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We can only grow if everybody grows with us. Our economy can grow if our MSMEs grow because they comprise 99 percent of enterprises in the country. As jobs increase, wages will follow. As wages increase, consumer spending will increase, and our GDP will rise. This is the circle of prosperity that can make the Philippines a more inclusive nation.
The more I consider the country’s situation and discuss with others how best to help us move forward as a nation, the more I am convinced that we can only move forward together, with no one left behind.
I have been traveling last week as part of my duties with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (BAC), and I am happy to share that nine of the ASEAN member-states in the ASEAN BAC are now part of the regional implementation of an agriculture-MSME development plan patterned after our very own Kapatid Angat Lahat sa Agri Program. When all is set, we will have harnessed the potential of the largest agriculture companies in the region to uplift the ASEAN’s agriculture industry by sharing markets and technologies and optimizing the trade of key commodities within our region.
I’m back in Manila now and while I have been keeping track of the news back home, it’s really different once you get a feel of the general mood: what people are talking about in the streets, what dominates the local news and commentary, what gets the most attention on social media.
What I can say is: we have to keep our eye on the ball. Having recently arrived from abroad and after a lot of intense discussions with economic leaders and leading businessmen in the ASEAN, the Philippines is now in very competitive company: our neighbors are intent on making the most out of the optimism placed in the growth of the region, as well as the infrastructure bonanza that is the rail systems and roads being built in the mainland. Once completed, these will cut by at least half the travel time between major cities in at least four countries and open up many towns and cities to economic activity. The Philippines is miles away from that physical connection and thus we have to work harder and stay focused if we’re to keep up. We can’t afford to be distracted or to lose hope.
But this is to be expected. From the euphoria of being out of the pandemic and returning to normal, there was a spike in revenge spending and now is the time people are reining it in. Some good came out of it, though. We saw many small businesses being born during the pandemic. They went through the trial of fire, so to speak, so they are used to the ups and downs of business and know how to adapt.
Another upside (and one that I would like to believe is an offshoot of more small businesses being founded) is that unemployment is at its lowest level, with many finding work in the informal sector to augment the family income.
Yes, this may not be the ideal situation we would like for our workers, but it just emphasizes the urgency of strengthening our workforce by reskilling and upskilling and, alongside that, scaling up our MSMEs so they can generate more jobs, especially in the smaller communities.
MSMEs will be our greatest job generators if we scale them up. For now, it is the quick win in employing people while we upskill them for the jobs that the world needs. These two are the focus of Go Negosyo and the Jobs cluster of the Private Sector Advisory Council: negosyo at trabaho.
Upskilling can also benefit our present and future OFWs. We are fortunate that household consumption is still being supported by the continuing remittances from OFWs; it is even cushioning the effects of a lower peso, thanks to the stronger purchasing power of each dollar our OFWs send home.
But there’s another bright spot: tourism. I saw for myself how small towns like Luang Prabang, in the mountainous part of Laos, can be made ready to receive an international delegation. It now stands to become a dollar-earner for the country. I visited Bangkok again after many years and though it is a well-worn travel destination, it hasn’t lost its luster. It – along with Phuket and other parts of Thailand – managed to produce 35 Michelin-starred restaurants. I am sure the Philippines doesn’t lack talented chefs, and it has so much to offer to international tourists in terms of beaches and heritage sites.
Through all this, the private sector will have a major part, and it is willing to help; not just out of pure altruism – we have to be honest about that – but because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. We can only grow if everybody grows with us.
The Filipino is good at lifting himself up by his bootstraps. But I think it is time to channel this resilience into proactive endeavors that enable us to thrive, rather than merely endure. It is no longer enough to rely solely on our resilience and resourcefulness to survive day-to-day; we must shift our mindset towards envisioning a future filled with possibilities and taking decisive action to turn those dreams into reality. To dream big, act with purpose and ignore the noise.