‘Women on Board PH: Bridging Opportunities and Roadmap of Development in the Philippines’
21 March 2024 (Thursday) 5:20-5:30 PM | Dusit Thani Manila

Officers and members of the Women’s Business Council Philippines or WomenBizPH; Mrs. Charity Ekeada-Davidson, First Secretary, Embassy of Nigeria in Manila; Dr. Esperanza Cabral, former Health Secretary, and former Social Welfare Secretary; Mr. Joey Concepcion, of Go Negosyo and RFM Corporation; colleagues in government; ladies and gentlemen—good evening.

It is said that behind every great woman is another great woman. This is what WomenBizPH has been for your members and your expanding network of women in business here and abroad.

At the same time, we at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) would like to believe that alongside every great Filipina entrepreneur is the DTI, helping in their self-determination and empowerment.

Hence, this Women’s Month, we celebrate empowered women entrepreneurs.

Let me cite some examples from micro to medium to mega enterprises.

We have Ms. Ana Arsolacia, 58 years old, of Majayjay, Laguna. At the height of the pandemic in September 2022, the DTI’s Livelihood Seeding Program-Negosyo Serbisyo sa Barangay helped this corporate manager-turned-entrepreneur revive her sari-sari store. Now, aside from offering e-money services, she has also diversified into real estate. She has invested her growing earnings into a rental apartment.1

Your chairperson, Rosemarie Rafael, is another embodiment of empowerment. As the founder of Airspeed, she has succeeded in the male-dominated logistics industry. From a startup of six employees and one delivery van, her company now has over a thousand skilled personnel and a fleet of over 300 vehicles. But more than that, the former ticket agent has empowered other women in Airspeed, putting 70% of them in executive positions and 45% in middle management. She has applied the lessons from her 40-plus years of work experience. Among them are integrity, a mindset for solutions, and prioritizing people which are the key ingredients to progress and innovation.2

WomenBizPH has gone beyond the Philippine shores. In October 2022, your then-chairperson and now secretary Ms. Mylene Abiva, together with your now president Ms. Rhoda Castro Caliwara and member Sarah Deloraya-Mateo, went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. There, your organization explored possible collaborations with Filipino women in Cambodia, sharing both know-how and network. During that visit, Ms. Abiva, president of Felta Multi-Media Inc., received the ASEAN Special Award for Women Entrepreneurs 2022.3

More than the success and potential of the last two examples, WomenBizPH has achieved a lot for women and the Philippine economy. We commend you as you have addressed the needs of women in all sizes of business enterprises. Over the years, you have also launched strategic projects such as access to markets, finance, research, continuing education, networks, science, and technology. Furthermore, you have initiated programs that inspire and create opportunities for your fellow Filipina.

Since 1997, the Women’s Business Council Philippines has served as the voice of women in business, particularly in the public sector. As a partner of the DTI for 26 years, you have provided a platform for the government to be more immersed in women’s issues in business. You also continue to be a great source of input for crafting government policies and legislations.

Moreover, WomenBizPH has represented the Philippines as the lead private sector women’s organization in the international forum of APEC, ASEAN, and other high-level meetings. Through this, you have participated in and enhanced ASEAN Women’s economic and trade activities. And in so doing, you have improved gender parity and boosted the entrepreneurship skills of women in the ASEAN region.

Significantly, you have inspired women in and outside the Philippines—to achieve financial success for themselves, their family, and their communities.

Given all these, all parties have deemed it best to formalize the government’s relationship with WomenBizPH.

Last January 2024, we—the DTI and the WomenBizPH—agreed to promote awareness of the benefits of free trade agreements (FTAs). We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to promote and use the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement and other preferential trade agreements of the country.

Our DTI-WomenBizPH partnership to promote such agreements comes at a perfect time, as RCEP went into effect on June 2023 and the Philippines-South Korea FTA was signed three months later on September 2023. There are more to come, as we now are negotiating FTA with the United Arab Emirates and just as Monday, I made a joint announcement together with my counterpart in the EU Commission about the resumption of the PH-EU Free Trade Agreement.

Through this MOU between DTI and WomenBizPH, we will be able to maximize the opportunities embedded in these trade agreements.

RCEP countries, which as of 2022, accounted for 30 percent of global GDP and one-third of total inward foreign direct investments, will attract more investments and trade opportunities into our country. It will integrate our export-related MSMEs into global value chains through access to cheaper raw materials and a reduced barrier to entry for exporting. At the same time, our non-export-related MSMEs will be able to easily provide goods and services to value-added firms engaged in these global value chains.5

However, without the involvement of Filipino entrepreneurs, RCEP won’t bring about any benefits. That is why we’ve collaborated with WomenBizPH. Our aim is for your members and network of women entrepreneurs to actively participate in RCEP economic endeavors. We believe that this approach will boost the utilization of these preferential agreements. We have also partnered with WomenBizPH because as Margaret Thatcher said, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

Under the said MOU, we will have more trade education and advocacy. We will have more MSMEs, and more women entrepreneurs, aware of the economic opportunities and benefits that these FTAs present. We will have capacity-building workshops and mentorship programs—things that WomenBizPH is already doing.

As cited by the report from Grant Thornton’s 2023 Women in Business (WIB), nearly half, or 49% of senior management roles are held by women. This gives another dimension to the saying that women hold up half the sky. Hence, this makes our partnership ideal for connecting stakeholders to the value and importance of FTAs.

Finally, let me congratulate you, Women Ambassadors of RCEP. All through the years, you have been true to this year’s theme of “Women on Board PH: Bridging Opportunities and Roadmap of Development in the Philippines.” For I am certain that with women, especially with WomenBizPH, we will be able to achieve a sustainable, inclusive, and progressive Bagong Pilipinas.

Maraming salamat at mabuhay tayong lahat!

1 https://www.dti.gov.ph/regions/region-4a/region-4a-success-stories/story-grit-growth/
2 https://airspeed.ph/from-ticket-agent-to-logistics-president-airspeeds-rosemarie-rafael/
3 https://dfa.gov.ph/dfa-news/news-from-our-foreign-service-postsupdate/31274-ph-embassy-womenbizph- discuss-women-empowerment-activities-for-filipinos-in-cambodia

Date of release: 21 March 2024