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Real score on investment pledges

When President Duterte returned from his trip to Singapore in April to attend the summit meeting of Asean leaders, the administration’s media staff announced that he was able to secure $185 million (P9.62 billion) in investment pledges from several Singaporean companies.

The media release stated that the commitments, were made in memoranda of understanding and letters of intent between Filipino and Singaporean businessmen, could open some 1,920 job opportunities for Filipinos.

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After President Duterte’ s trip to China for the Boao Forum for Asia, Malacañang said he had witnessed the signing of business deals with Chinese firms worth $9.8 billion (P508.6 billion).

The Department of Trade and Industry said these could generate about 10,800 jobs in the country.

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Public announcements of this nature have become standard whenever a president travels abroad. The business contracts signed would be described as in the nature of investments, loans, financial grants, or for the conduct of feasibility studies for possible business ventures.

These are aimed at justifying the millions of pesos in taxpayer’s money spent for the trip. The airplane fares, hotel accommodations and other expenses of the official party and its support staff do not come cheap.

The costs go higher if members of Congress and other political personalities join the official entourage. In the latter case, the expenses are charged to their offices’ budgets.

By touting the investment or business agreements entered into during a foreign trip and their supposed monetary equivalent, the impression is sought to be created that the expenses were worth spending because of the expected payback in terms of additional employment and business opportunities.

Come to think of it, if the purported monetary value of all the investment and financing agreements entered into by our presidents—from Cory Aquino to Benigno Aquino III—were to be summed up, they probably would total trillions of dollars.

Assuming those contracts and the jobs they were expected to create came to fruition, the Philippines would, by this time, have achieved the status of a developed country, enjoying an employment climate that would encourage millions of employable Filipinos to stay put rather than go elsewhere in the world to earn a living.

Even if only 50 percent of the promised investments materialized, or one-fourth of the foreign money that came in were lost to corruption or used for projects that are high on political mileage but short on public value, their favorable effects on the economy would still be substantial.

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Under these circumstances, President Duterte need not request the Asian Development Bank, China, Japan or South Korea to extend loans or grants to the country to fund his “Build, Build, Build” program.

Noticeably, none of the past administrations have made a public accounting of those investment pledges to determine whether they were fulfilled, partially accomplished or abandoned (and for what reason) before they exited from Malacañang.

The two government offices that should have institutional memory about these—the DTI and National Economic Development Authority—have not been helpful in giving the real score on those investment promises.

From the looks of it, after the announcements on pledges are made, the media releases are quietly filed away without a mechanism being put in place to monitor the compliance by the pledgors with their commitments.

With four years still remaining in his term, it is reasonable to expect President Duterte to witness more business agreements in his foreign trips and his media staff making a big splash about them.

In 2022, will the public be able to know which investment pledges were fulfilled and which remained on paper?

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TAGS: China, Corporate Securities Info, investment pledges
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