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Woo investors for airports, factories, tourism & farms

World’s No. 1 airport: Singapore’s Changi Airport is voted the world’s best for the fourth time by 12.1 million travelers from over 160 countries.

The measure of progress of civilization is the progress of the people.  George Bancroft

SINGAPORE — Congratulations to Changi for recently winning again as the world’s No. 1 airport in the annual Skytrax survey of 12.1 million travellers from over 160 countries. Known as the World Airport Awards in a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland, this is the fourth time Changi airport has achieved the prestigious top prize.

Changi also won a special award as “best airport for leisure amenities,” Frankfurt in Germany won as “world’s most improved airport,” Britain’s Heathrow won for “best airport shopping,” Munich won for “best airport dining” and Kuala Lumpur won for “best airport immigration service.”

Can we outsource the technical and operational management of our NAIA or Cebu airport to Changi, so that we can build up Philippine tourism into a multi-billion dollar industry at par with our ASEAN neighbors Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia?

We have superior globally competitive natural and human resources for tourism, including many great resorts like Amanpulo in Palawan, Eskaya Resort in Bohol and Discovery Shores in Boracay, but we need world-class airports to impress tourists and foreign investors.

Last year when my editor sent me on a three-day observation tour of Changi, that amazingly efficient and fun airport serviced a record 50 million passengers!

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More factories & farms instead of ‘hot money’

Is the P-Noy administration wooing foreign and local investors to open more factories, build new airports or open farms,  instead of billions of dollars in restless “hot money” or portfolio funds focusing mostly on the Philippine stock market? How can we have more pro-people and inclusive economic growth, not just for the big firms?

An example of why hot money speculating in our stocks isn’t the best form of investment we should attract was the recent June 13 stock market bloodbath: the Philippine Stock Exchange Index (PSEI) closed at 6,114.08 points, down 6.75 percent or 442 points — the worst one-day and two-day loss since the US financial crisis of 2008.

The good news is, outgoing Senator Kiko Pangilinan told me: “President Aquino is focused on infrastructures, agriculture and tourism. In fact, President Aquino, the Department of Tourism, Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment & Natural Resources will soon launch four pilot projects nationwide for agri-tourism.”

Former stockbroker and now Albay Governor Joey Salceda told The Philippine STAR in a news report on June 13 that much of the vaunted new investments in the country didn’t generate new jobs, partly explaining why unemployment is still so high.

Governor Salceda said that US$21 billion worth of investments that entered the Philippines went to the stock market, and only $1.4 billion were “real investments.” He added, “The $1.4 billion were all invested in the construction of condominiums and not in factories.”

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Let’s target more jobs, FDIs & SMEs

The 7.8-percent growth rate of our Philippine economy in the first quarter of this year is impressive; congratulations to President Aquino, the government, the private sector and the citizenry for making this fast economic growth rate possible.

However, there are some concerns I wish to raise. I strongly believe they are very important vis-à-vis positive economic growth rates:

• Create more jobs with new factories. Faster economic growth is good news, but let us spread the fruits of this growth surge with increased job-generating enterprises and ventures. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other observers of our economy have pointed out the need to create more jobs, most especially in manufacturing. We cannot rely mainly on remittances by overseas Filipino workers or on call centers to sustain our fast economic growth. 

• Manufacturing is also one good way to reduce poverty, because factories tend to employ less skilled or less-educated people. How can we encourage people to move away from investing too much in stocks or condominiums, but also diversify their funds into factories?

• Reform our policies towards foreign investors. I urge P-Noy to heed the calls of many businessmen and political leaders like Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to study the bold and globally competitive reforms of the economic provisions of our constitution in order to woo more foreign direct investments. Let us not lag behind our ASEAN neighbors Vietnam and Cambodia in their huge inflows of FDIs, so we can sustain the momentum of Philippine economic growth.

• Improve power, telecom and other basic services. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) infrastructure projects are commendable, but I urge the government to immediately find ways to lower our electric power rates, which are reportedly the highest in Asia. Our telecommunication giants, now basically down to Smart and Globe, should have better services. 

I urge our government leaders, legislators, bureaucrats, local government officials and the big banks to study more substantive initiatives, which will encourage more small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) to thrive. Not only do SMEs employ many people and are important catalysts of economic development, SME entrepreneurs might also become future Henry Sys, Ayalas, San Miguels and others. SMEs comprise a strong foundation for economic democracy.  

French and English businesses setting up shop in Manila

One unmistakable sign of economic progress is the influx of foreign businesses seeking to set up shop. After two years’ absence in the Philippines, the French milk brand Appeton has returned, now retailing at Watsons, Rose Pharmacy, Landmark Department Stores, etc. This writer was invited to its recent re-launch at the Tower Club in Makati City, an event of Capital Wise Group that looked like a doctors’ convention.

Another new foreign brand was launched in the Philippines by no less than Mandarin-speaking British Ambassador Stephen Lillie at the SM Aura mall in Taguig City: the 115-year-old British luxury shirt brand T. M. Lewin, which started the same year General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed Philippine independence in 1898.

Almost unnoticed in the opening of T. M. Lewin stores in Metro Manila was the arrival of its international director Mark Dunhill, the great-grandson of the iconic Alfred Dunhill, who started their family’s former fashion business. This was his second visit to the Philippines since his first trip in 2001. He said he is impressed with our economic dynamism and commented, “Manila is transformed beyond all recognition.”

On the correlation between dressing well and success, the Oxford-educated Alfred Dunhill said, “How you dress is very important, in the way you feel and your confidence. Your clothes are like armor — what you wear makes you comfortable. We at T. M. Lewin would like to make our customers have the opportunity to dress for success.”

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