

From there we had to come down to just three suggestions and present them to the body. Tony Lambino did a superb job of coordinating it all, moving it through, and getting results.

That was Day One. Day Two started with a tour of the impressive 911 and Control Center where everything just worked. I’ve never seen a 17-bed ambulance, but Davao has one. Ideal in a catastrophe. I’ve little doubt Duterte will replicate it nationwide, and that alone will bring crime down. If a camera can zoom in to a number plate or catch you blinking, it’s hard to steal even a kiss, as one couple holding hands seemed inclined to do. But where to get the funds? International donors may be the way to go.


The after-lunch session was a mistake. It was a wrong concept poorly managed. The Cabinet secretaries, initially 13 and ballooning to 24, were eventually told to ask questions to the audience members, 340 of them. Well, there wasn’t much in the way of questions, and the audience wandered off into irrelevant-to-the-topic “answers.” Too often self-serving ones for their own pet concerns or projects to tout. It started late, too. That concept should be discarded.

The secretaries started to introduce themselves but after only four had done so, Duterte arrived. George Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Vicente Lao, chair of the Mindanao Business Council, gave a masterful presentation of the Top 10 issues that business believes need prime focus and actions. A small team worked through the night (my sympathies) to collate the myriad lists the audience had posted on the bulletin boards. They did an incredible job.


The Top 10 issues were: 1) adopt a comprehensive tax reform package; 2) implement a national ID system; 3) streamline the bureaucracy; 4) improve internet and communication services to be competitive with the best in the region; 5) improve services for farmers and fishers; 6) implement a mining policy where responsible mining is supported and illegal and irresponsible mining stopped; 7) develop a national strategy to take advantage of areas where the Philippines has a competitive advantage both domestically and globally; 8) improve infrastructure with faster action on projects nationwide; 9) review the conditional cash transfer program; and 10) remove the bottlenecks in the PPP program and commit to sanctity of contracts.

It’s a good list, with some omissions. Power, for example, wasn’t listed as a concern, yet it very certainly is, with supply marginal and much controversy over the environmental impact of plants. Nor were education and health given the importance they need—a strange omission as both always come out as the top concerns in any public survey. It could be they were taken as a given knowing Duterte had already expressed how important he considered both.

Duterte, unfortunately, didn’t react, saying those were not his expertise. But once he’s President, it will have to be. He, instead, focused on crime and corruption and similar social issues. He did bring up mining toward the end, saying that mining claims would be comprehensively reviewed and that only mines that could operate to the standards imposed in Australia and Canada would be allowed to continue. Incoming Environment Secretary Gina Lopez will need to abide by this.

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E-mail: [email protected]. Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

TAGS: meetings, Rodrigo Duterte

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