THE Philippines will effect “drastic” improvements in terms of ease of doing business (EODB) within two or three years, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in response to a 14-place drop in the World Bank’s rankings.

In a news conference by the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) at the Board of Investments office in Makati City, Mr. Lopez, who is also the NCC chairman, said government reforms will not be incremental but will allow the Philippines to “leapfrog” other countries in the ranking table.

“The respondents should experience the improvements… Our mandate is really to think of outside-the-box improvements for us again to go up several notches, not just incremental but really to leapfrog,” he said.

“Realistically, we cannot experience it in one year since January is just two months away. But I think within the next two to three years, we will see drastic results, to the extent that we are able to improve the initial indicators presented right now and if you are able to legislate all of these then a lot of those reforms will be counted. At the end of the day these will be realized and felt by the users.”

Mr. Lopez said that the government will still be targeting the top 20% in the EODB ranking before President Rodrigo R. Duterte leaves office.

“That is still the target – to be in the top 20%. Before the Duterte administration leaves we should be hitting that by 2020 which is an ambitious target but we will still try to do it. At the latest it will be in 2022. It’s time to improve our target by reaching for the stars,” he added.

Much of the of the data gathering for the report was done between January and May this year, NCC co-chairman Guillermo M. Luz said, and added that the 150 respondents from the Philippines, who include businessmen and lawyers, may not have felt the changes from the government reforms.

Mr. Luz noted the strong competition from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which spurred the government to raise its sights.

“ASEAN is one of the most competitive regions and if we look at our ASEAN competitors, they are in the top 20% already. So even if we choose to target the top 30, we’ll still be lower than our competitors,” he added.

In a press statement released on Thursday, National Competition Commission Chairman Arsenio M. Balisacan said the commission will be supporting the streamlining of the permit process for businesses.

“The competition law is friendly to both big businesses who are well-positioned in the market and the emerging ones. We will work together with the private and public sector to boost competition and allow new businesses to get a fair shot at entering and thriving in the market,” Mr. Balisacan said in the statement.

Mr. Lopez said that of the 10 reforms discussed, the national registry, the national single window, and the ease of getting construction permits are among the low-hanging fruit.

“We have to change strategy to become a leapfrog strategy so instead of small improvements we have to make large improvements. So, we’re saying that to change the incremental mindset to leapfrog mindset. Why does it take a three-step procedure if the benchmark is three steps but we’re still in a 12-step procedure? We have to open our minds to that,” he added.

The Philippines placed 113th out of 190 economies in the Ease of Doing Business report, down from 99 a year earlier, even though its score rose to 58.74 from 58.32.

The World Bank however said that the rankings for the latest report cannot be considered comparable to previous reports due to changes in the way the report was compiled. – Anna Gabriela A. Mogato