Aquino invites Malaysian businessmen to invest in Mindanao
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—With peace at hand in Mindanao, President Benigno Aquino has invited the Malaysian business community to invest in the region’s untapped resource potential, citing how governance reforms and a fairer business climate have led to an economic revival in the Philippines in recent years.
Addressing some 200 of Malaysia’s top business executives, Aquino said Friday the Philippines was past its days as a “laggard” and “the sick man of Asia,” with its economic rise recognized internationally through credit rating upgrades and renewed global interest.
“Mindanao… has land so fertile that a patch of it left unattended for a short while becomes quickly overgrown. Now that lasting peace in that particular region has come within reach, perhaps investing this early in Mindanao is an opportunity that is presenting itself to all of us,” Aquino said.
“Now, you are presented with another opportunity to reap the maximum gains from a country that is experiencing rapid growth, and is set to sustain such growth over many years. May I pose this question: Is anyone here really willing to pass up on this opportunity and set yourselves up for regret somewhere down the line?,” said the President.
Aquino engaged the Malaysian business community in a Business Opportunities Forum here late Friday afternoon as he wrapped up his two-day state visit, the President’s first foreign trip of the year during which he sought to highlight and acknowledge Kuala Lumpur’s key role in the success of talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Aquino invited Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to Manila by the end of the month to witness the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement creating the Bangsamoro political entity, the culmination of some 16 years of negotiations seen to bring peace and development in Mindanao.
“Through political will, the determination to bring about lasting peace and stability, and mutual trust among all stakeholders—and with the help of partners like Malaysia—the Filipino people are on the cusp of lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao: peace that will likewise open the floodgates of opportunity for the provinces in that region,” the President said.
In wooing investors, Aquino waved the banner of his reform agenda, citing how his administration has risen up to the task of “reversing 10 years of lost opportunities and transforming government from the inside out,” clearly in reference to the presidency of Gloria Arroyo.
On track to restore “a grand house that had fallen in disrepair,” the President said the last four years of his administration have seen governance reforms that sought to clamp down on corruption, a streamlined system of doing business, higher infrastructure spending, efforts to improve the education system to develop a better skilled workforce, and moving beyond the country’s “traditional strengths” in the service sector through forays into the infrastructure, agriculture and tourism industries.
“Today, almost four years down the line, some may be asking: Where did those early efforts lead? The answer: a government that works with and for the people, and a reenergized nation that enjoys the goodwill and respect of the world,” Mr. Aquino said.
He said the Philippines is staying the course despite setbacks such as the devastation left Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) last November, which left a large part of the Visayas region in need of billions in investment to restore infrastructure and basic services.
“In the wake of Haiyan’s destruction, our government is determined not just to restore normalcy but we intend to build back better…. We are working precisely so that Haiyan-affected communities rise from the rubble as stronger, more vibrant, more inclusive areas of opportunity,” he said.
Aquino also spoke of what await investors once they come to the Philippines: “world-class” amenities and a welcoming people. He cited the ease in traveling to the country, with an aviation industry now opening up direct links with more cities around the world.
“With this in mind, let me invite all of you to come and visit the Philippines. It is certainly easier to do so today, since our government has already liberalized the aviation industry and enacted legislation that will entice more carriers to open or expand operations there,” Aquino said.
During the state visit, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma also announced Malaysian firm Maybank’s plan to expand its presence in the Philippines, with fresh investments of up to P300 million to open new branches across the Visayas and Mindanao.
Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes, meanwhile, expressed interest to work with the Philippine government in developing the old domestic terminal in Pasay City and other airports in other major tourist destinations.
Genting Berhad, the firm that brought the Resorts World franchise to Manila, meanwhile, accepted Mr. Aquino’s offer for the Philippines to become part of its Star Cruises’ route.
The engagement with Malaysia’s private sector was part of Aquino’s efforts to enhance trade ties between Kuala Lumpur and Manila, an aspect of relations that the two sides agreed to further develop during meetings in Putrajaya on Friday.
In a joint press conference, Najib noted the “far greater” potential to increase the current level of two-way trade between Malaysia and the Philippines, pegged at $4.5 billion. The two sides agreed to boost cooperation in the areas of Islamic finance and Halal, among others.
Aquino left for Manila aboard a chartered Philippine airlines flight at 11:20 p.m. Friday, departing soon after being honored in a state banquet hosted by Malaysia’s King Abdul Halim at the Istana Negara, the national palace.
The President arrived home around 3 a.m. Saturday, finally completing his travel checklist covering all 10 member nations of the Asean.
Upon his return, Aquino reported to the nation the gains of his first state visit of the year, including signed bilateral agreements on education and culture, the consensus to boost defense cooperation, and Malaysia’s commitment to continue supporting the implementation of the government-MILF peace agreement.
The two leaders also agreed to uphold international law and a peaceful approach in resolving conflicting claims in the South China Sea, the subject of tense disputes between China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
The President also shared about his engagement with the Filipino community in Kuala Lumpur, particularly how a group of Filipinos, led by one architect Bart Vista, volunteered their time and spent P11 million of their own money to refurbish the Philippine Embassy here back in 2012.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.