MANILA, NOVEMBER 1, 2003 (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores - What will be the economic destiny of the Philippines after May 2004? Three of the 10 wealthiest tycoons in the country recently asked each of the major presidential and vice-presidential candidates to now start publicly disclosing their detailed socio-economic plans, their government platform on chronic labor problems, high electric power costs, family planning, the failed agrarian reform program, the mining industry problems, the need to eventually shift to parliamentary government, high bank interest rates, on the horrible peace and order conditions and other issues.

The founder of an industrial conglomerate even scribbled down a list of these crucial questions for the candidates, questions that directly affect the investment environment in the Philippines – what bold and far-reaching socio-economic reforms after the 2004 elections the business community and international investors can expect, initiatives that can stop the country’s half-century economic decline vis-à-vis many other Asian countries.

Can Gma 2 Be Reformist? Roco As Economic Czar?

In the luncheon meeting of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at Dusit Hotel ballroom with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), foreign diplomats and multinational executives, she gave few details but pledged "fundamental reforms in politics and economics."

GMA said she recalled this column criticizing her FOCAP speech last year as utterly boring and asked if her latest speech was better. In fairness to the President, she exuded confidence and delivered her prepared speech clearly. However, what was still boring in her speech was its lack of exciting fresh ideas or new policies which the country badly need – whether in foreign policy, economics, social policies, even in political governance.

What was surprising was her saying that of the 21 countries in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), "the Philippines is ranked No. 6 in terms of highest probable GDP (gross domestic product (GDP) growth." To emphasize what she considers a great economic accomplishment, GMA added, "We will only be outpaced by China, Vietnam, Russia, Thailand and Malaysia."

My unsolicited advice to GMA not only for her to win next year’s election, but also to win over investor confidence, is for her to discard the laughable "Strong Republic" sloganeering, tell the public the unvarnished truth about our economic obsolescence and our worsening foreign debt burden, then pledge that her next six years will be radically different in terms of far-reaching reforms.

Secretary Raul Roco should expand the appeal of his candidacy towards all sectors of the domestic and international community by offering his detailed plans and reform measures for economic rejuvenation. He should sell hope to the badly battered business people, informing them of what difference he can make to improve the investment climate of the Philippines.

Sources say that Raul Roco is a favorite bet among numerous executives of the elite Makati Business Club. A top corporate lawyer and literature graduate, Raul Roco is offering himself as an effective anti-establishment candidate and the Edsa 2 coalition’s alternative bet to GMA 2.

Ping Lacson Beyond Anti-Crime? Can Fpj Be Pinoy Schwarzenegger?

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson has been very clear in his strong anti-crime reputation and in his bold reform measures such as advocating family planning similar to that of his friend Senator Juan Flavier. These two major issues are among the most popular issues which the Philippine business community and international investors are concerned about.

It is highly recommended that Senator Ping Lacson present to the business community his detailed economic policies and reform agenda to dispel his detractors’ claims that he is only great in eradicating crime. Will he unveil his platform of government in his sudden availability for a dialogue with the foreign media of FOCAP today, Oct. 27, just three days after GMA’s luncheon meeting? Will a bold platform of reforms be able to steal the thunder out of the possible opposition FPJ candidacy?

What about the mystery called FPJ? How can the business community figure out the possible impact of a non-traditional presidency of the "King of Philippine Movies" Fernando "Ronnie" Poe Jr. on the economic life of the nation? Though his camp has made no official declaration yet, actor Christopher "Boyet" De Leon revealed that his Mano Po 2 co-star Susan Roces has confirmed to him that FPJ will run. Boyet added, "In fact, FPJ already has a platform of government – kapayapaan (peace), agrikultura (agriculture)… and I forgot something else. I believe it’s a matter of time before FPJ makes the official declaration that he will run for president in 2004."

Being an eternal optimist on the future of the Philippines, this writer recommends to FPJ to follow the wise example of US action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger who compensated for his lack of political experience by enlisting the world’s second wealthiest billionaire Warren Buffet and Hewlett Packard IT giant boss Carla Fiorina to be his advisers. If ever FPJ is destined to win the 2004 election, why not invite the country’s brightest financial minds to serve as his economic advisers and help him overhaul our grossly inefficient Philippine economy?

For the sake of Philippine economic progress, FPJ should tap his inner circle of advisers such brilliant minds as ex-Finance Minister and now banker Cesar E. A. Virata; ex-Trade and Industry Minister and now Shangri-La taipan Robert Kuok’s adviser Roberto "Bobby" Ongpin; ex-NEDA chief Gerardo Sicat; DBP president Simon R. Paterno; Agriculture Secretary and Del Monte tycoon Cito Lorenzo; JG Summit Holdings founder John L. Gokongwei, Jr.; Lucio Tan, SM Group founder Henry Sy; Metrobank boss George S.K. Ty; SGV Group founder Washington SyCip; or Asian Institute of Management (AIM) president Roberto De Ocampo.

Former movie actor Ronald Reagan also did well as national leader, since he surrounded himself with capable men and women.

Whatever happens in the much-anticipated May 2004 national elections, let us all demand that all candidates presenting themselves to be president or even VP should submit to public scrutiny and debate their socio-economic plans. Instead of allowing this supposedly democratic electoral exercise to degenerate into a brainless song-and-dance fiesta on the entablado platforms, or what an Asian Wall Street Journal reporter said could become "a war of kabaduyan," let us demand platforms of government, pro-business and pro-investment reform policies.

A young Western multinational executive said that if the political leaders of this country cannot and will not champion fundamental socio-economic reforms after the 2004 election, then the Philippines may suffer the tragic fate of once wealthy but now financially-ruined Argentina, and the next countries that will economically surpass the Philippines would be Laos, Myanmar and North Korea!

* * *

Thanks for all your messages sent to wilson_lee_flores@ newyork.com or wilson_lee_ flores@hotmail.com or wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved