Balancing job creation and the SOT bill
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - July 28, 2019 - 12:00am

As expected, the president’s decision to veto the Security of Tenure (SOT) bill was criticized by anti-Duterte groups as being anti-labor, claiming he reneged on his campaign promise. The fact of the matter is – the SOT bill was not what the president wanted. He said, “it will destroy the delicate balance between labor and management interests.” 

Jobs in fact will surely be lost, the economy will suffer, and foreign investors will shy away from the country. It’s bad enough we have to compete with Asian countries like Vietnam and put up with the restrictive constitutional economic provisions that we have. With the SOT bill, labor costs would have shot up by P49 billion a year. 

In vetoing the proposed legislation, the president said it “unduly broadens the scope and definition of contractualization” which is precisely the point raised by businessmen – the bill fails to address seasonal businesses such as hotels.

I spoke before the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) – headed by executive director Ebb Hinchliffe – where the SOT issue was raised. I told them the SOT bill will ultimately be resolved in a manner that would be acceptable not only to those who are doing business here but also to the employees who would be affected.

NEDA Secretary Ernie Pernia was correct in saying that there are certain provisions that have to be tweaked to make them fair to both the business and labor sectors. Simply put – we need to encourage more businesses in order to create more jobs.  

Financial analysts have repeatedly warned us that the bill would definitely result in job losses and company closures for those that are already here. Worse, the SOT bill would surely turn away foreign investments that are already starting to come in.  

As I told the audience in both the AmCham and in the Makati Rotary events where I spoke, our country has a good story to tell owing to the exciting developments which our economic team has been promoting – the “Golden Age of Infrastructure” with the massive “Build, Build, Build” program that seeks to speed up growth, and transform the economy into one that is sustainable, inclusive and pro-poor.

Analysts have been saying that we have the potential to become Asia’s fastest growing economy, and this unprecedented growth will be boosted by quality infrastructure projects that would enhance connectivity, hasten progress and development in the countryside, attract more investments and generate jobs for Filipinos. This was highlighted in the short video that we presented to showcase the milestone projects that have been completed and the ones that are already in the pipeline such as airports, highways, farm-to-market roads, bridges, ports and railways, among many others.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of these infrastructure projects would be the tourism sector, with international hotel chains like the Marriott planning to put up some 20 more hotels all over the country in the next couple of years. I told Bruce Winton, who is the cluster general manager of Marriott, that this would certainly boost the economy in many places outside Metro Manila, generating thousands of jobs both directly and indirectly. 

We have really been making a lot of headway in terms of economic growth and performance, boosted by significant fiscal reforms being implemented by the government. Proof that we are getting noticed would be the surge in foreign direct investments in the last two years to double digits, averaging over $10 billion dollars in 2017-2018 compared to the $3.4 billion average FDI for 2015-2016.

Yet our FDI is still modest compared to our Asian neighbors, which is why I urged the businessmen present, especially the members of AmCham, to heed the call of Ambassador Sung Kim to invest more especially in Mindanao which has been touted for so long as the land of promise – but has yet to fulfill this promise.

During the open forum that followed my keynote remarks at the AmCham event, GE Philippines CEO Jocot de Dios – who served as moderator – asked me what are the challenges that should be hurdled in order to encourage business groups to increase their investments into the country, given the pronouncements of Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez that “the best is yet to come.”

The first thing we should focus on are the outdated economic provisions in the Constitution. Former Speaker Sonny Belmonte in 2015 introduced a resolution that would amend the economic provisions in the Constitution and relax foreign ownership limits in certain sectors such as construction. 

I have yet to read the resolution recently filed by Congressman Rufus Rodriguez but from what I am told, present restrictions on foreign ownership will be retained but Congress will have the power to relax or cancel them.

As I mentioned earlier, the five-minute video we presented – which was inspired by the presentations of Secretary Dominguez and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar during the pre-SONA forum at the PICC – was very well received. It highlighted the accomplishments of the economic and infrastructure clusters, and generated excitement from the audience as it revealed that 1,096 kilometers of farm-to-market roads have been completed as of May, 2,709 bridges were completed to date, etc., and mentioned other projects like airports, railways and ports that are expected to decongest Metro Manila and provide interconnectivity and accessibility for the 7,100 islands of the Philippines.

As Secretary Villar noted, “much has been done, but much still needs to be accomplished,” promising that the best is yet to come because Filipinos deserve nothing less. And that’s the good story that must be told.

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