Friday, October 1, 2010


A week after President Aquino’s visit to the United States, Philippine trade consul Romulo Manlapig says he still couldn’t shake off the words that rang like a persistent echo in his ears – “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

The President told a global town hall meeting in San Francisco – aired over ABS-CBN’s The Filipino Channel – other officials are coming to America to follow-through on business opportunities that caught his attention.

He may have been talking about Trade Undersecretary and Board of Investment chief Cris Panlilio, who started working the Washington DC circuit shortly after the President flew for home.

The President, Panlilio averred, seems obsessed with generating more jobs in the Philippines. He corroborated Manlapig’s half-humorous tale about how President Aquino drove home his message of “jobs, jobs, jobs” to Philippine officials here.


Malacanang claimed President Aquino brought home $2.8 billion in investments that’s expected to create over 40,000 jobs.

The amount was broken down to a billion dollars each from Coca-Cola and the energy company AES; $434 million in grants from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); and the balance from US investments in Business Process Outsourcing firms (BPOs), Hewlett Packard and Century Properties (that is developing an area where the International School used to be situated in Makati).

About 60% of BPO investments will go to expanding or establishing new call centers. Panlilio explained a significant amount will also go to nascent fields like medical and legal transcriptions, software programming, animation, accounting services and computer-aided design (CAD).

But that’s just the proverbial icing on the cake as far as President Aquino’s business ambitions in America go.

Panlilio said the Aquino administration is pursuing three major economic initiatives – minerals (e.g. $6 billion Tampakan gold and copper mine in South Cotabato and the $2.5 billion Oceana gold mine in Nueva Vizcaya); resurrecting the car making and automotive components export sector; and passage of the Save Our Industries Act in the US Congress.


The Save Our Industries Act is generic reference to House Resolution 3039 and Senate 3170 pending approval at the committee level. The sister bills would grant duty-free status to garments assembled in the Philippines from US-made textiles and fabrics, that in turn, would enjoy the same duty-free treatment in the Philippines.

If approved, it’s estimated to create 450,000 jobs over 5 years in the Philippines.

It’s expected to generate about $500 million in revenues for US fabric manufacturers.

The stakes are bigger for the Philippine garments industry, according to Marites Jocson-Agoncillo, Executive Director of the Confederation of Garment Exporters of the Philippines (CONGEP).

In the early 2000s, the industry employed over 600,000 and generated about $3 billion in export revenues (about 70-80% of it directed at the US) – less than a decade later, they’re down to 120,000 workers and $2 billion in revenues.


“Our garments industry is dying,” Panlilio declared.

As far as he and President Aquino are concerned, Panlilio said, “It’s not only the biggest game in town, it’s the only game in town”.

“We have our marching orders,” Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa revealed.

The pending bills have initially won bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. S-3170 was co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Republican Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri.

HR 3039 was co-sponsored by Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington State and Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray of California.

Doing the rounds of Capitol Hill this week, Panlilio claimed they have won the support of Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada; and California Rep. Jackie Spier, a Democrat.

When we talked today, he said they working hard to convince the two senators of Virginia – Jim Webb and Mark Warner – because they will be crucial when the bill advances out of the committee level.

Experts say the November midterm elections could change the balance of power and political dynamics in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Manlapig says they are hoping to move both bills during the winter lame-duck sessions.


Gaa believes this is within reach if Fil-Ams work as one. “If our community can engage their lawmakers, they can make the difference,” he declared, citing the experience with the Filipino World War II veterans lobby or more recently, the victory of CNN Hero of the Year Efren Penaflorida.

“The Fil-Am community is a huge driver for the success of the program,” Panlilio averred.

Jocson-Agoncillo argued the bill, if passed, would have immediate impact back home.

For one, Filipinos can be put to work right away, with relatively less training required, she averred.

Gaa urged Fil-Ams to call or email their congressmen and senators, especially with the campaign season raging in earnest.

Gauging from the Philippine campaign, this lobby for the Save Our Industries Act appears to be the most serious government initiative since the Filipino veterans equity bill.

Passage of this bill may be President Aquino’s deep desire but this was also one situation, the officials pointed out, where Fil-Ams don’t need to have a calamity to find a reason to help countrymen back home.

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