SEOUL—President Benigno Aquino III is expected to bring home at least $1.7 billion in investments from Korean firms as a result of his state visit to South Korea.
At a meeting with Korean businessmen on Friday, Mr. Aquino also took a jab at the previous Arroyo administration, stressing that corruption during the Arroyo presidency was to blame for Philippine economic problems.
Mr. Aquino capped his visit by meeting with executives of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. Ltd., Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), National Pension Service, Hyundai Group and Hotel Lotte.
Lotte affirmed its commitment to build a 350-room hotel and set up other investments in retail, real estate and food worth $1 billion, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.
“President Aquino urged Lotte to look into the feasibility of investing in new tourist facilities in Palawan,” Coloma told Filipino reporters.
He said Kepco also pledged to put up two 150-megawatt power plants in Bataan province and two 200-megawatt plants in Bislig, Surigao del Sur province, and Cadiz, Negros Occidental province, worth $700 million.
Stamp out corruption
Mr. Aquino encouraged Korean businessmen to invest in his country.
Addressing the members of the Korea International Trade Association, Mr. Aquino said his administration’s efforts to eliminate corruption and red tape had made it possible for the Philippines to attain outstanding economic growth.
“The causality between good governance and good economics is precisely what we have taken to heart and practiced these past three years,” he told officials of big Korean business conglomerates.
“Our country is now benefiting from the new face of government: One that puts the Filipino front and center on its agenda.”
Ride the wave
“There is a rising tide in the Philippines, fueled by a growing segment of the population that has the skills to drive businesses and the spending power to spur profits,” Mr. Aquino said.
“Today, we invite you to ride this wave: To invest in the Philippines and become part of our country’s continued success.”
Mr. Aquino said the reforms introduced by his administration had made the Philippines the “New Asian Tiger or Asia’s Bright Spot,” instead of being labeled as the “Sick Man of Asia.”
“This drastic transformation is anchored on a simple idea: … If we eliminate corruption, we can end poverty,” he pointed out.
Mr. Aquino said: “Successful businesses are adept at managing commercial risk … For (an economy) to reach its fullest potential, the uncertainties that become avenues for corruption must be eliminated. We see reducing red tape and fixing a cumbersome bureaucracy as the embodiment of this belief.”
Explaining the economic upturn, Mr. Aquino narrated how the policy on rice importation implemented during the term of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had burdened the National Food Authority (NFA) with P177 billion in debts.
Before Arroyo came to power, he said the NFA’s debt was about P12 billion.
“How did this happen? My predecessor had us believe that the country needed to import 1.3 million metric tons of rice every year,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said that in 2010 alone, “they actually imported two million metric tons—grossly in excess of what was needed, overpriced, and finally with many sacks of rice ending up rotting unconsumed in warehouses.”
The President said his administration gave importance to reinvigorating the agriculture sector, adding the Philippines was now “almost 100 percent rice self sufficient.”
He said the government financed needed infrastructure while public funds were channeled into projects with positive impact.
Mr. Aquino also said that during the Arroyo administration, businessmen had to submit piles of documents to start their businesses, exposing them to “unscrupulous individuals.”
To improve the bureaucratic process, he said the government established the Philippine Business Registry, a one-stop shop for important business documents.
The move significantly reduced the time needed for investors to start their businesses and the risks of falling victims to corrupt officials.
Mr. Aquino cited the successes of Korean companies, including Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp., SKY-KR Consortium, Posco Engineering and the Korean Transport Institute.
He said Korean companies could vouch for the industry and talent of the Filipino workforce, “one of the major reasons why the Philippines has become the fifth largest shipbuilding country in the world.”
“It’s not just more fun in the Philippines; it is also more profitable.”
As Mr. Aquino ended his visit, a Filipino migrants’ group in South Korea urged the government to look into an agreement between the two countries’ state pension agencies that they said could burden overseas Filipino workers.
The Katipunan ng mga Samahan ng Migranteng Manggagawa sa Korea (Kasammako) expressed disappointment that the agreement, opposed by most of the 42,000 OFWs in Korea, was not tackled during Mr. Aquino’s visit.
Kasammako chair Robin Lavarrias said the accord would force OFWs to pay contribution payments to both pension agencies. The agreement has yet to be fully implemented. With a report from Jerome Aning