Sen. Lacson’s Speech at the 10th Arangkada Philippines Forum

To all the members of the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines (JFC), the business and industry experts, diplomats, government officials, members of the press, and to everyone who made the 10th Arangkada Philippines Forum possible, I am truly honored to join you in this virtual event today.

I understand that this has been the 10th year that the Coalition is conducting its annual Arangkada Philippines Forum, which serves as a premier platform in promoting international trade, increased foreign investment, and improved business conditions to benefit our country, as well as the other nations that the JFC members represent.

With the massive economic and social disruptions that confront the entire world primarily brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am sure that this year’s forum takes a deeper and more indicative meaning of the word “arangkada”, which essentially means “to accelerate”.

You and I will agree that in front of us is a mission: to finally move forward and accelerate from the nightmares of the pandemic, and to finally put this as a thing of the past, so to speak.

Indeed, humanity has been making meaningful strides especially with the advent of vaccines against the coronavirus. What’s alarming though is that this virus has its ways of making us go two steps back every time we take a step forward—case in point the Delta strain which has immobilized us once more during the third quarter of this year, and now, the looming and allegedly more contagious threats of the Omicron variant.

It is for these reasons that I have been always emphasizing the need for a recovery roadmap that employs a Future-Proof strategy– an approach that will insulate our people from the vulnerabilities and will help us outsmart the threats brought about by the evolving conditions of the new normal.

Among the infinite lessons that the pandemic has taught us is the fact that there could never be a trade-off between our people’s health and the health of our economy. Our approach henceforth to this health crisis must be proactive and not reactive, driven not by “pandemic politics” but by scientific data and empirical facts.

That said, my commitment to our people is to ensure that we will fully fund the Universal Healthcare Act for us to maximize the intent of this landmark legislation–healthcare coverage to all Filipinos without the huge financial burden from out-of-pocket medical expenses. Despite the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act in 2019, our budget books tell us that our appropriations for the health sector remain dismal. Hence, we will fund the “high-cost” requirement of the Universal Healthcare Act to cover all barangays, provide subsidies for all indirect contributory populations, ensure optimal benefits for healthcare workers, and achieve the target of 1 hospital bed per 800 population.

Practically speaking, strengthening our health systems, protecting our medical professionals and frontliners, and promoting primary and community care will help us in veering away from the implementation of lockdowns that cripple our economy so badly.

Hence, at the top of my economic agenda is the outpouring of support to our business sector to attract capital inflow in the country.

It is high time that we do away from overregulation beyond our competition policy, which does more harm than good to our partners in nation building. We must ensure that economic reforms such as the Retail Trade Act are properly implemented to help us become more globally competitive. We also commit to Property Valuation and Assessment Reform, Ease of Paying our Taxes, and promotion of digital payments, among others which must lay the groundwork to reboot our economy.

I am likewise pushing for recovery start-ups to revive the sector that was hardly hit by the health crisis–our MSMEs, comprising 99.5% of our enterprises and 63.2% of our labor force — through the following: comprehensive and targeted fiscal stimulus packages, eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, “lower-interest-bigger loans” programs from state-run financial institutions, and employee-retention incentives to encourage enterprises to literally go back to business.

A vigorous “Made in the Philippines” campaign is also among my proposals to encourage buying and consuming more of our locally-made products and even services.

We will get people back to work to pump up the economy through Cash-for-Work programs by engaging both the public and private sectors in providing our labor force with cash assistance for jobs that they may be able to do in their communities. We are also exploring the application of industry and employer-led skills training schemes, following the best practices of other nations, in securing a highly skilled workforce to boost our national competitiveness and to encourage both public and private investment.

An apprenticeship program where able-bodied and qualified college graduates and undergraduates, even junior and senior high school students, can undergo paid internships in government offices, as well as in private corporations and businesses, is also a viable option to develop their skills and maximize their productivity.

I am likewise drumming up my support and commitment to the agriculture sector, as I have always believed in its great role in transforming economies. My vision for our food providers is clear — to expand meaningful opportunities for our farmers and fisherfolk; to advance an export-driven economy; and to ultimately put an end to the vicious cycle of abuse and corruption hounding the sector. I agree with our experts that the structural deficiencies and governance issues must be addressed if we truly want to transform the country’s farming and food systems.

Under my leadership, the Filipino people can expect the completion and implementation of our National Broadband Program— our blueprint in building info-structure for a digital nation, in order to improve the overall internet speed and its affordability all over our country.

The digital reform that I envision for our country will connect, unify and automate all our government processes in order to improve the efficiency of our business transactions, raise our revenue collections, and ultimately minimize, if not totally eradicate corruption in all levels of our bureaucracy.

I will fast track the roll-out and full implementation of the National ID System under the Philsys Act or RA 11055 which I authored and sponsored after persistently pushing for its passage into law as far back as 1999 when I was still Chief of the PNP and yet to become a Senator of the republic.

You can also take my word for it every time I say that I will guarantee a historic increase in our funding for research and development to boost innovation and productivity, promote an export-driven economy, and increase our competitiveness in the global market.

Also among our priorities is the promotion of the creative industries sector as this has truly been an engine of powerful economic potential. That said, I have already expressed my full support and intent to be co-author of the pending Philippine Creative Industries Development Act in the Senate, which to date, has already been consolidated under Committee Report No. 363.

Whenever I am asked during interviews about the Philippines’ problem, I always say that this country’s problem is government, bad government. The solution stares us right in the face of the problem itself. If we hope to solve the problems of most of the 110 million Filipinos, then the solution must be found in the government itself. It is called good government.

This goes without saying that we need leaders who will walk the talk or will stick to leadership by example. We need leaders who can and will break away from the politics of entertainment, double-speak, and lip service.

Our vast experience tells us that meaningful reforms could not happen overnight. We cannot reform society if people in government refuse to reform themselves.

As the 2022 national and local elections come close, we will hear various economic policies and political platforms. But in the end, our country would require change in the moral acuity among those in higher office. It would demand the values of KKK — Kakayahan, Katapangan at Katapatan in actually turning campaign promises into reality.

Again, thank you for this opportunity. Mabuhay tayong lahat.

The Economy

While the pandemic caused a slump in global trade, especially in the first half of 2020, it also showed that countries are dependent on a globalized market. The reality is that, in this very globalized world, the idea that domestic production is the very definition of the economy could only be half true. For the Philippines to exploit its economic potential, its economic policies should advance efficiency, technological advancement, while ensuring inclusive growth by enhancing the well-being of its citizens. It is crucial that the government should invest more in human capital, such as education and health, since it will not only boost economic growth but will help to end the vicious cycle of poverty.

Foreign investment

The amendment to the more than 85-year-old law has long been forthcoming. In this regard, my position on this has always been consistent: I am in full support of the measure provided that such will be made consistent with the Constitution.

While the classification of what constitutes public utility will have significant implications on foreign equity limitations, it should be carefully defined to be consistent with the intent of the Constitution and guided by the decisions of the Supreme Court. In fact, my amendment to the bill included ‘telecommunications’ as part of public utilities.

I would agree that there is indeed a need to revisit the restrictions on foreign equity in certain industries or sectors. However, we should be cautious in tinkering with the Constitution. Why? Because opening the Constitution for possible amendment/revision, despite the intent to only revise the economic provisions, will open doors for opportunities to revise even the present restrictions on our political system to suit personal interests.

Thus, my position remains that any move to subtly amend the Constitution in the guise of economic reforms which could actually open doors to abuse and promotion of vested political interests must be dealt with utmost caution and hesitation.