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An excerpt from the speech of ZCCIFI President Pedro Rufo Soliven at the NCC Forum on May 23, 2013

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Private Sector perspective
on ZAMPEN Competetiveness

The latest NSCB results show our Region faring very poorly and has even decelerated, ranking second to the last.

As a Zamboangueno, I  naturally reacted, that there must be something wrong with the survey, and even questioned  the methodology on how they capture these data because Zamboanga City is in a different league altogether,  being  the industrial and  commercial center of the Region. I even appealed  that  separate data be made on Zamboanga City especially on the FIES survey, which I feel was not fair to Zamboanga City. However, friends  from NSO and NSCB opined  that this is not possible , since we are grouped  by regions.

Last October 5,  2012  I was in Kathmandu , Nepal … to compete in the search for the Most Outstanding Chamber in  Asia and the Pacific organized by the Confederation of Chambers in the Asia and the Pacific.  With  God’s grace, we on the award, besting 26 countries.

On that same day, the RCC ZAMPEN met as a council and  this humble representation  was  unanimously elected in absentia as the Co-chair for the Private sector of  the Regional Competitiveness Council.

Wthout any hesitation I willingly took the challenge  with the hope that with the new- found international as well as national profile for the Zamboanga Chamber, we can use this to help bring in the much needed investments for our City and the region. I was in for a big surprise, and later on realized the hurdles we have to face collectively as a  region  while reviewing  our competiveness score card.

As  part of ZAMPEN, Zamboanaga City cannot exist in isolation, we are part of the whole, and for us to improve our competitiveness, we have to go and compete as one region.   Using available resources with a lot of creative,  out- of- the- box ideas we need to look at our present ranking as an opportunity to be better.

Anchored on  what Mahatma Gandhi said ,  we  have to be the change we want to see, and start with you and me.

As part of the whole , we in the Private sector  have to be part of the solution, especially in the Region where we operate. [But] our region is a cellar dweller, ranking second to the last, next to ARMM; this  is something to be alarmed about. I call on the private sector, coming from various spheres of  industries and discipline, to help us formulate flagship ideas and harness the power of these new ideas, by mobilizing multi sectoral energy and support.

The engagement will provide the multi sectoral group to help our respective areas of responsibilities to explore  and determine our preferred future, and its commitment to engage  and focus on the opportunity collectively for the vision to turn to reality. A shared vision for collective action is the driving force to turn our present position around.

Doing the SWOT analysis, we are faced with so many roadblocks but these are surmountable challenges … to overcome our weaknesses collectively as a region and further strengthen our strengths , appreciate  the opportunities and take cognizance  of  the threats. Our role in the equation is clear as well as very vital as a long term enabler to ensure that  current and future weakness can be address.

The future is now,and the time to act is now. From an outsider investor’s   point of view , what will you normally hear, when they know you are from Zamboanga?  In the marketing world, perception is everything. Unless we do something to counter this negative perception about Zamboanga image, that perception becomes the reality. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s master propagandist , once said, that a thousand lies repeatedly said becomes the truth.

Security , peace and order are the top most concern that we really need to address,… From  the  private sector we propose a region-wide security plan  with a multi dimensional approach., starting with the review in the allocation of logistic and funding requirement for our PNP.

In the aspect of liveability indicators,  the factors that determine  the quality of life in the region, the top most concern is our sense of security right in our own community.  Do we feel safe? Are these only perception or unfounded fears?

On the basic utilities like electricity, do we have a  24 -hours a day  uninterrupted power supply? Just before the election , a power crisis hit Mindanao.

In Zamboanga City, the cost of the  average 8-9 hours daily power curtailment … to the business community has  reached  more than a billion pesos …from shorter manpower hours and inefficiency to additional operation and maintenance for fuel to fire up our own gensets.

We therefore urge our National Co –Chair to help us lobby for the EPIRA law  to be reviewed, revisited  or even to amend certain provisions that are inimical to the interest of the business community in the region. We further emphasize the non privatization of Mindanao’s hydropower plant in Agus and Pulangui, as this is  one of competitive advantages of Mindanao - low power cost.

What about our water system distribution, are we getting quality potable grade water continuously and efficiently?  What about  water resource conservation - is it in place? Are they sustainable? Management of the water resources  and  its prudent utilization, sustainability and conservation will definitely add to our competitive advantage.

