WITH only a little over 200 days left in office, President Aquino has to make the most of his two days of being on center stage when he hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting on Nov. 18 and 19, the culminating activity of the year-long Apec conference series.
“President Aquino can banner this as one of his final accomplishments in his effort to revive the economy in his strong campaign for good governance,” said security expert Chester Cabalza.
Mr. Aquino, after all, is the “poster boy for good governance equals good economics” with his daang matuwid (straight path) political platform, Cabalza said.
‘PH can deliver’
Whether his critics acknowledge it or not, Mr. Aquino has made some remarkable achievements on the economic front.
From the investment upgrade ratings to a stable currency, several factors have made investors and analysts worldwide take a second look at the Philippines and baptize it as “Asia’s Economic Bright Spot.”
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte hopes that through the Apec meetings, the Philippines will be seen in the Asia-Pacific region as a “nation that can deliver on a very significant scale.”
“I think that, under President Aquino, we have enjoyed a kind of standing in the international community that allows us to forward our vision of a more inclusive nation and region. The opportunity we have now is the ability to harness that trust and confidence to better articulate and realize our vision,” she said.
Time and again the President has emphasized that the Philippines “is a responsible member of the international community,” Valte said.
“There’s so much evidence of this in terms of our willingness to help in peacekeeping, economic support, among others. Apec further highlights that fact—that the Philippines has arrived, can deliver and will continue to deliver,” Valte said.
Valte said the AELM—which brings together the leaders of the world’s biggest economies—is an opportunity for Apec leaders to see for themselves all the good news they have been hearing about the Philippines.
“It is different when they come and see for themselves that they can bring their business here. That is what the President has been saying, we are open for business, we are under a new management,” Valte said.
Some would argue that there is very little political gain from organizing an international summit like Apec because it is primarily an economic forum.
But Cabalza said that hosting the Apec meetings “cements the Philippines’ position as a serious player in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“The hosting of the Apec summit has placed the Philippines in the radar of foreign investors facilitated by economic reforms done during the Aquino administration. Although there are more reforms that should be done, Apec will certainly open doors to more opportunities based from an evolving regional cooperation and integration,” he said.
“From the investment upgrade ratings, strong macroeconomic fundamentals, anti-corruption campaigns and other economic reforms, the Philippines is becoming an agent of change in the region and a game-changer in a very competitive globalized world,” Cabalza said.
The Philippines, however, should be careful not to “spoil this economic momentum to repaint its bad image,” he said.
Mr. Aquino’s hosting of the Apec summit will also be a “benchmark for aspiring presidential candidates in their bid to sustain economic momentum and inclusive growth to upgrade the standard of living of Filipinos and the next generation to come,” Cabalza said.
For the Philippines to be able to get “economies of various sizes to agree on a set of principles and turn those agreements into action points” is something that Valte considers a “primary gain” for the country hosting the Apec meetings.
“I think that the delegations sent by their respective economies have seen and will continue to see that the Philippines is an economy they can trust and really partner with. And to my mind that leads to greater prospects for our countrymen,” she said.
Valte said that the goodwill established by Mr. Aquino during the summit would almost certainly be carried over into the next administration, whoever the new President will be.
“You are talking to economies and our goodwill from Apec carries over because remember, you have an entire system of bureaucrats that speaks to the economies. So whatever happens in the political sphere, there is an institution that keeps talking to another institution,” she said.
As Apec conference host, the Philippines organized over the past year more than 30 meetings and events in different parts of the country focusing on different sectors and issues, such as food security, energy security, transportation, tourism, women empowerment, climate change, and disaster reduction and response.
All these were done under the banner of the Apec theme, “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.”
“Our theme, which has been a thrust of the Aquino administration, is inclusive growth, and every aspect of our hosting has tried to demonstrate that—from showcasing venues that serve as emerging regional centers for trade and tourism, to promoting topics like resilience and MSME [micro, small and medium enterprises] development, which have been vital to our growth strategy,” Valte said. MSMEs are key economic growth drivers that must be nurtured and honed to allow them to “integrate” into the global market, to be more competitive and “not be left behind,” she said.
“MSME is not just finding one person a job but also a capacity to move up because that one person is in a position to give jobs to other people,” she said.
Valte said the various meetings, not only among government representatives but also with the private sector, had allowed the Philippines to “make solid pitches” for sectors like agriculture and manufacturing.
The beauty of Apec is that it “gives us a forum to speak to other economies and make our concerns known,” she said.
“It also gives us the opportunity to not just air our concerns and issues but also…access to sharing of best practices in economies,” she said.
Apec is a forum that allows the economies to build “relationships face to face,” Valte said.
“Whether we admit it or not, economies sometimes talk to each other when their leaders visit. It is good also that down to the level of the senior officials, they have the chance to talk and interact and get to know each other because that goes a long way into entering into agreements that would benefit all of the parties,” Valte said.
“When you have that goodwill or when you have a certain familiarity with an official from another economy then it makes your work easier,” she added.
The series of meetings that began last January produced agreements intended to help the member economies with policy directions that would benefit the entire Asia-Pacific region.
These include the Cebu Action Plan that presents a road map for a more sustainable future for the individual Apec economies and for the Asia-Pacific region as a whole; the Boracay Action Agenda to Globalize MSMEs; the Iloilo Initiative: Growing Global MSMEs for Inclusive Development; Renewed Apec Agenda for Structural Reform; Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Food Security and Blue Economy Plan of Action; Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy; Disaster-Risk Reduction Framework for Cooperation; 2015 Apec Strategy for Strengthening Quality Growth; the Apec Services Cooperation Framework; the 2015 Energy Ministerial Meeting; and the 9th Transportation Ministerial Meeting.
“All these, of course, contribute to the macro and micro aspects of economic stability, a topic which our economic cluster secretaries will enjoy discussing,” Valte said.