(From left) The author, Foundation for Economic Freedom president Calixto Chikiamco, former Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario, Dr. Raul Fabella, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry chairman George Barcelon and Stratbase founder and managing director Victor Andres Manhit.
The 2018 Pilipinas Conference
MIKE ABOUT TOWN - Mike Toledo (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2019 - 12:00am

The year that was, 2018, was special and memorable for a plethora of reasons. It also ushered in the mid-term of the Duterte administration.

Thus, the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (ADRi) once again held the Pilipinas Conference as a year-ender or culminating event to assess the administration’s performance thus far and provide a comprehensive vision and outlook for the year 2019.

The conference, held once again at The Conservatory of The Peninsula Manila, was divided into three sessions that focused on the political outlook, internal and external threats, and prospects of and challenges to economic growth.

I led the third and last panel session to discuss “Dutertenomics: Prospects and Challenges in 2019 and Beyond.”

It sought to look at the prospects and challenges of economic growth in the Philippines and hoped to bring together perspectives on how the Philippine economy fared two years under a Duterte leadership.

Calixto Chikiamco.

This session was made up of a panel of distinguished business and economic analysts: Calixto Chikiamco, president of the Foundation for Economic Freedom; National Scientist Dr. Raul Fabella, professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines School of Economics; and George Barcelon, chairman of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Chikiamco presented the various challenges the administration faced economically: the challenge of inclusion, the challenge of rising current account and trade deficit, and the challenge of undiversified export base.

According to Chikiamco, the government cannot achieve its target of seven- to nine-percent per annum growth without causing major imbalance, and that Philippine growth will be constrained by the weakness of its agricultural and export sectors.

He says that reforms are badly needed to address the growing current account deficit, to increase agricultural productivity, and to diversify exports towards labor-intensive export industries.

Dr. Raul Fabella.

On the other hand, Fabella gave a comparison between the “old normal” and the “new normal” as far as GDP growth was concerned, and that the Duterte administration sought to perform beyond “new normal” standards.

Fabella posited that in order to stay the “new normal” course, the government should: keep TRAIN 1 on track and not to step back on the fuel excise tax (which government did, proceeding with the imposition of the fuel excise tax this year to help pump-prime much-needed development projects); pass TRAIN 2 but with better regard for tradeable products; minimize the uncertainties from political projects like ENDO, federalism, and other populist entitlements; and restore property rights stability in agriculture.

I asked Professor Fabella what role the private sector, more specifically the conglomerates, can play to ensure economic inclusion and poverty reduction, major pillars under the Duterte administration’s Ambisyon Natin 2040.

Fabella stressed the conglomerates can play a major and pivotal role in attaining these objectives. He urged that the conglomerates be harnessed for they can, among others, “lower the cost or facilitate the strategic retreat of the state and attract foreign investments and resources, like the MWSS privatization.”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

For Barcelon, the economy will grow in 2019 but the growth could be higher if reforms will be implemented; such as the upliftment of small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and the consistency in the law and regulatory environment to entice conglomerates.

Barcelon, a seasoned business leader, added that red tape and the penchant for changing rules mid-stream are invariably some of the reasons why there could be a slowdown in investments.

This is why the private sector lauded the passage of Republic Act No. 11032 last year, the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act as one of the top legislative priorities of President Rodrigo Duterte in fulfillment of his campaign promise to remove red tape and trim down the bureaucracy, also as means to curb corruption.

George Barcelon.

The same political will President Duterte showed in cleaning up Boracay was on display in pushing for the passage of this law.

My take-away from the panel discussion was that, in general, the government economic team was on-track with its goals and objectives for inclusive growth and economic development under Ambisyon Natin 2040 — veering us farther away from being a Hobbesian state where life is nasty, brutal and short.

In his closing remarks, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio discussed the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the enforcement of the arbitral ruling and seeking a template to finally settle the maritime dispute.

What was interesting to note was what Carpio said about the recent memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation in oil and gas activities that the Philippines and China signed during the recent visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The author leads the third and last panel session to discuss ‘Dutertenomics: Prospects and Challenges in 2019 and Beyond.’

Carpio said that he supported the MOU for three reasons: one, because the signed draft was the Philippine draft, which used “cooperation” instead of “joint exploration and exploitation;” two, because there is compliance with the Philippine Constitution and no waiver of Philippine sovereign rights under the arbitral ruling; and three, because the MOU may usher in what he calls the “third phase” of the WPS dispute, that China will no longer claim sovereign rights in the exclusive economic zones of other claimant states but will be satisfied with half of the income generated through cooperation agreements.

With the kind of discussions and the array of issues we tackled in the session and in the conference as a whole, trust that 2019 would be a most exciting and fulfilling year for all and at all fronts.

One can just begin to envisage the kind of atmosphere the coming mid-term elections can conjure.

Kudos to the Stratbase ADRi under its chairman, former Foreign Affairs secretary and Ambassador Albert del Rosario, and its founder and managing director, Prof. Victor Andres Manhit, for holding this conference.

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