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Here comes the sun

Article - June 4, 2012
The transformation President Benigno Aquino III is bringing to the Republic of the Philippines is shining a new light on the nation's battle against corruption and creating clarity and transparency in business dealings for the first time in years.
A true son of democracy and also known as PNoy or Noynoy, President Aquino is the son of two national heroes. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, his father, was an intellectual and freedom fighter, whose assassination in 1983 inspired 80 million people to take a stand against dictatorship. His mother, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, led the ‘people power revolution’ that in 1986 toppled the 21-year reign of one of the 20th century’s most corrupt dictators – Ferdinand Marcos – and became a global icon of democracy.

Such talks of political will and transformation are more than just sound bites; changes are in place and already producing results by strengthening the economy and attracting greater foreign interest. For example, a study by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) comparing 15 popular central business districts found the Philippines to be the most cost effective outsourcing destination in Asia.

Since the President’s administration took office in July 2010, 449.7 billion pesos (£6.56 billion) in investments have poured into the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA). This represents 22 per cent of all investments in PEZA since it was established in 1995 – some 17 years ago. Likewise, in 2011, investment promotion agency-approved foreign direct investments (FDI) increased 30.6 per cent to 256.1 billion pesos – the highest recorded level in 16 years.

President Aquino says, “The secret to our success has been simple: we want to make it easier for people to do business here, and that means creating a level playing field, curbing corruption and eliminating inefficiencies.”

So what comes next? The government’s main focus at the moment is on agriculture, tourism and infrastructure, sectors that could have the largest impact on both the economy and the lives of Filipinos.

Paquito “Jojo” Ochoa, Executive Secretary of the President, says, “We have five issues that we need to address: human development, economic development together with infrastructure development, sovereignty, security and rule of law, and then governance.”

“The secret to our success has been simple: we want to make it easier for people to do business here”

President Benigno Aquino III

While farmers represent 33 per cent of total employment, they only account for 13 per cent of the Philippines’ GDP. So the administration intends to increase farmer productivity and help facilitate the trade of produce. The government has increased the budget for the Department of Agriculture by more than 50 per cent to 53.3 billion pesos. Most of the money is to be poured into irrigation projects and more farm-to-market roads, as well as more buying posts, i.e. projects that will directly impact the lives of those whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. It will take the country closer to its goal of reaching rice self-sufficiency in 2013, and one which the government believes to be extremely achievable.

The road-building plans tie in with the country’s infrastructure programmes, which are similarly vital to its tourism ambitions. This year, the Department of Public Works and Highways has offered out to tender almost 90 per cent of its 2,128 projects, worth 63 billion pesos this year. Around 133 billion pesos-worth of projects for different sectors have also been approved, most notably for road building and railway line extensions.

Being an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, infrastructure is obviously vital to connect the country for trade and tourism. A spectacularly beautiful country, it is only natural that the Philippines is making tourism one of its target areas for development, particularly, as with agriculture, it is an area where huge swathes of the population can get directly involved and see tangible results. In 2011, arrivals were up by 11.28 per cent to 3.9 million visitors, from 3.5 million the previous year.

“The fact that it is English speaking and it is a very American and European-influenced country makes it a very easy place to be,” says the UK Ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie.

Cumulatively, the UK has been the largest investor in the Philippines over the past decade. Combined net foreign direct and net portfolio investments from 1999 to 2009 came to $9.7 billion (£6.2 billion), rivalled only by Singapore with a $6.7 billion cumulative investment over the same period. “With strengthened Philippine-British trade relations, there is a real opportunity to drive economic progress,” says Mr Lillie. “The British Embassy will be working even harder [this] year to support trade and investment between our two countries.”

There are currently more than 200 British companies active in the Philippines, ranging from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to big multinationals. “British businessmen have expressed keen interest in exploring opportunities presented by the flagship public-private partnership (PPP) programme of the government,” says Sonny Coloma, Secretary of the Presidential Communications Operations Office. “The partnership of the two countries has paved the way for UK-based companies wishing to partake in PPPs. The Philippines offers unlimited investment opportunities for British firms in sunrise industries such as renewable energy, tourism, mining and infrastructure. The government has already laid down the mechanisms and set clear-cut parameters for these investment areas to ensure ample returns for investors, while creating positive spill-over effects to other industries such as housing and real estate, forestry, agriculture, manufacturing and services.”

President Aquino’s high-level state visit to London this year aims to further strengthen bilateral ties as he discusses increased involvement from UK businesses across the board, and particularly in the energy sector, in search of investment and know-how.
In March 2012 he told Euromoney’s Philippine Investment Forum: “We need to continue fostering a good environment for business, one that is both stable and predictable. I assure everyone that this belief will always be a core principle of our administration; and I invite all of you to ride this wave of optimism early, and invest in our country, be it in agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, or any other sector. We are eager to work with all of you.”