Opening Statement of Vice President Leni Robredo at the Philippine Business Conference and Expo (PBC&E)
Hello, everyone. Thank you to the PCCI for organizing this forum and for graciously inviting us to be part of this plenary with my fellow candidates.
Our presidency would mean freedom for our people: Freedom from the threat of illness, freedom from hunger, and freedom from the inadequacies of education that lead to uncertainties of the future. With Filipinos safe from the grip of the pandemic, it would mean freedom to dream, and freedom to pursue those dreams.
You all know the situation we are in: Thousands are still getting sick. Many have lost their loved ones. Even more are bending over backwards to put food on the table, doing everything to survive another day. Hospitals are filled to capacity, health workers are buckling under immense strain, and millions of Filipinos are inching closer to poverty and hunger. Meanwhile, as Filipinos struggle to stay afloat, billions upon billions of pesos are lost to questionable transactions in government, and countless lives are lost due to corrupt and incompetent governance.
It is clear: The lack of good governance lies at the root of many of our problems. We must free ourselves from the ills of corruption, incompetence, and lack of compassion. In its place should be a government that is honest and accountable, that puts the interest of the people front and center, that respects the life and dignity of every Filipino. With this kind of governance in place, imagine how much loss we could have avoided; how much progress we could have gained; how many more lives we could have saved.
As I always say: The 2022 elections is not just any other election, because what is at stake are the lives of the Filipino people—the lives of our children and the generations that will come after. We are fighting for their children, their loved ones, their communities, the whole country. For many Filipinos, this is not a matter of personalities; this is a matter of survival.
If we are fortunate to be elected President, we will inherit huge challenges and it will take great effort to rise to them. We will continue to focus—at least in the first 100 days—on addressing the challenges of the pandemic. Last week, we presented to the public our Kalayaan sa COVID-19 Plan, which focuses on three freedoms that are crucial for us to overcome the challenges of the pandemic: Kalayaan mula sa pangambang magkasakit, kalayaan mula sa gutom, at kalayaan mula sa kakulangan sa edukasyon. The details of our platform are readily available on our website [lenirobredo.com]. Every step, every plan, will be informed by the values and aspirations we share. All of them will be underpinned by good governance, by leadership that is competent and compassionate—one that ensures that no one is left behind as we chart the best path forward.
The coming elections is not about me or any other candidate; it is about every Filipino. We are all on the same side, we are bound by the same dreams for our families and our communities, and each of us has the power to bring significant change and build a better future for our country. We need to engage all of society in rebuilding our broken nation and determining the course we take together as a people; and most importantly make the lives of all Filipinos—especially those left behind—better, safer, healthier, and more secure.
I have no doubt, that with our collective strength, all our dreams are within reach. Again, thank you very much and mabuhay! #
Q&A at the Philippine Business Conference and Expo (PBC&E)
QUESTION 1: The first 100 days of a new administration mark an important point in any new presidency. What will be your priorities in terms of policies and programs?
VP LENI: In our first 100 days, we will focus on addressing our most urgent problem—controlling the pandemic and mitigating its impact on our people’s lives. This means increasing support for our healthcare workers, improving hospital capacity, and making COVID testing more accessible to more Filipinos. We will ensure vaccines for all and increase the capacity of Local Health Units to allow them to dispense vaccines on their own. We will not stop at vaccines: We will start stockpiling different COVID treatment medicines and deploy them to areas where there are shortages. We will set aside P216 billion in the national budget for ayuda distribution to protect families from hunger and provide them with their basic needs without being forced to go to work. We will also accelerate the rollout of Universal Health Care by concentrating on enrolling every Filipino in the UHC system in the first 3 months. While people are signing up, we will start partnering with local health service providers to deliver health services.
All of these can be done only if we rebuild trust in our institutions—and that’s exactly what we are going to do. We will put our house in order and restore confidence in the Philippine government. We will continue to engage all of society in rebuilding our nation and making the lives of all Filipinos better, safer, healthier, and more secure. These are just some of the initiatives that we will prioritize in our first 100 days. You can read more about them in our Kalayaan sa COVID Plan at lenirobredo.com.
QUESTION 2: The business sector, particularly the micro, small and medium enterprises of MSMEs, suffered the most as the Philippine economy was ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. DOLE estimates that 4-5 million jobs were lost, and 200,000 MSMEs closed shop. If elected, what is your plan to restore and create jobs and restart business activities of MSMEs?
VP LENI: MSMEs are the driving force of the Philippine economy. In 2020, 70.6% of them [were] forced to close down businesses and lay off employees. While some are slowly trying to restart their businesses or keep them afloat, our administration will protect MSMEs through the passage of a stimulus package of at least P100 billion for the capacity building of critically impacted MSMEs. The package will include grants on the condition that they will not lay off any member of their workforce. We will increase the availability of credit to MSMEs through Government Guarantee Programs, and reduce interest rates on loans and extend grace periods on existing loans.
