FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

The gains from top-level diplomacy are often unquantifiable – although our domestic audience routinely expects the gains from every trip by the President to be translated in peso terms.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s attendance at the World Economic Forum (WEF) last week was high-energy diplomacy. In the space of two days, the President attended a whirlwind of briefings with some of the world’s most influential business and political leaders. He even found the time to meet with the Filipino community in Switzerland.

Unlike the usual state visits, no bilateral agreements were signed. This forum was not designed for that. But the President’s attendance, with his pitch for more investments, made a clear impression on the attendees. His discussion with WEF president Borge Brende was a good introduction to the rest of the world. At the very least, this event put the country in the global investments radar.

After that discussion, WEF leaders coined the term “VIP club,” referring to the three Southeast Asian countries – Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines – with propensity for high growth in the coming period. This axis of vigorous economies might also be called the “7 percent club” as all three economies aspire to sustain that growth rate despite looming recession in some of the industrial economies.

The pitch for investments is timely. The Philippines has now hit its demographic sweet spot. With an average age of 23.5 years, the country has an abundance of skilled young workers who will reach the prime of their productivity over the next two decades. This contrasts with the rapidly aging populations of most mature economies, especially Japan that now has the oldest population in the world. Our young workers are not only skilled; they are fluent in English – the language of global business.

Our comparatively young workforce is a challenge. Unless we grow our economy quickly, our young workers might have difficulty finding jobs. That could reflect in greater social stresses. Looking after the good health and excellent education of this young population is the challenge of our time.

It is a good sign that we managed, the pandemic notwithstanding, to bring down our unemployment rate to only 4.2 percent. Our underemployment numbers, however, remain high.

We are in a race with our own demographic trends. We need, for instance, to move quickly modernizing our infrastructure backbone to support more efficient manufacturing and agriculture. We need to attend to the bottlenecks of development: backward food policies, red tape and corruption.

As much as a young population is a big challenge, it is also our strongest asset. It is the human capital the global economy needs to sustain growth.

President Marcos’ economic team demonstrated to the business leaders gathered at Davos that they are fully conversant with all the challenges and opportunities the country faces at this historic juncture. They delivered an upbeat message that should encourage potential investors to take a much closer look at our country’s prospects and promises.

All in all, this mission to Davos was most productive – even if we cannot fully quantify the investment flows spurred by this roadshow.

All that trash

Today, the Parañaque city council will begin what should be a thorough investigation into the controversial P414-million contract the city mayor entered into with a new and apparently inexperienced trash collector. The deal was sealed while everyone was preoccupied with the Christmas holidays.

Councilors Marvin Santos, chair of the rules and oversight committee, and Jomari Yllana, chair of the committee on environment, natural resources and waste management, are spearheading the inquiry. Vice Mayor Joan Villafuerte expressed concerns over the manner Mayor Eric Olivarez entered into a garbage collection deal without consulting the 28-member city council.

Over the past nine years, the city was served rather satisfactorily by Leonel Waste Management Corporation. Last Dec. 27, without consulting the council, Olivarez signed a contract with Metrowaste Solid Waste Management Corporation for a whopping P414,803,520.

In a privilege speech, Vice Mayor Villafuerte argued Mayor Olivarez violated Section 22 of the Local Government Code. That section reads: “Unless otherwise provided in the code, no contract may be entered into by the local executive in behalf of the local government unit without prior authorization by the Sanggunian…”

Two other councilors delivered privilege speeches denouncing the “very inadequate and poor” garbage collection by the new contractor. They likewise took the mayor to task for lack of foresight in the handling of the city’s trash.

As a consequence of the abrupt termination of the old contractor and the entry of the new contractor, the councilors claim they are receiving numerous complaints from their constituents about uncollected garbage. They claim that since Jan. 1, tons of garbage have been piling up along the city’s streets.

First to be summoned for today’s hearing is Bids and Awards Committee chair and city administrator Voltaire de la Cruz. He will be asked to explain why the old contract was terminated and the new contract was awarded without informing the city council as required.  The city’s legal officer and the head of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office have also been summoned.

The city officials will be confronted by stakeholders, especially the city’s 16 barangay chairmen, who are complaining about the whole city being swamped by uncollected trash. Mayor Olivarez and his men should have convincing answers to the angry questions expected to be raised today.

The stink of the trash is compounded by the heavy odor of scandal.


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