Selling the Philippines

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

It is part of the job of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) to travel to other countries on state and official visits as well as do obligatory trips in the international events where the Philippines is a member of the global community. In fact, PBBM is scheduled to make his first state visit to Malaysia later this month.

Malaysia is one of the co-member states of the Philippines in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Of the ten ASEAN members, PBBM has so far made state visits to two of them as a tradition for newly installed heads of state. Since he took office in June last year, he has embarked on state visits to Indonesia and Singapore one after the other on Sept. 4 to 7.

The second presidential state visit to Indonesia was just last May 9 to 11 as the host country of the 42nd ASEAN Leaders’ Summit. On his second trip to Singapore on Oct.2 to 3, PBBM got a lot of flak for attending the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix with his wife, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos and their children led by eldest son Ilocos Norte Rep.Sandro Marcos.

PBBM did two official trips also to two other ASEAN member-states Cambodia and Thailand but both were not for state visits. He went to Cambodia on Nov. 9 to 13 when he attended his first ASEAN Leaders’ Summit. A few days later, PBBM flew to Thailand as host of last year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit held on Nov.16 to 19.

Thus, PBBM has yet to embark on traditional ASEAN state visits to Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Outside the ASEAN, the Chief Executive embarked on state visits to China on Jan. 3 to 5 and Japan on Feb. 8 to 12. Incidentally, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is set to make a reciprocal state visit to the Philippines later this year, according to Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiko Koshikawa. The Ambassador disclosed Japan is also looking forward to President Marcos’ participation in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship to be held in Tokyo in December.

As of last count, PBBM has had 13 foreign trips during his first year in office. The last one was in London where he and his wife were invited to attend the coronation of British King Charles III last May 5 to 6. To date, PBBM had also twice flown to the United States (US) but both were official and not state visits yet. He first went to New York on Sept. 18 to 25 when he made his international debut at the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

PBBM initially had four-eyes meetings on the sidelines with US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron while both world leaders also attended the UNGA in New York. A more formal meeting with Biden took place at the White House where he was invited on official visit in Washington and received full military honors at the Pentagon last April 30 to May 4.

PBBM had also flown on official trips to two key European Union (EU) member-states, namely, Belgium on Dec. 11 to 15 and Switzerland on Jan. 15 to 20. He went to the U capital in Brussels for the ASEAN-EU. He flew to Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum, where he took up before the international community the original plan to put up a sovereign wealth fund for the Philippines, now transformed into the Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF).

Culled from published statements from Malacañang, these foreign trips so far of PBBM hauled a whopping total of $62.926 billion worth of promised investment commitments to the Philippines. A breakdown per country shows these respective amounts: Indonesia ($8.48 billion); Singapore ($6.54 billion); US ($3.847 billion); Thailand ($4.62 billion); Belgium ($2.20 billion); China ($24.239 billion) and Japan ($13 billion).

Sadly, large chunks of these investment commitments are still just in the stage of “promises” that have yet to materialize. This is the reality of long gestation period before these commitments turn into foreign direct investments (FDIs) in our country. Latest data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showed FDIs declined by 18 percent in the first four months this year.

With such huge projected investments coming in, it becomes a big question why our FDIs have been shrinking.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Alfredo Pascual on Monday reported his agency’s recent three-week European trip for an investment roadshow has fetched prospects amounting to P73 billion. Well and good. But how much taxpayers’ money was spent for these bureaucrats to gallivant in very expensive European capitals in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany from June 18 to July 6?

But it was indeed a welcome news from the US embassy last Monday when Ambassador MaryKay Carlson announced the arrival in Manila of some of the biggest American conglomerates that sent their respective presidents and chief executive officers (CEOs) to personally take a look at their investment prospects in the Philippines. Collectively called the Business Executives for National Security (BENS), the top business delegation paid a courtesy call on PBBM at Malacañang.

The BENS, a 10-member business group founded in 1982, are in our country until tomorrow to engage with their counterpart Filipino business and national security groups to discuss potential areas for investment and cooperation in the country, especially in the nursing industry and the digital infrastructure and energy.

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno is currently heading an investment “roadshow” in New York and Canada with the rest of PBBM’s economic team. With him are newly appointed BSP Governor Eli Remolona; Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan and Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman.

Diokno coined his own acronym BEAM that stood for the first letters of their nicknames: Ben, Eli, Arsi, Menah. With a mission of selling the Philippines abroad, the BEAM  must work harder to reverse the shrinking FDIs in our country.

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