Almost 4 million Filipinos became unemployed due to the effects of the pandemic. Most of them lost their jobs because of massive lockdowns and through no fault of their own. That is why we will create a National Unemployment Insurance Program which will enhance and consolidate the benefits of the SSS and the GSIS. We will give workers who were laid off involuntarily 80% of their salary for three months.
Our program will also include interventions that will better prepare us for the modernization brought by the [Fourth] Industrial Revelation. We will facilitate training, reskilling and skills training so that our work force is better prepared. We will accelerate our tech and digital infrastructure, and we will ensure that we encourage community entrepreneurship and provide the necessary environment for it to thrive.
QUESTION 3: The roll-out of infrastructure under the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program is touted as a banner achievement, yet at a heavy cost. These projects had to rely on government funding, Official Development Assistance (ODA) and supposed “concessional” loans. What are your plans for a) sustaining infrastructure spending b) ensuring integrity in the allocation of infrastructure contracts and c) avoiding bureaucratic delays in infrastructure implementation?
Follow up: Name one or two major infrastructure projects you propose to immediately undertake under your Presidency.
VP LENI: Infrastructure spending has to be improved: The point is not about building more, but about building better, making sure that quality is assured, corruption is eliminated, and the infrastructure we build actually contributes towards making the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable better. Figures from DBM show that from 2017 to 2020, DPWH disbursement never exceeded 60%, while DOTr spending did not even breach the 45% mark. Our government will prioritize feasible and strategic projects that provide high impact for the Filipino people. This means shifting away from the failed car-centric public budgeting. We need a better balance for a better normal: More bus rapid transits, better service contracts for transport workers, a just transition for transport workers, protected bike lanes, bike racks, safe pathways, better bus stops, and railways for our long-term needs.
To ensure integrity in the allocation of infrastructure contracts: We will map the points where corruption enters the procurement process, and we will plug those holes. This means being more discerning on which projects are actually needed, and which ones are being used as cash cows by politicians. We will also enforce evidence-based cost estimates, and regular audit checks on the procurement process. We will proactively disclose relevant data.
To avoid bureaucratic delays: We will streamline the contracting process in accordance with the recommendations from the ADB. Evaluation criteria will be simplified, and project requirements will be closely specified. Even the registration process for the submission of bids will have to be revamped. We will also capacitate the procurement arm of government units: There should be no more delays because of technical mistakes.
On major infrastructure projects that we propose to immediately undertake: We will prioritize building a nationwide active transport infrastructure, starting with the most traffic-congested areas. Our goal is to make roads for people, not cars. Examples of these would be the EDSA and Cebu bus rapid transits, and the expansion and improvement of protected bike lane networks.
QUESTION 4: Agriculture and fisheries remain to be the source of income of more than half of the country’s population. Despite the strategic importance, the sector remains beset with the decades-long struggle to raise productivity and improve livelihood of the farmers. Why should the farmers or fisherfolk vote for you?
VP LENI: Last year, we saw how the agriculture sector grew in the second and third quarter despite the pandemic and consequent lockdowns. Our administration will double the budget for agriculture from 1.7% of the national budget to 3.4% in 2028, and balance priorities by investing adequately in the different agricultural sectors, such as rice, corn, fisheries, and livestock, among others. We will also increase investments in and modernize agricultural equipment and infrastructure such as farm-to-market roads, and cold storage and postharvest facilities. In light of the Mandanas ruling, another priority is to ensure LGUs are equipped to plan for and implement agriculture-related programs and that they allocate sufficient funding for these.
We will ensure that importation is always the last resort and prioritize support for local production. Our priority is still to move towards self-sufficiency and food security. This not only helps our farmers and fisherfolk but also protects consumers from volatility of food prices.
Our benchmark for effective programs and interventions: Increases in our agriculture workers’ incomes. We will raise their productivity through the creation of a master plan or road map to harmonize production across the country, with the goal of going beyond subsistence farming and moving towards supplying products on an industrial scale.
Our administration will also invest in Blue Industries, such as shipbuilding, aquaculture, and maritime transport. The Philippines has the 5th largest coastline in the world, the 2nd largest maritime domain, and is the 2nd largest supplier of maritime workers. Combined with our strategic location, we have the potential to become a leading maritime power. This sector has huge employment potential in the country, and this is something that our government will really tap into.
QUESTION 5: In the past two decades, the Philippines has been surpassed in terms of economic growth by our Southeast Asian neighbors, notably Vietnam. The gap between the Philippines and the more successful economies like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia has further widened as these countries have already achieved their pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year while the Philippines is projected to return to pre-pandemic levels only by 2023. Under your Presidency, what is your catch-up strategy?
