Isang mapagpala at mapagpalayang hapon sa inyong lahat!

First of all, allow me to thank the League of Corporate Foundations for organizing this event. Thank you, Executive Director Celine Santillan, for having me.

I would like to greet Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Eduardo Bobier, and the League of Corporate Foundations’ board of trustees, advisory council, and members.

I’m happy to have this opportunity to share some thoughts with you on your theme for the year, “Creating a Future We Need: Striking a Path During a Period of Transition.” Indeed, we are in transition because we are in the midst of change in the administration of our country. In any case, your theme reminds me of a saying attributed to former United States (US) President Lincoln and this saying goes like this, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

So, if you want a better future for all, better in terms of the impact on our people, better in terms of the impact on our country, and better in terms of the impact on our environment, we need to create that future. And it is by way of a collective effort that we are able to do that very well. When we say collective, we highlight the importance of collaboration among the key players of the country, that is the government, private sector, and the civil society. So, we can be assured of a prosperous future for all.

In my experience in leading various organizations, I have seen significant role that of the private sector, and also the important role of the academe and civil society in nation building.

The Filipinos’ collective long-term vision, AmBisyon Natin 2040, is rooted in our fellow citizens’ daily battles and aspirations—to have enough for everyday and unexpected needs, to buy a house and car of their own, to send their children to school, and to afford some leisure. Together we want to live in a secure and comfortable life. Beyond the Filipinos’ wishes for their own families, however, their vision for the country has to be for the collective Prosperity and Justice for All. Their vision of prosperity is, of course, rooted in a keen awareness of poverty and its harshness. As the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) put it, “Walang naghihikahos, walang naghihirap, maginhawa ang buhay ng lahat.”

What can we, who are present today, contribute to realize this vision? How can we create not only the future we need but the future we aspire?

Among the major economic issues that we face today are food security and energy security. We have current serious threats to food security and energy security because of the geopolitical developments around us and these are amplified long-standing challenges of inequality and lack of inclusivity.

Inequality and lack of inclusivity in the Philippines have a very significant geographic component. Most of our poor people are in rural areas, out of reach of basic services that we in the big cities take for granted. Much has been said about dispersing development and decongesting the National Capital Region.  But, how do we actually do it?

I would request you to take a long hard look at our major second-line cities in the regions. We make our stand there. For those of us who homed the country, traveling to different parts of the Philippines, you will know that there are what used to be second-line cities that are going very fast, like Iloilo, Cebu, Davao, Bacolod, just to cite a few examples.

Many are familiar with the term economies of scale; less seldom do we hear about economies of agglomeration. Beyond the obvious benefits of decongesting Metro Manila and its nearby regions, focusing on secondary cities leverages the agglomeration dynamics of urbanization. Urban centers become magnets for economic activity, characterized by production clusters in many cases, and serve as financial, commerce, and recreation hubs. Such economic dynamism, in turn, attracts greater investment which creates spillover effects to the adjacent municipalities in the form of jobs and backward and forward linkages. We can maximize DTI’s efforts in developing a National Competitiveness Program in the past years to inform the strategic positions that the various regions and respective urban centers can pursue. If we want a better national future, we have to go town-by-town, city-by-city, province-by-province, region-by-region, that is the way we can be assured that nobody is left behind.

Let’s reimagine our country as a group of prosperous and collectively resilient cities from north to south. This is both geographic diversification and de-risking of our economic engines.

To be even more specific, I would like to encourage you to:

  1. Invest in more world-class healthcare facilities in our second-line cities. This will complement our tourism drive, and by themselves be major income earners in terms of medical tourism
  2. Double-down on IT-BPM service exports with operations hubs in our different regions. In reality, this is happening now, there are BPO and BPM centers in what used to be second-line cities.
  3. Invest in food logistics. We recognize the surge of investments in logistics hubs driven by the growth of e-commerce. Consider putting in place capacity for the reverse flow of goods, for the produce of MSMEs and small-hold farmers from the rural areas delivered to the cities.

I would like to suggest also that corporate foundations and corporations reinforce corporate social responsibility, or CSR, which I believe is your main concern. My view is that we have to introduce the concept of stewardship.

Many in government, private sector, and civil society have realized that while charity is helpful in its own ways, it is almost always not enough. It is normally viewed only as a way to improve the reputation of the corporation doing charity work. Charity begs to be considered alongside how companies fulfill their goals and make money in the long run. In other words, in an effort to help the rest of the society and to take care of the environment, we need to make these efforts integrated into the strategy of the corporation itself.  When businesses find this effort to be part of their vision and obligation to help solve social problems, they help create a collective better future for all of us in this country.

As stewards, meaning having a long-term view of things: what is good for the current generation should also hold for the future generations, companies will have to act in the interest of society. And they will have to place themselves in a position of public trust, as research scholar Chaintaya Nellithaya and others note. Stewardship takes on acting in the interest of society as a social obligation. Stewardship is about making money in ethical and responsible ways.

On 5 November 2020, 26 of the country’s largest businesses and professional associations—the Philippine Business Groups including the Management Association of the Philippines of which I was President up until June this year before I assumed the position of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary, and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry was there in the group—we all signed a Covenant for Shared Prosperity.

To respond to inequality in all its forms and to achieve inclusive development, the Philippine Business Groups believe that businesses should collectively mobilize their economic, financial, human, and technical resources. When companies create wealth and share that wealth to help fight poverty—like stewards as Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) member Rex Drilon put it—they share prosperity.

And here is where civil society comes in. The civil society in our country is vibrant, and it goes way back in terms of experience in designing and implementing programs that fight poverty. Companies may learn from the experience of civil society in making CSR programs work, and in directing efforts toward where help is needed most. But the creativity of our corporation, they’re very creative in their own businesses, should be able to lead to better ways of integrating social responsibility with our main line business.

One specific direction that CSR programs pursue is on women and children. From the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) perspective, we also want to empower more women to participate in the economy, be this in management, IT-BPM services, or manufacturing. A very specific example is to involve more women in the management and e-marketing tasks of cooperatives in rural areas. The availability of child-care services can partly address gender inequality in accessing these opportunities to participate in business and cooperative work in the provincial areas.

A very important challenge we face is how we do we make sure that young people which we look at as our advantage. We have a median age of 26 compared to a median of over 30 or 40 among neighboring countries. Thus, we say we have the demographic advantage and in due time we will harvest the demographic dividend. But for us to be able to do that, we must be able to train our young people, to educate them and the starting point is not in the school but before they go to school and they are fed the right nutrition. So, their brain will develop in such a way that they can learn effectively when they get to school.

I would also like to encourage you to consider investing in renewable energy for remote off-grid areas and for small islands. To clarify, this is not about everyone going into the power business. Perhaps, it would be enough to consider the scale that enables our fellow citizens to charge smartphones or access satellite-based internet receivers. So, that they will have access to information, the beginning of empowerment for our people. No power means no smartphone charging and no internet. No knowledge, no development among the people, no access to important data and if you are business to market data. We need provide the device, we need to provide the connectivity for online remote learning, for work-from-home in some areas, for participation in e-marketplaces by our small businessmen and for achieving honest to goodness e-governance.   

As we create a future together, not only for future generations but for the country and its people now, join us in steering the economy and our country as a whole to the right path.

Maraming salamat po, mabuhay tayong lahat, at padayon LCF!

Date of Release: 7 July 2022