Last week, young industrialist Joey Concepcion, the last speaker for the night, strode into the podium of the La Salle’s Graduate School of Business “fearless forecast” symposium sans the flashy Powerpoint presentation. All he had is a firm conviction that he needed to speak to the participants because in that room, he felt, are the future of the country that is currently hobbled by shoot-in-the-foot politics.
His message: entrepreneurs of this country should move on, tough it out, adapt to the changing economic and political circumstances and expand their business operations so they can help their country by creating more economic opportunities and jobs. And they should pay the right amount of taxes. That way they could help build this country without getting their hands muddied in partisan politics.
He had the simplest message, yet he got the group’s attention. And rightly so. If there’s one aspect that may characterize the Concepcion group of companies, it’s their capability to grow during the best and worst of times from the Marcos dictatorship to the present administration. My impression is that the family doesn’t wait for the fair weather to expand operations. Since the country joined the WTO, some “nationalists” thought local “industrialists” will wither away as tariffs of most products were expected to go down. The country’s tariff rates indeed have been going down, but the Concepcions’ businesses seem to keep on growing thus creating more jobs for Filipinos.
The speakers before him rattled off numbers that simply confirmed the posture where they were coming from. Representative Joey Salceda of Albay’s third district and one of President Arroyo’s economic advisers, say the Philippines economy is bound to grow by 5.7 percent next year. No, it will only be 4.6 percent, said University of the Philippines economist Benjamin Diokno, former budget secretary under the Estrada Administration. Or it might be just be 4.0 percent, said Peter Wallace, head of a local business forum, especially if politics will get out of control and the government would fail to collect more taxes. Listening to them, it’s as if the world will end tomorrow.
For Concepcion, those were “just numbers.” What will matter, he said, are entrepreneur’s decisions to move on despite the unsettling political situation. There is always hope, he said. Those who are hopeless, they should pack up and leave. But those who stay or are stuck, they should move on and do their share in nation-building.
And he is right. In fact, if one looks at the combined first three quarters performance of the Philippine economy, it would show that the industry grew by 4.6 percent and services by 6.1 percent, despite the fact that the government, owing to its obsession of balancing the books, has not been spending much on important economic infrastructure. That growth rate therefore reflects the “people’s economy” and is something that the current government could never grab credit for. It’s a product of each entrepreneurial decision to “move on” and do business despite the odds, of each overseas worker’s decision to get that distant job so the dollars are sent home, and of millions more of other decisions to move on and get on with their lives. It’s all about the people, minus its government.
Of course, it could have been better had the Philippines got a friendlier environment in the realm of both policy and governance such that entrepreneurs will even more flourish. Or that, according to Peter Wallace, Gloria Arroyo—in her commitment to family unity—simply joined her husband when he had that lonely self-exile and never bothered to come back. Since she is still there in Malacañang—and that she really has real baggage to deal with (e.g. fertilizer scam, “Hello Garci” controversy, among others— let the politics continue to its logical conclusion. But while the politicians are doing that, let the entrepreneurs, the industrialists, do their business. Someday we may yet wake up to a better world knowing that change came not because of politicians but because entrepreneurs and ordinary people like you and me moved on with our lives despite all the odds.
Welcome to the real world!