Bringing business and government

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - November 29, 2020 - 12:00am

There is no doubt business plays a significant role in a country’s economic development. Whether large or small, businesses contribute to a nation’s wealth and drive economic stability by providing jobs, products and services, with taxes utilized for infrastructure and public services that benefit the people. In turn, government must provide the right kind of environment that would allow businesses to thrive, and encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship which has revolutionized industries and spurred innovation that have transformed the lives of consumers.

In the United States, history has clearly shown that businesses played a major role during times of crisis, such as the “Panic of 1893” that resulted in a serious economic depression where hundreds of banks closed, thousands of businesses went bankrupt while US gold reserves became seriously depleted. Wall Street banker JP Morgan responded to President Grover Cleveland’s call for help by putting together a group of international investors that was willing to supply gold in return for 30-year bonds – a move that helped stabilize the US economy.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, the critical role of businesses has become even more apparent, especially here in the US where the number of cases continues to surge at record high levels. Restaurants have become community kitchens distributing food to distressed people, big companies donated millions for coronavirus research and provided medical equipment to hospitals, technology companies are helping traditional businesses pivot to online, CEOs are foregoing salaries to minimize if not prevent job losses, and other initiatives to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the economy and people.

With the transition process now underway, Americans are looking forward to the promise of president-elect Joe Biden to prioritize the response to the COVID-19 pandemic with free regular testing and enhanced contact tracing to give scientists a clearer picture on where the virus is going. The president-elect also promised to invest an additional $25 billion for the manufacture and distribution of vaccines to Americans for free.

The fact is, it’s not only in the US where the COVID-19 infection rate is showing a surge but in many parts of the world as well. The good news is that there are a number of candidate vaccines that are ready to be rolled out by December. Topping the list are Pfizer and Moderna, both having successfully passed Phase 3 with 95 percent efficacy. Scientists and health experts agree that at least 60 percent of the population worldwide need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity – so we can expect all vaccine developers to work with all countries to achieve that.

In the Philippines, the partnership between the government and the private sector has become even more critical in restarting the economy. One area where this partnership is proving important is in the purchase and distribution of the vaccines, with major companies such as ICTSI, the PLDT Group, the SM Group, San Miguel Corporation, the LT Group and the Aboitiz and Ayala groups chipping in to make sure that millions of doses will be delivered to the Philippines once the vaccines become available.

Even the World Economic Forum has acknowledged that the only real hope of ending this pandemic is through a safe and effective vaccine, and chances are most of these vaccines will be available by the second quarter of 2021. We have been arranging online webinars and conferences with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) Sub-Technical Working Group that include USec Isidro Purisima, USec Lloyd Lao, ASec Leah Buendia and DOST executive director Dr. Jaime Montoya to gain access to vaccines from US companies such as Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax and discuss our requirements.

We are confident the world will start going back to normal once the vaccines become available. Meanwhile, we continue to do our job here in the United States in attracting investors to consider relocating their businesses to the Philippines as their “pathway to Asia,” like the recent web-forum we had with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and several US companies.

Recently, we had a virtual meeting with the US-Philippines Society members headed by its chairman, Ambassador John Negroponte, Ambassador John Maisto and executive director Hank Hendrickson on how we can move forward and face the challenges and opportunities presented by the incoming new leadership here in the United States.

I remember what my late friend, Makati Business Club founder Enrique Zobel, told me: “Politicians come and go, but business is here to stay.”

Paraphrasing this, I told our friends at the US-Philippines Society that indeed “politicians do come and go, but businesses and diplomacy remain constants.” Diplomats have a permanent role to play, and that is to serve as a bridge not only between new administrations but also between business and government – both the host country and their own – to achieve long-term goals that would benefit both countries’ economies.

Credit goes to former foreign affairs secretary Bobby Romulo and former US Ambassador to the Philippines Tom Hubbard for their vision in forming the US-Philippines Society. Bobby was educated in the US when his father, General Carlos P. Romulo, was our ambassador in Washington during the early ‘50s. I was fortunate to interview the General when I was a news reporter for Channel 9 and had on many occasions interacted with him when he was Marcos’ foreign affairs secretary. Bobby Romulo came from the private sector and his vision of forming the US-Philippines Society has contributed greatly to his father’s legacy in defining the unique relationship between the Philippines and the United States as well as bridging business and government through diplomacy.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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