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Next week, the Philippines will elect a new president, along with other national and local officials. Highly charged and emotional is an understatement in describing the upcoming elections, but one thing I agree with is that it will be a crucial one.
The country today finds itself at a critical juncture. It just emerged from a pandemic that still threatens to cripple its economy, and the highly globalized nature of the world’s economy is amplifying the effects of a war that is happening far from our shores.
Whoever wins the May 9 election will be thrust in the middle of several crises and a highly leveraged situation. Will our next president choose to continue the approach to our COVID response in the last two years? Where will our MSMEs rank in their priorities? We asked the two leading candidates these questions during Go Negosyo’s Kandidatalks series on our Facebook page.
Vice President Leni Robredo said she has always supported MSMEs, as evidenced in her Angat Buhay projects. If elected, she said she would allocate P100 billion in a stimulus package for MSMEs as part of the country’s COVID recovery plan so that small businesses can retain their employees. Special loans will help businesses with their infrastructure, providing safe spaces and better ventilation to make them ready for the new normal. MSMEs will get expanded access to credit through direct lending from state-owned banks; tax incentives will also be given to social enterprises. She also wants to integrate MSMEs into the public sector procurement system, explaining that the government, being the biggest consumer in the country, should look beyond prices and consider carefully the impact of its procurements.
She plans to strengthen market linkages by linking small businesses with wider markets, bridging the gap with local industries to become part of the value chain. She also plans to digitize systems and eliminate red tape to aid ease of doing business.
Former senator Bongbong Marcos, meanwhile, will focus on adding capacity and capability to our country’s small businesses. He said he would rationalize taxes and allocate portions of the Internal Revenue Allotment to MSMEs, strengthen the country’s agriculture and transport sector, and continue President Duterte’s Build Build Build program, even extending it to digital and power infrastructure. Agriculture, particularly, has a special place in his plans, as he would like to see more mechanization, R&D, special loans for farmers, cooperatives, infrastructure, and vertically integrated solutions to agricultural productivity that take cues from his father’s projects such as Kadiwa, Food Terminal Inc., and Masagana 99. He plans to develop renewable energy sources and improve the country’s transport system, not just for people, but also for goods.
He recognizes the importance of mentoring, and said LGUs can help in this regard by getting professionals to mentor and help them assess the soundness of their business plans. Further, he will start MSME projects in areas where COVID cases are low and vaccination rates are high.
It heartens me to see that all of the candidates for president have expressed their desire to help the country’s MSMEs. They recognize that they make up 99.5 percent of the businesses in the Philippines, and generate millions of jobs for Filipinos. They know that MSMEs are very sensitive to fluctuations in commodity prices, have the least resiliency when their cash flows are disrupted, and are the most in need for access to markets, money, and mentorship.
To many of our countrymen, entrepreneurship is one way out of poverty. To the country as a whole, our MSMEs will play a big role in generating the six percent GDP growth we need to pay back the trillions in national debt, which has ballooned in the last two years because we needed money for our pandemic response. Go Negosyo’s focus has always been on bringing prosperity for all. Throughout the 16 years that it has served the country’s entrepreneurs, we provided continuity amid uncertainty. Not even the pandemic stopped us from continuing our mentorship programs across the Philippines.
The pandemic is yet another issue that needs attention. We have learned so much over the last two years, not just about the nature of the virus and the disease it causes, but also about the importance of public-private sector cooperation. I spoke recently at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022. It should make every Filipino proud to know that the Philippine response to the pandemic was cited for the successful collaboration of the government and the private sector in overcoming difficulties in testing and procuring vaccines, not to mention controlling outbreaks through mobility restrictions. Those measures would not have met with the same success had it not been for teamwork. The bottomline is, we cannot have a divided nation in the face of a virus that doesn’t care about political colors.
Whoever wins this May, my hope is that the victor will reach out to the defeated, recognizing that although they may have been opponents, they are certainly not enemies. The winner must resist the temptation to reinvent the wheel and risk reversing our gains in our fight against COVID. This is true both on the national and the local level, that much we have learned. Our efforts to keep infections low, help our healthcare facilities, and increase vaccinations would have failed had it not been for the cooperation of the LGUs.
What the country needs most at this point is continuity and a steady hand at the wheel. Our duty as citizens is to respect the process. We cannot continue to be divided at this point. When we go in different directions, nobody wins.