The challenges  that we face, the future that we want

GO NEGOSYO PILIPINAS ANGAT LAHAT! - Joey Concepcion - The Philippine Star

The Philippine delegation to Japan returns today with more than 35 agreements, loans and grants, including our very own ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN). This would be the full implementation of this regional entrepreneurship mentoring program, having been successfully piloted in 2019 in three ASEAN countries, including the Philippines. With the generous grant from the Japan ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF), we are now able to implement it across the ten ASEAN member-states using the Philippine-developed modules that have now been translated into seven languages.

I am grateful to the President for honoring us with his presence when we formally gave recognition to the Government of Japan, specifically to the JAIF, for their contribution to growing the ASEAN MSME sector. Their grant of $681,339 to fund AMEN is a great contribution toward creating prosperity for all in the ASEAN. Their grant will translate to more jobs and accelerated economic growth through the active mentoring of the region’s MSMEs.

This is welcome news following a week that began with rather difficult numbers. Earlier this week, we were met with a report that in December 2022, there were 2.22 million unemployed Filipinos: higher than November’s 2.18 million. The inflation numbers were not too good, either. It was at 8.7 percent, the highest since 2008’s 9.1 percent.

But the good news is that our GDP hummed along nicely at 7.6 percent, as earlier reported, and our economic planners remain confident of a 6 to 7 percent growth for 2023. The unemployment rate is certainly lower from a year ago, when there were 3.28 million jobless Filipinos in December 2021.

As for the inflation rate, we are not the only ones suffering higher prices. Around the world, and even in first-world countries, prices are soaring because of the conflict in Russia and the Ukraine and the pause in China’s production and consumption. It’s a consequence of a highly connected, globalized economy. It also reminds us how dependent we are on importing raw materials like grains, oil and even vegetables.

Even big business is feeling the pinch. Higher prices don’t necessarily mean higher revenues for the big corporations. When prices are too high, consumers put off their buying and business sales, as a consequence, slows down. There are no winners here.

But I remain optimistic. When you’ve been in business long enough, you recognize the patterns and the cycle. I believe toward mid- to end-2023, we should see prices going down. In fact, I don’t think it would be a good idea to hedge on raw materials right now. It’s going to be a tough balancing act, but balance – and keep moving forward – we must.

And that is why it is so important for us to keep our heads up and not stop looking for opportunities. The President’s efforts to reach out and bring more investments to our shores should continue. There were around 170 Filipino businessmen who joined our delegation to Japan, all of them coming to show Japanese investors that we are ready and willing to help our government.

AMEN, especially, is a step in the right direction as it addresses our need to generate more jobs. Across ASEAN, MSMEs account for almost all of the jobs generated; ASEAN estimates put the figure at between 97.2 and 99 percent. In the region, MSMEs generate 85 percent of employment – that’s higher than the Philippines’ 63 percent.

Even in Japan, SMEs account for 99.7 percent of enterprises. Sure, there are many big companies here, but along with giants like Toyota and Sumitomo are 3.6 million small and medium companies that form a solid, active base for Japan’s economy. I emphasize that in Japan, the sector comprises more of the small and medium, unlike in the Philippines where micro enterprises make up 90 percent of MSMEs. This is important to note because the skew suggesting an upward mobility for MSEs is indicative of a vibrant economy.

If we can help our micro enterprises become small, and the small become medium and, with hope, the medium to become large companies, we can be sure that we are doing something right in growing this very important sector of our economy. If we scale up our MSMEs, that will mean more jobs for Filipinos. With MSMEs forming almost all of the enterprises in the country, their success will mean a broad-based, exponential, inclusive growth.

Consider that under the Philippine Development Plan, the government targets economic growth of between 6 and 7 percent this year, and 6.5 to 8 percent from 2024 to 2028. Unemployment should be between 4 and 5 percent by 2028. These are not too far from what we’ve achieved following three years of Covid. Barring any more pandemics or an escalation of the war in Ukraine, this means that all we need to do is stay the course. Or do better.

The plight of the most vulnerable among us goes beyond statistics. They feel deeply and profoundly the 8.7 percent inflation and 4.2 percent unemployment. Government can’t do it alone and it will need all of us working together to save our economy. As we have proven during the pandemic, the private sector working with the government can overcome the biggest of challenges.

Among the items on our to-do list: improve our agriculture production, upskill our workers and scale up our MSMEs. Our energies are better channeled into working together to achieve a better life for the Filipino.

We shouldn’t be defined by the challenges that we face. Instead, we should work to become the future that we want.

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