Figures of pitchBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A little mix-up popped up in the news on the amount of investments that our leader Benigno Simeon (aka, BS), supposedly, brought home from his recent trip to the United States and United Kingdom. Reports cited different figures: $2.4 billion, $2.7 billion and $2.8 billion.
I say, for once, we all try to dispense with some fantastic figures on investments that our leaders always claim to be the direct results of their trips abroad.
Actually, in those trips, our leaders must spend a lot of our taxes. And so the Malacañang boys must always pitch to us some PR stories with fantastic figures to justify the trips. See, with billions of investments, it is all worth it! Something like that!
Before our leader BS, somebody actually started such a game of investment charade. Let us once and for all put an end to it. Believe me, the billions upon billions of investments were never the direct result of those trips. We knew all along that the investments, particularly if they were to be made by private corporations overseas, were already in the bag long before the official trips of our leaders. The Malacañang boys were not fooling anybody except themselves.
This time, our leader BS thus needed to report to the nation some fantastic amount, something more impressive than the figures he cited during his earlier trips, something far more remarkable than those “brought home” by his predecessor Gloriaetta during her cute administration.
To the guys down here in my barangay, the biggest question nevertheless is still, well, how do those fantastic amounts affect their lives. Really, can the fantastic figures create jobs for them and thus help them out of poverty?
Something in the “pasalubong” from our leader BS in his US trip may have a direct bearing on efforts of the Aquino (Part II) administration to help the poor. It was the $434-million aid package from the Millenium Challenge Corporation, the business-like aid agency of the US government, designed specifically to help fight poverty all over the world. The aid package can never deviate from anti-poverty programs through various social services of the government. This is the condition of the package.
Now, more than $2 billion of those fantastic figures quoted in media reports—whether $2.4 or $2.7 or $2.8 billion—–are going to basic industries. They are capital-intensive projects, which explains the huge amount of investments. They are not your typical manufacturing ventures that can employ several entire barangays in one go.
A quick check of the investment lineup that our leader BS supposedly firmed up in his recent trip showed that five of the seven investments involved energy projects, either natural gas exploration ventures or construction of power plants, accounting for almost $2 billion of the take-home investment bag of our leader BS.
Make no mistake—we need those projects. They can anchor the Aquino (Part II) administration’s push for this country to achieve economic maturity. Availability of energy, when we talk of economic development, is as basic as ice in drinking sprees here in my barangay.
Anyway, the administration also got a big one in mineral processing, involving some $300 million in direct investments to expand the copper smelting plant of Pasar in Leyte, which was acquired by the foreign firm Glencor. A big part of the Glencor investments still goes to—guess what—another power plant in the Pasar factory site. I guess we really need investments in power plants.
Moreover, we need a bigger copper smelting plant. This country has the biggest “unproductive” copper deposit in the world. In business they are saying that our prospects in the resources industries are bright. Well, of course, it is all up to the administration on how they intend to soften the anti-mining noise of some pseudo-environmentalists.
Still, in business, the think tanks are always going for projects with a lot of jobs, if we really want to address poverty. We are talking here of BPOs, for instance, or the revival of the garments export sector.
Now, those investments in basic industries like power—and even infrastructure—actually add up to stimulate economic growth, according to DTI undersecretary Cristino Panlilio, who after the DTI reorganization is now in charge of the department’s investments and trade promotion.
To the articulate and brilliant Panlilio, economic growth is always the best strategy in solving poverty, although he qualified that the growth must be fueled by investments more than consumption, perhaps, or more than government borrowings for unbridled spending on social services.
He cited statistics, used in various studies done by financial institutions abroad, showing that a country with a GDP per capita of $2,500 is well on its way to economic development. The Philippines is already nearing such a threshold, with a GDP per capita of $2,200 as of 2010. This, according to Panlilio, may be one reason why investors in the United States and United Kingdom are bullish on the Philippine economy’s prospects.
And so the guys down here must be more interested in some other news from our leader BS regarding the US trip. From the looks of it, the Aquino (Part II) administration was on a friendship-renewal mission to Washington, considering the so-called bullying tactics being shown by our newly affluent neighbor up there.
For instance, it takes a special kind of diplomatic relationship between Manila and Washington for our garment industry to regain its competitiveness in the US market. It takes a special law, the one called Save our Industries Act, pending in the US Congress for several years now.
Under the SIA bill, our garment exports to the US should get zero duty, if they use fabric made in the United States. According to Panlilio, if the US Congress passes the bill, our garment exports to the US will become cheaper—much cheaper—than the garments coming from China, considering the spike in labor costs in China.
Thus, both the DTI and the private sector, particularly the Confederation of Garment Exporters of the Philippines, have been working on the SIA for the past couple of years.
I think the SIA, if it happens, will be a big break for us. Here is the math: Labor force in our garments sector today is some 150,000 workers, a far cry from the 600,000 workers only six or seven years ago before the WTO, which eliminated the US system of preference for garment imports from the Philippines.
If the SIA happens, according to Panlilio, the garment export sector will definitely see a big resurgence, perhaps even surpassing its peak a few years ago.
That was the kind of news the guys down here really would have wanted to hear from the Malacañang boys regarding the US trip of our leader BS. Never mind the fantastic figures by the billions!
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