Ending the year right
From Left, top: Philippine Trade Foundation board trustee Elizabeth Lee, Stratbase ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit, BSP Gov. Ben Diokno, Ayala Corp. chairman and CEO Jaime Zo-bel De Ayala. Second row: PCCI ambassador Benedicto Yuico, Employers Confederation of the Philippines president Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr., MBC chairman Edgar Chua, PSE president Ramon Monzon. Third row: AIM president and CEO Dr. Jikyeong Kang , former MAP president and current chair of MAP committee on national issues Rizalina Mantaring, the author, Stratbase ADR Institute executive director Paco Pangalanan.

Ending the year right

MIKE ABOUT TOWN - Atty. Mike Toledo (The Philippine Star) - December 29, 2020 - 12:00am

“All of us have a role to balance out the equation while still focused on getting a good return.” — JAZA

The most powerful force in the world is an idea whose time has come.

And, after months of being under the specter of this pandemic, as the unforgettable year of 2020 (annus horribilis) is about to come to a close, there is no doubt that it can never be business as usual anymore.

How to go about moving forward in the coming year, under the recently minted operative phrase “New Normal”?

Recently, the Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute for Strategic and International Studies (Stratbase ADRI), under the helm of its president, Prof. Dindo Manhit, held its annual Pilipinas Conference to tackle such an issue — the idée fixe of political, business, and thought leaders as well as your usual pundits.

Now on its fifth year, this five-part conference brought together thought leaders from the government, business, academe, and civil society sectors to discuss pressing economic, social, political and strategic issues of the time.

As this year’s conference was held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was but apropos that discussions dealt with the ways and means of moving forward from this crisis, as well as on what to expect in a post-pandemic scenario.

Session Five, on the fifth and last day of the conference, dealt with the key role of the business sector in economic recovery.

The very last session was a virtual one-on-one dialogue with Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, or JAZA, as he is more popularly known, the chairman and CEO of Ayala Corp.

Three years ago, I also had the privilege of moderating the discussion in that year’s Pilipinas Conference between JAZA, International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) chairman and CEO Ricky Razon, and Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.  It was one of the most engaging and provocative panel discussions I’ve moderated.

This time around, my one-on-one dialogue with JAZA would tackle shared prosperity for recovery and sustained economic growth. I expected it to be as engaging as the last.

The author (right) with JAZA.

I was not disappointed.

There was no need to revisit how bad COVID-19 has affected our lives and the economy itself. The dialogue started by highlighting the fact that the private sector was now acting in unison to soften the impact of the pandemic. I then asked JAZA if he considered this as something new.

In his response he mentioned that there were issues that needed collective action. We must be aware that we are all part of an ecosystem and that we are interlinked for greater efficiency and also innovation. The pandemic broke down that ecosystem so in order to get it up and running again, to jumpstart the economy, we needed to work together.

There is now a huge transformation as far as Philippine business culture is concerned, and JAZA agreed.

He said that he can narrow it down to three issues or areas of concern: one, collaboration to create solutions; two, new stakeholder-centricity, because we have an ecosystem to take care of; and three, the big new issue of sustainability, which also involves inclusivity, or the kind of engagement our institutions should have to make them more relevant to society in the future.

JAZA pointed out that being citizens who contributed to the development agenda of a country was a powerful idea and that the pandemic had brought this to light, this progressive agenda to move the country forward.

Speaking of moving forward, I remarked that even before the pandemic, we already experienced growth in the digital economy, and this is something that JAZA was very much aware of because both our groups — the MVP Group and the Ayala Group — were very much involved in digital transformation.

JAZA said that, indeed, there was a prior need to fast-track digital transformation efforts, but the pandemic seemed to have hastened these efforts. He said that both our groups were already heavily involved in laying out the digital infrastructure.

When the pandemic hit, there was absolutely no choice but to go digital because people in isolation from one another needed to communicate and do business.

Consumption and remittances were essentially the traditional growth drivers as far as the Philippine economy was concerned, but these have gone down due to the pandemic. It was the view of some businessmen that foreign direct investments, or FDI, were the way to go. It begged the question, though, if our ecosystem was ripe enough for this.

JAZA said that, indeed, consumption was a strength of our country, but because of the pandemic, we had to reinvent our place in the world. He believed that the whole investment-led component of the economic equation of our country had to be jumpstarted, and that both public and private sector had symbiotic roles in this. More than just FDI, there also had to be local capital formation and public sector contribution.

JAZA then discussed the private sector contribution to a national vaccine program and just the fact that there were already available vaccine options was good news for everyone.

The private sector, according to JAZA, is a massive engine for progress in a country, but that it can only be a progressive force. The capitalist system was an extraordinary system that gave great advantages to society, but also created big swaths of inequality.

We have the responsibility to find solutions to address the inequality. According to JAZA, this evolution of our role as institutions that have responsibility over capital and how that capital is used has broadened.

All of us have a role to balance out the equation while still focusing on getting a good return. It is a trickier issue, JAZA said, but if we get the equation right then it would probably be the most important engine for growth in the country.

As parting shots, he said that out of a bad situation comes reinvention. We have to address pain points and broaden our responsibilities. We should not fall in love with the structures of the past, but continue to reinvent ourselves, well into the New Normal.

All in all, words of wisdom and points to consider as we close the year 2020 and usher in 2021 with brave and new hope.

A Happy New Year to all and may the coming year be better than the one we are gladly leaving behind.

2020 JAZA
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