By Krista Angela M. Montealegre
National Correspondent

SPOTLIGHT has been put on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in this year’s meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with President Rodrigo R. Duterte pledging more support for these businesses and the private sector coming together to help them scale up in an effort to achieve more inclusive growth in the region.

Mr. Duterte led the ceremonial launch of the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) at the start of the three-day ASEAN Business and Investment Summit 2017 at the Solaire Resort & Casino in Parañaque City.

“Next year, I would like to make changes in the annual budget. I would like to pour money in these medium, small enterprises,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech, adding that he will talk to Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno to increase the allocation for MSMEs.

“I hope AMEN will become a catalyst for inclusive prosperity that can be shared by all.”

A flagship program of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council, AMEN has a pool of 143 mentors consisting of entrepreneurs, business practitioners and academicians from the bloc’s 10 members.

“When trust is built, we can all work together as one big region,” ABAC Chairman Jose Ma. A. Concepcion III said.

With the Philippines serving as ASEAN chairman this year, the spotlight has been cast on MSMEs, which account more than 90% of all domestic firms and as much as 90% of the non-agricultural workforce in the region.

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi championed gender equality in her speech at the summit, noting that women empowerment is crucial to attaining sustainable economic development. Ms. Suu Kyi, who is in her second visit to the Philippines, pointed out that majority of MSMEs in her country, led mostly by women, face several challenges such as access to finance, markets and technology, and that measures should be implemented to help them overcome social injustice and unleash their potential.

“Myanmar has become fully aware of the need to develop people as human beings, not just economic powerhouses. Our women need to be empowered to become better human beings as well as better economic players,” she said.

Ms. Suu Kyi stressed that economic development in Myanmar, which has emerged from decades of isolation, is dependent on the “enhancement of integrity” and “getting rid of corruption.”

“Some of those doing business in Myanmar said it was much easier then because you only have to know who to bribe” Ms. Suu Kyi said.

“It is more difficult now because you have to know how to do business the right way.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte called for cooperation on the issue of the South China Sea maritime dispute.

“South China Sea better be left untouched. Nobody can afford to go to war, even the big powers Russia, China, US and Britain,” he said in the same speech.

“I do not risk the lives of my countrymen for a useless war that cannot be won by everybody. It is clear to us that the only way to go is (through) cooperation. We should open our doors to everybody.”