VP LENI: A survey conducted among Japanese companies shows that their main hesitance for investing in the Philippines are our high power rates, slow communications, and poor facilities. We rank last in these areas among the countries surveyed—Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam. To address this, will invest in next-level infrastructure that will help local industries compete, cope with the pandemic, and become innovative. With special attention to SMSEs and agriculture, this includes providing greater access to digitization; upgrading the country’s logistics industry and the maritime sector; lowering energy costs, providing a roadmap towards a more sustainable energy source and in compliance with our international commitments; supporting private firms and social enterprises that provide institutional links between small-holder agriculture and large domestic institutional buyers and foreign markets; incentivizing innovation; and extending credit to SMEs to allow them to physically reconfigure their business establishments to better cope with the changes brought about by the pandemic.
Second, we will invest in human capital to unlock the potential of our emerging workforce. We will build capacity and improve the quality of education, making sure that graduating senior high school students are employable. We will provide trainings to upskill the current workforce in preparation for the shift to digitization.
Third: What we learned in the pandemic is that traditional infrastructure is not sufficient to make the economy resilient. We will shift away from the largely urban, transport-oriented, and costly “build-build-build” emphasis of the current administration. We will build smarter—putting greater emphasis on building and expanding infrastructure to support our current and emerging communities and industries. For example, providing greater access and infrastructure support to digitization will benefit not only the IT and BPO sector, but other industries as well.
QUESTION 6: Digital transformation is the way how countries in the world mitigated the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the Philippines is dubbed the “Social Media Capital of the World”, the country is way behind in digital adoption benefitting access to health and education, ease of doing business and increased industrial productivity. How do you propose to address these?
VP LENI: Our administration will foster an environment that is open to innovation and access to information. Not long ago, the Philippines was known for innovation, with projects like Project NOAH and the Diwata satellite missions. Our government will prioritize innovation by ensuring funding for science and technology. We will foster competition and be open to new ideas. We will properly implement the Competition Act and give the Competition Commission our full support.
We will replicate best practices in tech. For example, the local government of Mina, Iloilo created the Municipal Agriculture Information System, Farmers Agriculture Research Management System or MAIS FARMS, a web-based system for tracking real-time agricultural production and marketing databases that link farmers and their products to premium markets and direct buyers. A system like MAIS-FARMS, when implemented, will benefit local farmers and fisherfolk; LGUs; local vendors and wholesalers; and establishments.
On the supply side, we will amend the Open Access in Data Transmission; allow Internet service providers to operate without need for congressional franchises; remove telcos as a utility to spur investment; and ensure access to the Philippine satellite for wider coverage. On the demand side, we will utilize the National ID system to fit a digital world—physical ID may not be needed; we just need to issue numbers per person and that can be used in an interconnected system. We will also digitize business regulatory processes, which includes applying for business permits, filing legal forms, and sending out notices from the government.
QUESTION 7: The Philippines boasts of having one of the largest working-age population in the world, with an estimated workforce of over 40 million, ages 18-55. Given this demographic sweet spot, what are your plans for Philippine education and preparing the youth for the industrial skills of the future?
VP LENI: Currently, the budget of DepEd is P557 billion, which represents 3% of GDP. Our target is to raise education spending to 6% of GDP as recommended by the United Nations. Our administration will also propose a new round of educational reforms and investment in education to repair the damage wrought by the pandemic and to address the deficit that existed even before that. This means investing in data for effective decision making: We will roll out a national learning assessment program that will diagnose missed learning at the student and school level and will guide a remediation program to address learning losses. We will also continue participation in international large scale learning assessments. We will invest in educators by organizing communities of practice for teachers, school heads, and school boards at the provincial level, so they can come up with localized ways to deal with COVID but also scale best practices of continuous high-quality learning.
We will establish a strong partnership between government and industry to ensure that our graduates are employable and are meeting the needs of the industries we are targeting. We will efficiently implement Technical and Vocational Education and Training and strengthen industry-government linkages. Our experience in Angat Buhay has shown that sometimes, all that is needed is to link schools with local companies and business groups so that these pathways to employment are provided to students.
QUESTION 8: Win or lose, how do you want to be remembered by the Filipino people after the elections?
VP LENI: I simply want to be remembered as a public servant who did everything she could, with whatever platform or resources she has, to uplift and make a difference in the lives of the people around her; a Vice President who transformed her office’s mandate and did not allow the limitations to keep her from doing the work that matters; someone who rose above any challenge, any difficulty and always answered the call to serve, no matter the cost. I hope the Filipino people will remember me as a leader who marched and worked alongside them, who stood with them, and fought for their dreams and the country that they truly deserve. #
Closing Statement of Vice President Leni Robredo at the Philippine Business Conference and Expo (PBC&E)
Once again, thank you to PCCI for opening up this space. It is my hope that with this forum and the conversations that it will start, we will usher in the future of our hopes for our nation—a country where fairness reigns, and where every individual is empowered; where plans are concretized because there is a sensible and efficient government; with honest and accountable officials; and leaders who put the interests of the Filipino people first. Thank you very much. #