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Charting the Legislative Agenda for Economic Transformation: Prospects for the 2013 Mid-Term Elections

October 9, 2012

Charting the Legislative Agenda for Economic Transformation: Prospects for the 2013 Mid-Term Elections
38th Philippine Business Conference
October 09, 2012

With the mid-term elections on our horizon, it is time to revisit our desired ends and the means by which aspired outcomes can be achieved.

I am grateful to the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) for inviting me to take part in this forum. The business sector is a vital partner of the government in carrying out the needed programs and reforms for a progressive nation.

I am certain that all of us here are one in pushing for a pro-people leadership: a leadership that stands on the principles of good governance, stamping out corruption, enhancing efficiency in the delivery of vital social services such as health and education, and upholding the rule of law.

For us to be able to achieve this, our development philosophy must allow us to propel agricultural growth and strengthen rural livelihoods. It is quite alarming that despite the 5.9-percent second-quarter growth of the Philippine economy this year, the agriculture sector, which employs over 37 million of Filipinos, grew by only 0.7 percent. The challenge therefore is to attain economic gains that matter to our people, especially to the most vulnerable sectors.

In 2009, we pushed for the Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act, requiring banks to allocate at least 25 percent of their loanable funds to the agriculture sector, and prescribing that modes of alternative compliance must only pertain to activities directly related to agriculture and agrarian reform to ensure that funds are channeled to farmers and fisherfolk. Through the improved implementation of this measure, we endeavor to significantly enhance access of the agriculture and fishery sector to financial services that promote resilient development in the countryside.

We also acknowledge the immeasurable contributions of large businesses and conglomerates in not only boosting economic growth and generating employment for many Filipinos. But equally important too are the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which comprise an astounding 99 percent of the total business enterprises in the country.

The Department of Trade and Industry reports that programs for MSMEs, including those provided for under the Magna Carta for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, which I authored and sponsored in 2008, have generated a total employment of over 920,000 from July 2011 – June 2012 alone. New MSMEs assisted or created reached over 180,000 and about 76,000 MSMEs expanded their operations. Domestic sales of MSMEs totaled 25 billion pesos while export sales stood at 765 million US dollars during the said period.

Aside from being the lifeblood of the Philippine economy, MSMEs are powerful platforms for promotion of viable rural livelihoods, cultural preservation, socio-economic empowerment of indigenous peoples, and environmental protection.

A mat weaving center in Zamboanga del Sur, a handicrafts enterprise in Antique, a small business in Bulacan that sells bags and accessories made from recycled materials —these are a few of the MSMEs which prove that embracing our rich heritage and advancing sustainable development translate into jobs, incomes, and livelihoods.

Beyond the more vigorous promotion and implementation of the MSME Law, there is also the Barangay Kabuhayan law, which I likewise authored. It aims to establish a Livelihood and Skills Training Center in fourth, fifth and sixth class municipalities, empowering local governments to enhance the productive capabilities of their large yet untapped human resource and to open doors for employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in rural areas.

Meanwhile, beyond our shores and far from home, we have our Filipino migrant workers who have also been consistently sustaining the growth of our economy. It is only fitting that we protect their rights and provide them better privileges, ensure adequate pre-departure support and skills training, promote social and labor rights protection in their countries of destination, offer safe remittance channels, and give psychological support when they re-integrate with their communities upon return.

The Senate has concurred in the ratification of two important international conventions relating to overseas workers. The first is the International Labour Convention (ILO) 189, an international instrument that declares domestic work not as a favor to be granted but as an occupation to be protected.

The second is the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), 2006, which establishes the bill of rights of 1.2 million seafarers worldwide, 400,000 of whom are our very own. These are milestones we owe to our fellow Filipinos who toil overseas for their families.
Lastly, allow me to share with you another advocacy – disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation – that I have been espousing and I will continue to do so within and beyond the halls of the Senate.

The number of disasters from natural hazards in the country surged 50% last year, making the Philippines the world’s worst disaster-hit country in 2011. These disasters from natural hazards cost the Philippines 26 billion pesos and displaced a record number of 15.3 million people. Even these figures cannot capture the long-term cost to the people and communities that bear the brunt of disasters, paying with their lives and livelihoods.

With each disaster that we allow to happen in our environment, in our communities, Filipinos are dragged even deeper into poverty. With each disaster, money from government coffers that ought to be used to reduce poverty, support rural livelihoods, provide universal primary education, and improve the health of women and children is diverted to relief, reconstruction, and rehabilitation.

Through the Climate Change Act, the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, and People’s Survival Fund law, which I authored, proactive climate change and disaster preparedness measures were legislated. In the Philippine Senate, we have institutionalized a Committee on Climate Change, which I chair, to ensure the implementation of laws as well as the sustainability of initiatives for climate change adaptation.

As disaster risk reduction is everybody’s business, I urge heightened action from the business community. Private companies should be encouraged to come up with their business continuity plans that will showcase how prepared they are to face disasters and be back in business as soon as possible. This is already being undertaken in Japan that is why recovery has been fast and efficient. Floods in Thailand should likewise serve as a lesson. It has brought disasters as a global issue considering the disruption in the supply chain of the affected manufacturing companies. The business community in the Philippines must begin to think about this.

Allow me to stress that the higher value of corporate business is not found in the monetary profit it brings neither in the wealth it creates, but in the nobility of purpose—to improve the quality of life of the people and to build a sustainable and resilient human society.

What could be more rewarding than knowing that one’s business, however big or small, has made a difference in making a village community or the country as a whole, a safer and happier place to live in? Isn’t this the essence of corporate social responsibility?
The best choice we have is to make our nation disaster-resilient to free us, once and for all, from the exhausting and costly cycle of rebuilding our communities every single time nature unleashes its wrath.

The road promises to be filled with stumbling blocks. But instead of slowing us down, these challenges should bring about consensus — an agreement that our country should double, even triple, its efforts to reach our targets.

We have the power and the duty to lead the way.

Thank you very much and good afternoon.