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A week before the elections, I wrote in this column that whoever becomes the next president of the Philippines must be able to bring the country together. Continuity and a steady hand at the wheel, I said, is what the country needs most at this point. As president-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s economic team took shape, I became increasingly confident that our economy is in good hands. My fellow businessmen have also welcomed the team of Diokno, Medalla, Balisacan, Pascual and Pangandaman, and vouched for their competence and dedication. All are veterans of government service, and I am happy to note that they share our new president’s desire to help micro, small and medium enterprises.
The choice is a testament to Marcos’s commitment to support micro, small and medium enterprises, which he consistently stated all throughout his campaign. With hope, there will be continuity in the programs and policies that help and support Filipino MSMEs, especially now that we are on our way towards economic recovery.
For certain, we have achieved much when the private sector comes together with the government. We have seen how this has made all the difference in our pandemic response when the private sector stepped up to help the government find COVID testing innovations and overcome regulatory roadblocks to procure vaccines.
For us at Go Negosyo, working together with the government has gotten us both further than we could ever have working alone. In fact, the relationship between Go Negosyo and the Department of Trade and Industry goes back a long way. Through the Go Negosyo Act, DTI was able to put up thousands of Negosyo Centers in the Philippines, making doing business more accessible for all, especially those aspiring to start their own livelihood. Together we helped thousands of entrepreneurs through Pilipinas Angat Lahat and the Kapatid Mentor Me Program, which produced almost 12,000 small-business owner graduates all over the country for the past six years.
I have also worked closely with the DTI in my role as co-chair of the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise Development Council under DTI and chair of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.
Looking forward to the future, there remains much to be accomplished. There are still many entrepreneurs who stand to benefit from our mentoring programs, and who need support and access to money and market opportunities. Every entrepreneur we help is one more helping hand that will power us through to more growth.
MSMEs are more important than ever. Our country is now at a critical juncture as it is in the midst of several challenges to its economy. Of course, there’s the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which is already long-drawn out and is pushing up commodity prices and threatening food security. Then there’s the slowdown in our major trading partner China, which, with hope, will finally be over soon as our economy is intertwined with theirs. Rising interest rates in the US will also surely affect the interest rates here.
Of course, we still have COVID in our midst, although it seems that it has been manageable of late. All the events that could have triggered a surge – Holy Week vacations, travel destinations opening up, the influx of foreign travelers, the rallies, the elections – did not result in the massive surges we experienced in 2020 and 2021. Even with variants being detected here, we are not seeing our hospitals being overwhelmed.
While some people are saying that maybe there are more cases out there that are not being reported, or that testing is so low we may not be getting the real picture of how many are infected with COVID, this is not putting into context the bigger picture. As I have said before, infection rates may rise, but the metric that is being observed – or should be observed – is healthcare utilization rates. As long as our hospitals are not burdened with a tsunami of severe COVID cases, we will be able to treat normal illnesses and avoid what they call the excess deaths resulting from severe infections.
Our economic team will need to hit the ground running, so their path needs to be cleared so they can be free to do their job unhindered. For our part as citizens, we can help maintain our low-risk status by getting vaccinated and getting boostered when eligible; better yet, we can help convince the still-hesitant that the COVID vaccines are safe and effective. We can continue wearing our facemasks when in public or enclosed spaces, as this has proven to be the most effective way of preventing transmission.
We have the right people in our economic team, working at just the right time when we need competent, dedicated people to help us not just survive, but thrive. This is not the time for disunity. We can make this country great under our new president if we can get everybody to work together and help achieve an inclusive economy where nobody is left behind.