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Karen Davila, a good friend and a long time Go Negosyo supporter and host, invited me to her show Headstart in ANC. It was my first time to be a guest on her show as I told her that the show is just so early. But since I am working part time for the government now, it has pushed me to wake up very early lately. Let me share with you her questions and my answers about the China State Visit and the President’s pronouncements on the separation from the USA.
KAREN: Joey, this is not the first time that you’re a presidential adviser for entrepreneurship. You’ve also been active in other administrations. Would you consider this (Duterte’s China trip) as a big achievement? I mean you’ve seen other presidents visit China in the past.
JOEY: Well, as we all know, the China issue has been a very contentious issue. With them building an airstrip on the outer south. It’s very contentious in the sense that Filipinos and Americans back then were trying to rethink of the strategy. I felt that this visit of the President adopted a different strategy.
KAREN: Okay. What was the strategy?
JOEY: Which is basically to do it the Filipino way. Since our relationship with our American partners has gone a long way, maybe the approach should be different because the Chinese will not take it in that old matter. President Duterte, what he meant by changing policy, was to allow the Filipinos to find the right solution. We definitely can’t afford a war. Nobody can afford a war. We’re a piece of land out there. Whether we won the case or not, the most important is that we have a win-win solution. The first step is building the relationship.
KAREN: When you said President Duterte adopted a Filipino strategy, I find that quite interesting. What made you say it was specifically a Filipino strategy?
JOEY: Filipinos are very friendly. You don’t take a big alliance when you’re trying to improve relationships with other countries. I mean, what will the Chinese say? “Are you really serious in building a relationship with us?” In this strategy, I think it’s the right approach. The Chinese really welcomed the President this time. There is a lot of goodwill that was built here. I think the rebuilding of trust is very important on both sides. And that trust starts with changing the way we do things.
KAREN: So, you agree with his suspension of the joint military exercises in the South China Sea?
JOEY: If it will lead to peace and greater cooperation and mutual trust between China and the Philippines, yes. I mean if we get bombed, the worse thing that’s going to happen is war and we are going to get hurt. Every Filipino will pack up their bags and go somewhere else. We really have to find a practical solution to this.
KAREN: What about Chinese business coming to the Philippines?
JOEY: Agriculture would be a big beneficiary. The Chinese are very good at that. We import more than we export to them. I think that when we have investors—there are a lot of Filipino-Chinese in this country, big business is controlled by Filipino-Chinese. So the synergy is there. If you have the relationship improving, there will be more partnerships that will happen. For example, Injap Sia, he’s doubling the number of rooms that he’s building.
Also, I heard Zesto is putting out, Fred Yao has a joint venture with the Chinese for a power plant. Infrastructure, railways — all of that will come. It’s going to be really exciting if you really maintain everything. How can you maintain a business relationship if there is no trust between both parties? It has to start with both countries. The government must trust each other. That filters down to the entrepreneurs. Many micro and small entrepreneurs will definitely benefit from this. If tourism booms, then that caters to a lot. This is what we want to see: great relationship with China.
KAREN: Do you believe that while it may not be the method that many people expect, there is a stroke of genius in what President Duterte is doing? I think we have to be honest, that in the last six years, our relationship with China has suffered even more. I mean, you had an administration that was essentially at the Hague. It took sometime before we even had an ambassador to China. You’re talking about intentionally or non-intentionally, it suffered. Do you think that in a way, it’s almost very quick how Duterte’s doing it? He’s swift. He’s not even doing it slowly.
JOEY: Yes. Let’s put it this way; the President has a different style of managing. That’s what you call gut feel. Look at his approach at solving the drug problem. You know some leaders will go through surveys and all these stuff. He’s just doing it. I think that his experience running Davao for almost 20 years, he has a better feel of how things should be approached. But having said that, I don’t think that we should alienate America. America, we owe a lot as well. They saved us during the Japanese war. There are many things that they have done. You can see all the franchising concepts that has come to the Philippines that has proved that entrepreneurship is there. The BPO is dominated by Americans. They outsource their jobs at the expense of Americans there… America is a long time partner.
KAREN: And our only mutual defense treaty ally.
JOEY: That’s right. But, in the end, we’re just hoping that America allows us to grow up. Our country achieving an investment grade status shows the we are a big boy now. We should be able to make our own judgement on certain issues such as the China case.
