Arroyo invites investors to the Philippines

President Arroyo outlines the progress of her fiscal reforms against the backdrop of political uncertainty.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was in Hong Kong yesterday (June 20) to meet with local business leaders in an attempt to quell concern regarding recent political turmoil besieging her presidency and inveigle them to bring their investments to the republic.

The single-day meeting, hosted by Airport Authority chairman Victor Fung, was a chance for the President to impress upon her audience the encouraging course the Philippines has taken since she implemented the first phase of her aggressive fiscal reform programme last March, and that despite her recent political problems she remains focused on stepping up the second phase of her reform agenda.

Indeed, she was quick to point out that she will not be sidetracked by the current charges leveled against herself and her family. At a press briefing following the conference, Arroyo asserted, "As the duly elected president of our country, I have a duty not to be distracted by divisive politics. My duty is to focus like a laser beam on attracting foreign investment and promoting jobs for our people."

The President explained the importance of promoting further support to education, infrastructure development and social services and ensuring that the mechanisms are in place for sustainable economic growth. She also said this would not detract from the economic planks of her programme, which include the continuation of her revenue enhancement programme, reduction of the deficit and an acceleration of the campaign against corruption.

The President also outlined a range of investment opportunities for international investors in key growth sectors of the country, including mining, manufacturing, and particularly business process outsourcing. Business process outsourcing in the Philippines has grown from almost nothing in 1991, to become an industry that employs some 70,000 people.

"As international investors, whose support is required to generate the prosperity we need to create jobs and reduce poverty at home, it is important for me, to hold a forthright conversation about our political environment, because politics has a direct influence on financial markets and investment decisions," Arroyo said.

"What I told them was 'for better or for worse, actually for worse, there are two Philippines, one that works and one that doesn't. One for the well to do, one for the very poor. One for economic growth, one for high unemployment. I want a united Philippines, one that raises up the bottom, not lowers the top. I aim to break the cycle of division, of destructive politics, tax evasion and a backstabbing political environment that perpetuates the status quo, and I think I am making progress."

Unfortunately, such forthright discussions did not include any comment on either of the current scandals surrounding her and her family. As she battles allegations that she was recorded along with Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillanao defrauding the electoral process during last year's presidential election, her son Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, and his uncle Negros Occidental Representative Ignacio Arroyo are accused of taking payoffs from purveyors of the illegal numbers game, Jueteng. Mikey, has since taken an extended leave of absence.

She has remained steadfast in her silence, despite calls for her categorically deny or acknowledge whether it is her voice on the recording. "I will determine the appropriate time" Arroyo said, "and when that time comes, then we will know why."

The meeting in Hong Kong is just the first in a series of roadshows in which the President and her senior staff will meet with members of the international business community. She has similar promotional trips planned for Singapore and Tokyo, as well as proposed trips to both the US and Europe.