MANILA - The economy is improving. Now it’s time to make the majority of President Aquino's ''bosses'' feel the benefits of growth.
This is the message of business groups to the President as he delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) today at the joint opening session of Congress.
Inclusive growth has eluded Asia’s second fastest growing economy, as even the President’s economic managers have admitted, and poverty incidence under his watch has not significantly eased.
Aquino addresses his “bosses” the people today with his approval ratings at record lows in recent surveys as his administration grapples with rising consumer prices and criticism of his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Investors acknowledge that Aquino’s focus on good governance to drive economic growth is working, but they want more reforms.
Malacañang has kept the contents of the SONA under wraps, except to say that Aquino would certify as urgent the Bangsamoro Basic Law.
There was speculation yesterday that Aquino would announce some changes in his Cabinet, whose members have come under fire for poor performance and even allegations of misusing public funds.
“Good governance or anti-corruption has created the foundation for change in the business climate and international recognition of the opportunities the Philippines offers, but we have to be aware that economic growth is basically consumption-led. The focus during the last two years has to be on inclusive growth, which can only happen if manufacturing and agribusiness will be supported and encouraged with priority,” European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines vice president Henry Schumacher said in a text message.
Schumacher said infrastructure projects should be intensified to push economic growth. He called for economic liberalization and incentives to attract more foreign investors.
Last week business groups submitted to Malacañang a “wish list” of measures that they want implemented in what the President has described as his “last two minutes” in office.
Makati Business Club executive director Peter Perfecto said in a text message that apart from inclusive growth, business groups are hopeful the President would consider the recommendations to institutionalize good governance and integrity.
“It may be best for the President to support the passage of an FOI (Freedom of Information) law as an urgent priority and to issue an EO (executive order) in support of the Integrity Initiative,” Perfecto said.
Launched in 2010, the Integrity Initiative is a formal expression of commitment by companies to abide by ethical business practices and support a national campaign against corruption.
By signing the pledge, companies commit to prohibit bribery as well as uphold and maintain a unified code of conduct.
American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines senior advisor John Forbes said business groups are also interested to hear Aquino’s plans on ensuring energy security and price competitiveness, increasing foreign investments and addressing smuggling.
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Alfredo Yao said the group is interested in government plans on infrastructure, reforms in governance to curb smuggling and corruption, and transparency through public-private partnerships. The PCCI also wants better coordination between the national and local governments for consistency in the application of laws.
The group also wants reforms in labor policies and practice to attract more investments and create jobs, as well as reforms for internationalization of small and medium enterprises.
Management Association of the Philippines president Gregorio Navarro said they want to hear about legislative reforms such as the Bangsamoro Basic Law, fiscal incentives rationalization, customs modernization, tax reform and land use. The MAP is also hoping for judicial reforms and the creation of a department of information and communication technology.
Navarro said the problems caused by the truck ban in Manila should also be resolved.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday that despite the recent plunge in approval ratings, Aquino was in “high spirits” and was looking forward to delivering the SONA.
Coloma said Aquino had been focused on the proposed national budget for 2015 and was unfazed by criticism of the DAP.
House Minority Leader and San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora noted that Aquino would deliver his SONA as the House of Representatives is set to tackle the impeachment complaints filed against him in connection with the DAP, which the Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional.
Zamora will deliver the minority’s “counter-SONA” in the coming session days.
He said Aquino is taking his various setbacks, including unfavorable rulings from the SC, “not in the right way.”
“I don’t think the President should engage in this all-out, burn-the-bridges approach where what happens is you raise the tension all around,” the lawmaker said.
He said Aquino should state clearly how his administration could ensure inclusive growth in the last two years.
“He mentioned (inclusive growth) two years ago, but this is going to happen only if you have specific programs,” Zamora said.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of the independent bloc, said Aquino must stop the “blame game” for the problems faced by the nation.
Members of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) want more clarification from Aquino on the way DAP was used.
The TUCP said Aquino squandered opportunities to improve the lives of workers. The KMU said they expect nothing but lies from Aquino in his SONA. – With Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin