BusinessWorld Economic Forum 2024 — Photo by Jesse Bustos | The Philippine Star

BusinessWorld Economic Forum 2024 tackles the socioeconomic imperatives to drive the country forward

By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran, Special Features and Content Assistant Editor

The quest for sustained and inclusive growth is akin to nurturing a delicate ecosystem. It requires the harmony of various factors like vision, strategy, and execution, where every component, from robust policy frameworks to innovative private sector initiatives, plays a pivotal role.

For a developing economy to thrive, it must cultivate a fertile ground where education and skills development flourish, creating a workforce capable of driving innovation and productivity. Equally vital is the establishment of resilient infrastructure that not only supports economic activities but also enhances the quality of life for its citizens. Moreover, fostering a business environment that encourages entrepreneurship and attracts investment is essential to fuel job creation and economic diversification.

But as times continue to change and foster uncertainty, so too must one’s strategy to change and adapt. This is the riddle that haunts many countries today, particularly the Philippines. Even in the most adverse conditions, the country has posted economic growth competing with many of the world’s leading economies. This has invited attention and scrutiny from many foreign investors and created certain expectations as to how the country might sustain this growth.

National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan — Photo by Jesse Bustos | The Philippine Star

“Our macroeconomic fundamentals are sound and have proven time and again to be instrumental in fostering the sustained growth of the Philippine economy,” Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, head of the National Economic and Development Authority, said as he kick-started the recently concluded BusinessWorld Economic Forum by delivering a speech on the “Imperatives for Sustaining Philippines’ Economic Growth.”

Mr. Balisacan spoke to shed light on the crucial factors needed to maintain the country’s current economic momentum, such as controlling food inflation, managing debt, and monitoring fiscal risks. He painted an illustration of the country’s current economic situation, and highlighted the areas and issues that needed addressing, such as the growing digital divide and the inequalities of opportunities in the different regions of the country.

“As many of the world’s leading economists will tell you, a high growth trajectory can only be sustained with the whole of society and government working together. Critical development challenges and policy issues require decisive actions to maintain inclusive socioeconomic growth,” he said, adding that the government remains committed to doing all it can to sustain the country’s momentum and bring a more inclusive prosperity to the Filipino people.

“We are confident of meeting our short-term development objectives and we aim for no less socioeconomic transformation in the medium term,” Mr. Balisacan said.

BusinessWorld Economic Forum 2024, titled “PH Next: Growth Drivers,” was held last May 22 at the Grand Ballroom of Grand Hyatt Manila in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. The whole-day forum brought together policy makers, industry leaders, and top executives to explore the Philippines’ emerging opportunities and key drivers of economic progress.

BusinessWorld Publishing Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer Miguel G. Belmonte — Photo by JLCG Creative and Digital Solutions

In his welcome remarks, BusinessWorld Publishing Corp. President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Miguel G. Belmonte highlighted that the Philippines has been achieving “impressively steady” growth in spite of recent headwinds, driven by favorable drivers. Nonetheless, he added, such growth should benefit every Filipino.

“[E]conomic growth alone is not the endgame. The true gauge of success will always be ensuring inclusive prosperity: How we can ensure that every Filipino benefits from a thriving economy?” Mr. Belmonte stressed.

“Through these Economic Fora, BusinessWorld has always served as a platform to explore solutions, foster dialogue, and forge partnerships that will create a bit better future for all,” he added.

JG Summit Holdings President and CEO Lance Y. Gokongwei — Photo by Jesse Bustos | The Philippine Star

Lance Y. Gokongwei, president and CEO of JG Summit Holdings, Inc., also delivered a keynote address, talking about “Boosting the Private Sector’s Share in Fueling Economic Growth” and sharing his perspective on the role of private enterprises in driving the Philippine economy forward.

“The private sector, which is a major contributor to our nation’s economy, is a catalyst for economic growth and development. With its ability to mobilize resources, enhance productivity and innovate, the private sector is a wealth creator, providing employment opportunities to deliver goods and services. But despite its impact on our country’s economy, it is imperative for the private sector to partner with the government to push forward its agenda,” he said.

Mr. Gokongwei believes that there are three key areas in which mutual cooperation between the public and private sectors can “make a tremendous impact”: education and training, revitalizing manufacturing, and enhancing tourism. Underlying these key areas, he stressed that the investment in both physical and technological infrastructures will be critical.

“The task of nation-building is a humongous challenge. It is not a straight and easy path. It requires planning, cooperation, sacrifice, grit, and unity. But it is comforting to know that it is a shared responsibility, buoyed by the concerted efforts and founded on a high level of trust among all of the key players in our economic ecosystem — government, business, and labor — all working towards the same goal: a greater Philippines for every Filipino,” he said.

