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Last Tuesday, I was invited by Wilson Lee Flores to be his guest for the Pandesal Forum, a breakfast chat with media friends. Aside from being a columnist, Wilson is also an entrepreneur. He bought the Kamuning Bakery Café which first opened in the 1930s. It was my first time to be there and I was amazed at how they still offer pugon-baked breads and pastries.
During the discussion, various topics and issues were raised. First on the discussion list was the tax reform program which might be signed before the end of the year. I believe tax reform is a must in order to process the Build Build Build projects of the government.
If we are to compare the Philippines to a corporation, we can consider taxes as equity from its shareholders which are the Filipinos. The government aims to create right infrastructure programs in our country, so if we look at it on a long term basis, taxes will aid the programs we want to be implemented.
But more than this, I believe micro, small, and medium enterprise development is crucial in creating a more progressive country. I shared with them what we have been doing in Go Negosyo. We are pushing for the 3Ms which are Mentorship, Money and Market. For a country like the Philippines which is an archipelago, market access is indeed a challenge. But if we pursue infrastructure programs, the linkage between regions will be easier and people can have more access to various markets. I also think the technology changes will aide their growth. It might be a threat to the brick and mortar businesses, but we are all going digital. So I believe that even the traditional businesses, must inject technological advances in order to have efficient business processes.
For mentorship, we have always been proud to say that we have mentored thousands of mentees under the mentorship program that we are doing with the Department of Trade and Industry and Department of Agriculture. Our Kapatid Mentor ME program has trained more than 2,000 mentees this year, while our Kapatid Agri Mentor Me has equipped 358 cooperatives, led by their chairmen and finance officers. We are teaching farm cooperatives so they can better manage their systems.
To complete the 3Ms, we are also giving importance to possible financing programs to be implemented. We have talked to big banks, rural banks, and even the micro-finance institutions to discuss programs which can help our MSMEs.
The discussion then led to the private-public partnership programs. I have always been supportive of the PPP. There are certain projects that only the government can manage, but there are projects where the private sector can co-manage. Our large companies and conglomerates are all willing to be of assistance to the development programs of the government. Let’s look forward to the projects that they will be doing in the coming years. Our airports are important and will, therefore, be the focus in the coming years. With the private sector as a partner, the continuity of projects is assured.
When asked about the best advice for entrepreneurs in 2018, I told them that entrepreneurs must be optimistic. If they are easily affected and swayed by the problems and national issues, then their outlook will be negative. They should also have creativity and innovation and must not just copy what is in demand in the industry. One must have a new business model. That is why we are teaching them business skills to improve their ideas. We will each survival entrepreneurs to become sustainable entrepreneurs.
I also shared with them the benefits of a digital economy. Recently, I met separately with Jack Ma of Alibaba, Nick Nash who is the president of SEA Group which handles Shopee, and also with Inanc Balci of Lazada. All of them manage online markets where micro and small entrepreneurs can sell their products online and customers can purchase them online. Uber and Grab also created a marketplace for transportation. In an instant, drivers become entrepreneurs as they become members of Uber and Grab. Soon, these marketplaces will become cashless as we use e-wallet systems like PayMaya and GCash which are loadable cards which you can use for shopping.
I also clarified what President Duterte mentioned in our ASEAN Business and Investment Summit . The President said he would give additional funding for MSMEs. I think more than the Conditional Cash Transfer program; it is better to give money to those who want to loan money for their enterprises. I believe that this can be studied. And whichever is the more sustainable way of assisting the poor Filipinos, that should be done.
I also shared some of the programs we have in Sulu and Marawi. We still have on-going programs in these areas and I think the President is working on improving and enhancing security in these provinces. Tourism will never blossom if we have insurgencies and serious security issues. And I believe that only the President knows what is best for Mindanao.
I was also asked by Wilson on what is my assessment on President Duterte as the CEO of the Philippines, I told them that the President really has the heart for the poor. “Well, you can see that President Duterte is compassionate to those who help the poor people… but if you are otherwise, then you will never be his friend. I believe that the President’s style is what we need today, his strong-handed leadership”, I said.
The ASEAN BAC Philippines will team up with Go Negosyo and my office as the presidential adviser for entrepreneurship to continuously promote prosperity for all. All groups from the private sector must form an alliance to see that such programs become a reality. It is not going to be an overnight solution. Poverty has been around for so many generations but we must be relentless in our pursuit for greater inclusivity and leaving no one behind.