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Business

Preserving a legacy

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Yesterday, in a sprawling hill for heroes, Fidel V. Ramos, the country’s 12th president, was laid to rest. He was accorded, as he deserved, a state funeral with full military honors and a funeral procession to the presidential gravesite.

The last time a former president was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani years ago, it triggered nationwide protests from those who choose not to forget a dark period in our history.

Sadly, we’ve witnessed through the decades the many ways our leaders can trample on our nation’s memory –undoing or remaking or inventing legacies mostly to suit the vested interests of the victors of the times.

Decades after FVR opened up many sectors of the economy, we lament the fact that many of those in high places of power have tried to skirt around or reverse the gains of privatization.

As my colleague Boo Chanco said, “FVR focused on reforming the service industries controlled by special-interest groups – telecommunications, power, ports, shipping and air services, whose supervisory agencies are vulnerable to regulatory capture.”

Boo quoted General Jose Almonte, FVR’s national security advisor and close confidante. Boo said:

“It was not easy. As General Almonte recalled, the economic elite had allies in our institutions… But FVR decisively cut down the oligarchy’s power to monopolize markets and forced them to compete and innovate.

“As General Almonte recalled:

“President Ramos, for instance, managed to open the banking system – just enough to let in 10 global banks. That single, limited reform has forced domestic banks to become more efficient, to focus on their market niches, and to depend less on relations-based banking practices.

“Similarly, the forced dismantling of the PLDT monopoly has made our country one of the most vigorous telecommunications markets…

“FVR opened the airline industry to real competition. Cebu Pacific became a formidable competitor to Philippine Airlines, even flying more passengers than PAL (domestic and international) by cutting down airfares. Now, every Juan can fly.”

But Boo said, it seems we have regressed. I agree.

Remember how the Bayanihan Law was used by some businesses to escape scrutiny from the Philippine Competition Commission, the government’s antitrust body?

Or how some members of the notorious Davao Group tried to use their close relations – or perceived close ties with Rody Duterte – to advance their own business interests?

Water

Remember how the previous administration nearly wiped out the gains of a privatized water industry in the Philippines, imagining perhaps that bringing back water utilities in the hands of the government was better?

The private sector is far from perfect for sure. But I cannot imagine going back to the time when we didn’t have water and electricity in our homes.

In Fernando Zobel’s words

As Ayala Corp. president and CEO and Manila Water director Fernando Zobel de Ayala said in his eulogy for FVR:

“President Ramos established solid foundations for the country’s future. I would also like to honor him for his remarkable foresight, integrity, and resolute will to improve the lives of all Filipinos.

“In 1995, President Ramos saw a looming water crisis due to leakages, a growing population, and decades of underinvestment...The Ayala Group, through Manila Water Company, won the bid to manage the East Zone Concession. President Ramos was instrumental in the birth of Manila Water, which subsequently gained tremendous support from Presidents Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino as it expanded to reach more Filipinos.”

Back in 1997, only 26 percent of the population had 24/7 water supply. Now, it is at 100 percent in eastern Metro Manila, and now expanding into Rizal, Zobel said.

Public-private partnerships

Ayala chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, in his tribute to FVR, for his part, noted that among the former president’s foremost contributions was reinforcing a policy framework that allowed private institutions to participate more actively and meaningfully in national development.

Electricity

FVR also solved the 1990s power crisis, exercising emergency powers to address widespread blackouts. But as he explained in 2002, what happened later on led to high electricity rates because the Energy Regulatory Commission and other regulatory agencies were not doing their jobs to protect consumers.

The power reform law had also created a new oligopoly, he said then.

New ERC chief

Today, consumers are again wary of more increases in electricity rates.

President Marcos has appointed Monalisa Dimalanta, the former chief legal counsel of AboitizPower as the new ERC chairperson.

Some are wary, considering her ties with the Aboitiz-led power company, but those close to her noted that she joined AboitizPower only in April 2022 and was chairperson of the National Renewable Energy Board prior to that.

For now, time will tell how the power industry environment in the country will look like with these new appointments.

What others are hoping really is that she and Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla – who served as independent director of AboitizPower and ACE Enexor – will work together to protect the interest of consumers.

Competition

As FVR was brought to his final resting place yesterday, we must remember and we must ensure that his legacy does not die with him.

Honoring his legacy is so much more than doing the trademark FVR jump – which was his EDSA revolt jump –especially if unlike him, you choose to be on the wrong side of history.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

PRESIDENT

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