From L-R: Prudential Guarantee & Assurance First Vice-Chairman Peter G. Coyiuto; GT Capital Holdings Vice-Chairman Alfred V. Ty; JG Summit Holdings President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Y. Gokongwei; National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan; BusinessWorld President and CEO Miguel G. Belmonte; Ambassador of Israel to the Philippines Ilan Fluss; BusinessWorld Executive Vice-President Lucien C. Dy Tioco; and Angkas CEO George Royeca — Photo by Jesse Bustos | The Philippine Star

This year’s forum also delved into the various opportunities for the Philippine economy, particularly through the country’s seen next drivers of growth, in the succeeding sessions.

In the first panel, “Strengthening the Backbones of Nationwide Progress,” Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc. Head of Economic Estates Rafael F. de Mesa shared his insights on infrastructure development; and George I. Royeca, CEO of ride-hailing service Angkas, shared his knowledge of the transportation industry. Meanwhile, Emmanuel “Manny” L. Estrada, vice-president for regulatory development and strategy at Globe; and Jesus C. Romero, senior executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Converge ICT Solutions, shared their insights on the state of the telecom industry.

Priming the following discussions on the digital economy, World Economic Forum Head of the Regional Agenda, Asia-Pacific Joo-Ok Lee delved into the negotiations on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Digital Economy Framework Agreement (DEFA) in a presentation titled “Maximizing the Potentials of the ASEAN Digital Economy.”

Jerro G. Ngo, CEO of EastWest; Carlos Barrera, CEO of e-commerce platform Lazada Philippines; Grace Vera Cruz, country head of ride-hailing and online payments platform Grab Philippines; and Mitch Padua, group chief product officer of digital bank Maya, shared their perspectives on “Digital Economy: A Vital Engine for Future Growth,” heralding the second half of the forum.

Following that, the panel discussion on “Safeguarding Digital Economic Growth through Security and Trust” was a fitting addition, as Ingrid Beroña, the chief risk officer of mobile payment platform GCash, shared her perspectives on financial security. Alexander K. Ramos, executive director of the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center, spoke about government activities and cybersecurity risks. Police Col. Jay D. Guillermo, chief of the Cyber Response Unit at PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group, also joined the discussion with their experiences in detecting and addressing cybercrimes; while Chito Jacinto, vice-president and chairman of membership and event at Information Security Officers Group, pointed out the importance of information security officers in safeguarding organizations’ assets in the digital world.

Furthermore, Maria Veronica F. Magsino, deputy director-general for finance and administration of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, and Olivia Limpe-Aw, president and chief executive officer of Destileria Limtuaco & Co., Inc., joined the panel discussion titled “Maximizing the Potentials of the Philippine Manufacturing Sector,” highlighting the government’s efforts in boosting the said industry and emphasizing the sector’s long-standing significance to the economy as well as its most pressing concerns, respectively.

Lastly, Francis Giles B. Puno, president and chief operating officer of First Gen Corp.; Raymond B. Ravelo, chief sustainability officer of Manila Electric Company (Meralco); Atty. Richard J. Nethercott, president and CEO of Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines; and Jaime Z. Urquijo, chief sustainability and risk officer of Ayala Corp. and board director of ACEN, comprised the panel that discussed “Sustaining Economic Development through Sustainable Power — Navigating Adversities & Opportunities in the Power Sector.”

The forum was hosted by Danie Laurel, news anchor for Cignal TV, with panel moderation by BusinessWorld Editor-in-Chief Cathy Rose A. Garcia, BusinessWorld reporters Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson and Justine Irish D. Tabile, BusinessWorld Corporate Editor Arjay L. Balinbin, and TV5 News Anchor Jester Delos Santos.

This edition of the BusinessWorld Economic Forum was presented by BusinessWorld Publishing Corp., in partnership with GCash, Ayala Corp., and ACEN; with the support of gold sponsors Globe, Metro Pacific Investments Corp., and Globaltronics.

The forum was also supported by silver sponsors BDO Unibank, Converge ICT Solutions, Inc., Federal Land, Inc., Federal Land NRE Global, Inc., First Gen Corp., GT Capital Holdings, Inc., Lazada, Megaworld Corp., National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), San Miguel Corp., SM Supermalls, Smart Communications, and Toyota Motor Philippines.

Bronze sponsors included Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Astoria Hotels and Resorts, Citicore Energy Philippines Corp., Megawide, EastWest Banking Corp., FWD Philippines, Meralco, Robinsons Land Corp., Santé International, SGV, SM Investments Corp., and Wilcon Depot.

Partner organizations for the event included the Asian Consulting Group, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Bank Marketing Association of the Philippines, British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Philippine Franchise Association, and Philippine Retailers Association, and JLCG Creative and Marketing Solutions; with media partners One News and The Philippine STAR.