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Opposition lays out economic agenda based on safety, rural investment

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Four candidates from Otso Diretso running for senator (from left to right): Samira A. Gutoc, Florin T. Hilbay, Rep. Gary C. Alejano, and Jose Manuel I. Diokno

OPPOSITION candidates for the Senate on Monday laid out their economic programmes before business associations, focusing on the need to improve safety, the rule of law, institutions, and the capacity of local governments to accept investment.

On Monday, four candidates from the eight-member opposition slate known as Otso Diretso made their pitches to a joint meeting of the Makati Business Club (MBC), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). The candidates present were Samira A. Gutoc, Florin T. Hilbay, Rep. Gary C. Alejano, and Jose Manuel I. Diokno.

When asked if any of the candidates were in favor of amending the foreign ownership restrictions in the 1987 Constitution, candidates said institutions need to be stronger before liberalizing ownership rules.

“There are two fundamental pre-requisites that we have to address. One is that we have to have strong constitutional law. Second is we have to have a justice system that is capable of enforcing the rules,” Mr. Diokno said, adding that he can only consider liberalization if the government can address these two issues.

MAP President Rizalina G. Mantaring said business groups are keen to find out the priorities of candidates for the May 13 elections, especially those initiatives that will affect business and the economy.

“As voters and as business organizations, it’s our responsibility to get to know the candidates and their positions that affect national development and economic progress. The business community has a specific interest in the coming elections,” she said.




Mr. Hilbay called for a greater focus on micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), saying that the government should strengthen these businesses which account for more than the 90% of Philippine companies. He also backed supporting rural banks to support MSMEs.

Mr. Alejano said policy needs to be more investment-friendly, which would benefit from improving the security situation.

“We need to have an atmosphere conducive for investment… Even business people are not safe… We have to strengthen our democratic institutions,” he said.

Mr. Alejano backed the dramatically decongestion of Metro Manila by decentralizing government and investment to the regions and developing capacity at LGUs.

“We have to provide economic opportunities outside Metro Manila. We need to (empower) local government units (LGUs) to come up with long-term development plans… I suggest we decongest Metro Manila. I proposed the transfer of the seat of government outside Metro Manila so we can spur development in the areas they will be transferred to,” he said.

Mr. Diokno said that while he does not favor a Federal government structure, “I believe in giving more power to LGUs.”

Ms. Gutoc said that private businesses must be allowed to expand and invest in other regions via a program of incentives for setting up businesses in less-developed areas.

“We need to create incentives for them to go to… provinces where there is a lot of talent,” she said.

Ms. Gutoc added that white-collar jobs are concentrated in Metro Manila and both government and businesses should focus on job creation elsewhere. She said the poorest regions stand to benefit, particularly the newly established Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

On investing in BARMM, she said businesses should consider the region on the strength of guarantees provided by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on the safety of their investments.

“We have the MILF guarantee… they have sworn to protect these businesses and they will be the ones to champion these businesses so we need that kind of attitude and commitment,” she said. — Gillian M. Cortez

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