Below is the keynote speech delivered by Sen. Manuel Villar to members of the Makati Business Club on February 10, 2010 at the Dusit Hotel in Makati City. Villar is the second presidential aspirant invited by the club to speak during their general membership meeting. The club only invited "leading presidential aspirants to "get to know them [aspirants] better".
Distinguished friends, fellow businessmen, members of the diplomatic corps, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon to you all. Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.
First of all, I would like to thank the Makati Business Club, headed by Chairman Ramon del Rosario Jr., for inviting me to speak before you today. As I look around the room, I think that in all the various forums I have attended, this one probably has the highest concentration of wealth, power, intelligence, and years of business experience, than all the others. Many of you are leaders in your field, captains of industry, ex-cabinet members -- people who, one way or another, have had a strong influence in the path our country has taken over the years. It is a privilege to be your guest here today.
However, I must admit that when I first received this invitation, some of my advisers asked me "why bother"? I was informed of the results of your in-house surveys, and it showed that I am not exactly your favorite candidate - although one must make mention that the survey I saw represented only 13% of your membership. Someone even warned me that it would be like Barack Obama addressing the Ku Klux Klan.
Kidding aside, I had no doubt in my mind that I should accept your kind invitation and speak to you today. I believe that, as a presidential candidate, it is my duty, my obligation, to share with you some of my thoughts and ideas, some of my hopes and plans for the country should I be elected, and also to give some of you who have never met me, a glimpse of who I am and what I stand for.
Given my background, my humble beginnings, which most of you are aware of by now, I think it would be useful not to dwell on what makes us so different, but to point out what we have in common. Often, mistrust stems from a perception that "he's not one of us." To this day, wars are being fought in the name of religion, or over differences in a person's origin. I am not saying that that is the main reason why perhaps many of you do not support me, but I will say that it is probably easier to throw one's support behind someone familiar, someone they think they know.
So I would like to point out a few things. Please remember that, like most of you here, I understand very well the challenges - the ups and downs - of setting up and running a business in this country. How often do we hear people say, when they see a successful venture - say, a restaurant or a BPO - "Kayang kaya ko yan gawin."? How many of them have actually done it? Like most of you here, I have managed people - subordinate and senior - from all walks of life - and I recognize that it takes a lot of patience, skill, and many years of experience to be an effective manager.
Like most of you here, I have spoken to foreigners many times - to international investors and to senior government officials - and I know what they are looking for when they are considering their investment options. Like most of you here, I know - we all know - that our country needs to weed out a culture of corruption, to build infrastructure, to raise education standards, to create jobs and an environment conducive to investment -and, of course, to reduce and perhaps one day eliminate poverty. And, most importantly, like most of you here, I know the difference between 'knowing" what has to be done, and actually being "able" to do it.
So here are some of my plans. Some of the things I will be able to do.
Just as I have promised to the people, we will make poverty alleviation our top priority. However, this is something that everyone, including the poor themselves, must strive for and work towards. What I can do is give more access and opportunities to those who don't have it because they are poor. I will work hard to raise education standards, build more schools, and reward deserving teachers. I intend to accomplish this by spending more for education. I will also try to create a more competitive environment among schools, among teachers, so that those that perform well are rewarded, and those that don't are held accountable.
I will build safety nets for the less fortunate - more access to healthcare for example. For our OFWs, there must be a system to address their needs when they encounter trouble overseas and to bring them back if need be.
I cannot promise no new taxes as the next administration will inherit empty coffers. The fiscal deficit this year is projected to balloon to over 300 billion pesos or about 3.5% of GDP. It would be irresponsible of me to limit my options knowing the magnitude of the problem. Of course, we will push to raise revenues and spend wisely. But as we have seen, raising revenues is not a simple matter. We already have one of the highest tax rates in the region. People will have to pay their taxes. I am beholden to no one and I will be in a strong position to reduce tax evasion and smuggling.
From Day One, I will make clear that there will be zero tolerance of graft and corruption. Sadly, there is no country in the world that has been able to eliminate it completely. I will work hard to reduce it significantly.
If elected, I will set the tone during the first 100 days, the first year of my administration. Large contracts can be bidded out and televised for all to see. This would send a message that we mean business. The government has to set the example for all to follow.
I believe that job creation is critical to solving the poverty problem. In the long run I would like to see a Philippines where no Filipino has to venture overseas just to find work. But given the state of our economy, that is not realistic today. What I will do is create an investment climate where our country will be back on the radar screen of foreign investors. Simply "leveling the playing field" is not good enough. What good is a level playing field here, if the field in other countries is much more attractive? All investors want clear rules, simple tax laws, availability and competence of labor, and decent infrastructure.
I will institute vast and immediate improvements on infrastructure. One of the first things I will do is to start work on connecting NLEX to SLEX. Since funding is limited, maybe we can look at BOT structures. I will try to strike a delicate balance between business and safeguarding the environment. My record here speaks for itself - I have planted over one million trees. I will try to reawaken in Filipinos the spirit of entrepreneurship. One problem I see here is access to financing for start-ups and small businesses - we have to encourage the financial community to lend to SMEs.
To get to where we want to go, we will need to address all these problems. They are all inter-related. We will need a concerted effort; a major push forward. For example, right now, the BPO industry accounts for about 5% of GDP and is growing at 20% per annum. It will soon become the second engine of growth together with remittances from overseas Filipinos.
We can greatly help the industry by ensuring that the supply of educated labor continues, and by improving our infrastructure so that investors keep coming because they find it easy to do business here. That, in turn, will create jobs which means higher employment and more government revenues.