For our agriculture sector  we have already identified the 5 champion products of our region, which are  rubber, coconut, mangoes, carrageenan and abaca,. This is the best time to shift from just being a traditional supplier of raw materials to [producing]  value added manufactured goods using these  raw  materials as a basic component. We have to think global but act local in preparation of ASEAN integration in 2015. We have to position Zampen as the front door of ASEAN, whose geographic location adds value to the region’s competitiveness.

What about our Economic free port zone and Sangali fishing port  -  how do these economic enterprises  add value to the unique selling proposition  as well as positioning of the region in the overall competiveness of ZAMPEN ? And how can convergence  between the private sector and these  GOCCs  play a vital role in the over- all competitiveness of the entire region?

What about your local government -  how business friendly are they? Do you have an  Investment incentive Board? How frequently  does it  meet? How about the incentives being provided to entice business investment and locators , are they attractive enough to entice them to come? How predictable and consistent are they  on policies and regulations?

What about the basic factors of production like our prices for our land, are they justifiably and relevantly priced?
What about our human capital? How well can the city attract  a diverse group of people and talents? How many talents are there in business and educational environment   conducive  to innovation and creativity?

Lately there has been a  growing call from different business and industry leaders to revisit the labor code, push  for productivity and incentive programs , as well as  letting market forces dictate the current regulated wage standardization by region. We in the private sector feel the relevance  and timing of these issue and support a high level debate as to its pros and cons.

What about our educational institutions and  the offered curricula  - How relevant are they to the communities they want to serve? How conducive are these institutions of learning in providing the environment in which creative and innovative individuals  can grow, thrive, prosper?

Are there existing policies among these academic institutions  of learning to promote competitiveness that is  focused on rebuilding the learning dynamics of the region through research and development?

A key component to raise the competitiveness level of our region is entrepreneurship,. Is there  already a program, where entrepreneurship can be integrated?  A paradigm shift of the students from being a job seeker to being job creators?

The foundation of any highly developed  and competitive city or province rests upon the usefulness [of infrastructure].  How are these infrastructures aligned with the master development plan of your respective cities and provinces as to its  overall vision and positioning of the city and its people? how will these infrastructures  add value and importance to the daily operation of the city? Like our airports, sea ports and bus terminals? What about our road networks - what are the measurable points to consider for these to add value in the overall competitiveness index of our city and region? Like commute time, number of hours lost  due to traffic congestions add  up to the cost of transport and the delay brought about?

We all know that the competitiveness success of a city is  based on two drivers -the ability to ship goods efficiently and freight charges which are competitive  and relevant. High freight is one of the weak points that we in the business community  have to address,  due to very few players in the shipping industry. Our export industry is  complaining that it is cheaper to send goods from Manila to Hong Kong than from Zamboanga to Manila.

We again appeal  that  the Cabotage law be revisited and hopefully open up the shipping industry to new players , even to foreign flag carriers. We also reiterate our call to revisit the Situs law, where companies located in the region where they operate  must pay their revenue or income tax to the city or province they operate.  Currently this is not so.

We also call to fast track  the implementation  of the open skies policy  where Zamboanga International Airport was identified as one of the air hubs to avail of this positive development. What about an efficient mass transport system? Do we have one? Whatever happened  to the plan to connect Mindanao via the Mindanao railway system?

Today , as ZAMPEN as a region is facing the  dawning of a new era   the business community has  all the reasons to be hopeful and positive about what the prospects of the future will bring. The election of new leaders ushers in a new era anchored on transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and participative governance.  With  an overwhelming majority  the message is clear. We hope  that they will use their political capital and goodwill to clearly define our vision for our city as well as  the region as a whole and provide that inspiring leadership …  articulated  convincingly to generate commitment and rally support for multi -sectoral  engagement.

In closing, on behalf of the private sector, particularly the business community, we hope the National Competitiveness Council will help provide a clear diagnosis of the challenges that currently ail our region, and motivate the broad set of actors  who are willing to seek change and implement an outward oriented growth strategy.

To end , I strongly suggest that as cohesive cluster, we need to develop a brand identity that is central  to ZAMPEN’s  competitive advantage. Remedios F. Marmoleno




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