Constructive dialogue, consultation must continue
In earlier columns, I discussed the recommendations of the largest informal coalition of business groups we simply call the PBG-JFC (for Philippine Business Groups and Joint Foreign Chambers). First convened in 2013 to prepare a list of priorities for transmittal to the executive branch, the PBG-JFC sent three letters to then President Benigno Aquino III, timed just before the annual State of the Nation Address. Our letters to him in 2013, 2014 and 2015 made a total of 38 specific recommendations.
Ten recommendations, or 27 percent on our list, were realized before P-Noy stepped down last June 30: amending the Cabotage Law; enacting a competition policy; passing a Customs Modernization Law to fulfill our commitment to the Revised Kyoto Convention; establishing a system for coordination, reporting and monitoring for investment agencies; addressing issues of competence and efficiency in the justice system; filling vacant posts in critical government agencies with qualified, credible and experienced public servants; establishing a National Privacy Commission; developing implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) for the Cybercrime Prevention Act; amending the Right of Way Act; and creating a Department of Information and Communications Technology.
Fifteen recommendations, or 39 percent on our list, made some progress: implementing key public-private partnership projects; adopting a national transport plan; increasing power capacity in all regions; bringing down the cost of power; ensuring full and proper implementation of the Epira; reducing the number of industries in the foreign investment negative list; enforcing provisions of the People’s Small-Scale Mining Act of 1991; holding public officials proven involved in misuse of public funds accountable; institutionalizing a public-private cooperation mechanism for integrity in governance; formulating and implementing roadmaps for specific subsectors in agriculture; increasing agricultural productivity; considering value of potential mineral projects in mapping “no-go” zones in mining; developing IRRs for the Data Privacy Act; establishing trading centers to increase the efficiency of the food and agriculture supply chain; and reducing the number of steps to set up a business.
One hopes that the Duterte administration will pick up from where the previous administration left off on the 15 recommendations, ensuring that momentum is not lost or, better yet, speeded up.
Thirteen recommendations, or 34 percent on our list, made no substantial progress: overhauling the Bureau of Customs and creating an oversight body with private-sector representation; streamlining customs procedures and computerizing the system to minimize discretionary human intervention; rationalizing incentive-giving laws; ensuring conformity of local ordinances to national policies; amending the economic provisions of the Constitution; fully implementing and enforcing the Philippine Mining Act; passing the proposed Freedom of Information Act; improving the welfare of farmers and fishers; adopting an internationally competitive fiscal regime for mining; creating a public-private energy council; speeding up the Maguindanao massacre trial; passing the proposed PPP Act; and adopting comprehensive reforms in the tax system.
One further hopes that the current administration will take note of these 13 largely ignored recommendations and consider adopting some, if not all, as priorities.
At last month’s Sulong Pilipinas forum with the business community in Davao City, organized by the then incoming administration, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and the Mindanao Business Council, 10 actionable items were agreed upon: adopting a comprehensive tax reform package; implementing a national ID system for improved targeting of social services; automating and streamlining business permits and licensing systems; improving internet and telecom services; delivering support services to farmers and fishers; implementing responsible mining with local value-added services such as processing, as well as limiting raw material export; developing and implementing a national strategy for industries and preparing the local workforce for those where we have the greatest competitive advantage; improving the transport network nationwide; reviewing the conditional cash transfer program; and addressing bottlenecks in infrastructure and respecting the sanctity of contracts.
The overlaps between the ongoing and ignored recommendations on the PBG-JFC list and the Sulong Pilipinas list are many and, indeed, truly welcome. The PBG-JFC consultation and dialogue process was mirrored in the Sulong Pilipinas process, but with broader inclusion—i.e, more local chambers and groups represented. On the sidelines of the Davao forum, I talked with Gov. Migs Dominguez and Cecile Dominguez; they told me that the consultation process will be made regular and also expanded to include nongovernment and grassroots organizations. The then incoming Cabinet members welcomed the list of actionable items. President Duterte himself, in the closing address, assured everyone that the list would be taken seriously.
Since constructive dialogue and consultation seem to be high on the new administration’s to-do list, it may consider the PBG-JFC as a venue for regular engagement, possibly with the PCCI and the Mindanao Business Council taking the lead for the next six years. This public-private dialogue is a working mechanism, and is actually a global commitment of the Philippines under its 2016-2017 Open Government Partnership Plan. It will certainly benefit all for the conversation to continue.
Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of Makati Business Club and president of Integrity Initiative Inc.
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