We need to get out of this vicious cycle, and create a virtuous one.
There are so many problems to address. I cannot go over every one of them here. My purpose here is to give you some idea of my plans and my approach. I cannot promise you that all the problems will be solved, because the future of this country does not lie in the hands of one person. We will all need to do our part.
I can promise you that I will provide strong and honest leadership for our country. By doing so, I hope that the rest will follow towards building a stronger nation.
So these are some of my thoughts and plans, and I believe I can do it if given the chance.
I have been Speaker of the House and Senate President, gaining the highest satisfaction ratings while leading both Houses of Congress, and I understand far more than many the complexities that effective governance requires. If memory serves me right, trust ratings for the Senate hit a high of 70 percent during my leadership. I believe "government" and "politics" need not be dirty words. Because of the nature of government, a leader must be able to immediately command respect; otherwise the bureaucracy and clashing interests will overwhelm a neophyte. A true leader must be decisive - in spite of the risks, remember that I did not hesitate to impeach a sitting president.
Choosing a CEO
Now, please allow me to pose a question to you. When you are considering a candidate for a senior position in your respective companies, or when your Board is conducting a search for a CEO, what qualities do you deem important in a candidate? How do you go about the selection process? Think about it. A CEO, a true leader, must look after the interests of ALL his company's stakeholders - employees, shareholders, creditors, suppliers, etc? Tough decisions will have to be made in normal times, let alone in times of crisis.
Now multiply the existing problems faced by your company a hundred times. That is what our new Chief Executive will face this year. There is no six-month probationary period for the job! It is six years! There is no room for on-the-job training. Our country has too many complex problems and too many competing interests and we will need a strong leader with a proven track record to even have a chance!
I built my name - in business and in politics - through hard work and perseverance. Yes. Sipag at Tiyaga. I have never been anybody's crony. Some of my critics may have forgotten that. I think we should instill in our country - in our children - the value of hard work. We should start by setting examples - by training them - by letting them know that they have to earn their place. They cannot just inherit the top spot. They cannot just wait to lead the businesses we have built once we're gone, without proper training and experience. You cannot just tell them - "Anak, tanungin mo na lang ang Tito o Tita mo kung paano magpatakbo niyan pag nagka-problema." You will find so many examples - case studies - where businesses failed after simply being handed over by families to the next generation.
I know much of what I say today may fall on deaf ears. But I am still hopeful that even a few will open their minds and see the merits of what I am saying. I remember some 15 years back, when then President Ramos made it clear that he was going to dismantle monopolies - telecommunications was one - and create a more competitive environment - the so-called "level playing field" that everyone today likes to talk about. I remember that there was fear from the big businessmen. With all due respect, I will quote something said by Ayala Corp Chairman Jaime Zobel de Ayala during that period. He echoed the growing and widespread concern in the business community, and said: "There is a determined effort, on the part of some government officials in sensitive places, to look upon business, particularly large and established ones, as detrimental to the national interests." Now how many people in this room have a Globe cell phone? Today, Globe Telecom, which is part of the Ayala Group, is one of the major players in a very competitive and dynamic telecommunications industry. And it took a strong leader, someone considered an outsider - President Ramos - to dismantle the decades-old PLDT monopoly, which had remained untouched during the term of the previous administration.
I would like to say just a few more things before I conclude my speech. Let me tell you that I am proud of my humble beginnings. Perhaps I would not be where I am today had it not been for all those difficult but important lessons I learned early in my life. What I can say, that perhaps many of you cannot, is that I know what it feels like to be poor. I know what the poor are going through right now. I grew up in Tondo. Galing akong Moriones. Maybe some of you in this room have never even set foot in Tondo. Yes, all candidates are pro-poor? remember nobody in the history of this country ever got elected on a pro-rich platform.
But for me pro-poor doesn't mean being anti-rich.
If I do become President, yes I will focus on the poor because I understand their plight, but I also understand that we will need the businesses to grow and thrive so that the economy can move forward and our people can find employment. I'm sure the companies associated with the Makati Business Club employ thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people. Whether you support my candidacy or not, if I am elected, I hope to be able to work with you for the good of our country.
I would also like to state that I am trying to conduct a respectable campaign. Yes I have spent money - much of it my own - because as a person of humble origins, I may not be as well known to many of our people. But I have I tried to avoid negativity. I have so far avoided attacking my fellow candidates. My ads simply try to communicate a little bit of who I am, where I came from, and what I stand for. For you marketing managers out there, who might be even a little impressed with some of my ads, I would hope that you might see this as some small clue - some testament to my abilities as a business leader. We will all need someone to provide leadership and represent our country on the world stage.
We keep asking why tourists don't come here when our beaches, our many tourist sites, are among the best in the world? Well, marketing - communicating - your message effectively is an important part of the equation. I'm sure many of you have rejected so-called qualified candidates for a certain job ? people with MBAs or PhDs, because they could not communicate effectively.
We will need to compete with the up-and-coming countries of Asia. I am tired of hearing the same old refrain about how we used to be only second to Japan. That is not communicating. Let us stop lamenting the past and move on! Let us move forward!
Ladies and gentlemen, whether you are green or orange or yellow or purple or whatever, at the end of the day, we are all Filipinos. And after we all exercise our right to vote?. and we have elected a new leader for the Philippines, we must all lick our wounds and go back to addressing the complex problems facing our beloved country. And we must do everything we can to help whoever that new leader might be.
If elected, I promise you that I will do my part. I hope you will do yours.
Thank you and good afternoon.