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Duterte seeks to quell business worries

Posted on January 19, 2017

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday met some of the country’s tycoons over dinner in Malacañang in a bid to address “uncertainties” troubling them, his spokesman said yesterday.

File photo of Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte
The meeting comes in the wake of mounting reports of increased investor worries caused by political noise generated by his tough talk against the West and his administration’s apparent preoccupation with countering a nascent opposition.

In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said Mr. Duterte’s three-hour meeting with big businessmen involved an “open discussion” on topics such as shift to a federal government, contractualization, job creation and tax reform.

“The president reiterated that he is for job creation to uplift the people’s well-being,” Mr. Abella said, adding that the meeting was called to “bring them on board the government’s agenda of inclusive growth.”

Quoting Presidential Adviser (PA) for Entrepreneurship Jose Ma. “Joey” A. Concepcion III, who facilitated the dinner meeting, Mr. Abella also claimed the tycoons “walked out extremely happy.”

“As far as PA Joey was saying, their preconceptions regarding the President were settled because of their one-on-one, face-to-face conversation. Many of them apparently had never met the President. This is the first time they had face-to-face and according to PA Joey, a number of their uncertainties were settled,” the spokesman said.

“Mainly, they were there to show their support for improvement of areas on poverty and crisis and the conflicts,” he also said.

Among those present were Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan; Ayala Corp. Chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala; SM Prime Holdings, Inc. Director Hans T. Sy; Aboitiz Equity Ventures President Erramon I. Aboitiz; International Container Terminal Services, Inc. Chairman Enrique K. Razon, Jr.; LT Group, Inc. President Michael G. Tan and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President George T. Barcelon.

Also present were Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and former President and now Deputy Speaker Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (Second District), who were seen in a video of the dinner that was released by Malacañang.

“That meeting with the President last night was requested by a number of business leaders, shepherded by Joey Concepcion with the help of CGMA (Ms. Arroyo),” Mr. Pangilinan said in a text message when sought for details.

“It was intended to be a dialogue with the President, focusing on how businesses can help the poorest areas in the country. Without pretending to speak for those present, I thought it was an excellent meeting, with a free flow and a good exchange of ideas,” he added.

“Each business group offered ideas, suggestions, commitments, to the President. San Miguel wanted to build power plants. They said they will build power plants in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. Sa amin naman (On the part of MPIC and the First Pacific Company Ltd. group, we mentioned) hospital, telecoms... and possibly a coconut oil mill in Sulu because it’s an island where there’s a lot of coconut planted.”

According to Mr. Pangilinan, Mr. Duterte “was in excellent form” at the meeting and was “open to suggestions from the business sector.”

“Broadly speaking, businesses expressed their support... in respect of helping out in those poor areas. In particular, I said we are supportive of the government’s tax reform program now pending before Congress as a milestone step,” he said.

Also sought for details, PCCI’s Mr. Barcelon said in an interview yesterday that the meeting also touched on the government’s campaign against narcotics and illegal gambling.

“Well, on the side of the participants of the businessmen sector, the consensus really is... in line with what the president wants: it’s to have more jobs created. Basically, if you talk about this, there are many areas you could look into... agriculture, tourism, infrastructure: these would open up job opportunities,” Mr. Barcelon said.

“I think the whole discussion focused more on job creation,” he recalled.

“Other than that, the President talked about the gravity of the drug problem. It would still take some to eradicate. Maraming mga (There are a lot of) questionable law enforcer sa (in the) military and he mentioned in Congress also. I don’t know who they are, wala namang pangalan na binigay (he did not give names). This problem is a long way from being solved. Also, he said, illegal gambling should also be addressed.”

The PCCI chief also said the big businessmen at the meeting pledged to support the government in developing Sulu, a base of Moro extremists.

“Like Philippine Airlines, they shared also that they would have flights to Sulu,” Mr. Barcelon recalled. -- Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral and Imee Charlee C. Delavin