KAREN: Joey, do you agree, I think Richard Heydarian said this in an interview last week, China also has a lot to prove. Because their foreign policy in SEA has no major success. I mean, you have the problem with Korea and this Indonesian issue, you have other countries that are claimant countries also with the South China Sea dispute. So, it is to our edge in a way that they need to prove something?
JOEY: It’s hard to say. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in the partnership with the Filipino partners in Manila. I think we increase the chances of success. Now, these are very important infrastructure projects and I think the Chinese realizes that. We are coming from a relationship angle that we are going to fix. They’re not going to screw up and start all of these things in a wrong way.
KAREN: That’s a good thing too. That they’re pressured not to screw things up.
JOEY: Look at their superb highways, their airport is great, they have done it. So they can just implement it here. Selecting the right partner is critical. A partner that is reliable. And if you look at a couple of relationships here already. They’re still doing pretty well.
KAREN: So, you’re really, you’re sensing Joey, that many Filipinos can see that China really laid out the carpet for the President.
JOEY: The Filipinos were really impressed. The largest Filipino contingent in history. 508 businessmen joined the State Visit. Nowhere did that ever happen.
KAREN: I wanted to ask you. How does that happen? Does the businessmen have to be accredited? Did they make you choose?
JOEY: It was a very inclusive State Visit. You are selected. Here, you state if you want to go and you pay your fare and your hotel. Imagine, DTI did a very good job managing 508 people, given the very strict security. I wanted to point out something about the President. George Barcelon saw that. He was very patient in taking photos with all 600 Filipinos there. Took us about 30 to 40 minutes. I noticed that his son, Paolo, and his son-in-law, also patiently waiting in line when they want to see the President, their father and their father-in-law, they went and made mano. To me, you can see they are a very simple family with a lot of respect for their parent. They come out very ordinary with no fanfare. He’s very simple.
KAREN: Do you think it’s part of the drama? To stress the point?
JOEY: Let’s think about it this way. The Philippines will not be talked about all over the world (if without President Duterte). We’re taken a little bit more seriously. He just wants to drive a point and let us do it our way this time. It might work.
KAREN: I’ve been up close with the President and I find it interesting how he doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of what he says. If he’s serious. I mean many leaders can be courageous and brave, but before they say something they would have to measure it for the effect, the consequences. I mean, he seems to me like a guy that “It’s okay today and it doesn’t matter if I lose it tomorrow.” I think is right. Where is that coming from?
JOEY: If you look at it, the President, will always say that it’s his destiny. This is his destiny. The moment he won, he couldn’t believe it. We all believe there is a God, and he is the chosen leader. Same as Mon Lopez today as DTI secretary. These are all destinies. We need a binder. He’s the Moses. Moses is saying that go and cross the ocean — God wants it.
KAREN: Are you comparing Duterte to Moses?
JOEY: No, I’m just saying that let’s look at it as Moses. People thought Moses was crazy about crossing the Red Sea.
KAREN: You’re not saying that he’s like Moses but…
JOEY: Yes, you know, we are now crossing that sea. And believing that it’s not going to fall on us and hopefully it doesn’t fall on us. So, if that’s his destiny then we have to follow him.
KAREN: I find it quite interesting because you have this new wave of comparing himself to one of the apostles.
JOEY: He’s there for a reason. I’m here for a reason.
KAREN: Both of you will join President Duterte again for Japan. Everything. His first State Visit was China but he’s visiting the ASEAN countries first.
JOEY: Yes, we are hosting. He’s the chairman of the ASEAN, and I’m the chairman of the private sector. It’s good. It will be good. It’s part of the process.
KAREN: What do you expect to meet in Japan?
JOEY: There’s going to be a business conference. They’re still finalizing the details. There will be with the Filipino community. I’m told that there will be no state dinner this time. Basically, I am hoping it will be a great business meeting. 200 Filipinos, I am told, are visiting and going to attend and another 200 from the Japanese side. There will be a lot of interaction, and business interaction. I think it’s going to be great. I don’t know if the President is going to speak together with the Prime Minister after.
KAREN: What would you like people to focus on when it comes to China?
JOEY: I think given the relationship; it’s a start. We need to give time for the relationship to develop and trust comes with that. And how do you build trust? You build it by doing what you said. And this needs time with both sides really having to work on it. From then on, as that relationship improves, who knows, we can have the many joint ventures, even that joint exploration on oil and gas and many things. As business relationship grows this actually forces countries to be at peace as it will have mutual interest in each country.