MANILA,  February 29, 2004 (STAR) HIDDEN AGENDA By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - Last week was a very bad week for me. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered migrating to any First World country. People close to me could not understand why I was depressed. To them, it was no reason to feel depressed. And why not? I couldnít even feel safe even in my own home. Why canít we be like Singapore where you can walk the streets in the middle of the night and not worry about your safety? Two thousand pesos is not even enough to fill up a grocery cart when just a few years back, it could fill up two.

The 100-day business agenda as prepared by business stalwarts Washington Sycip, Manuel Pangilinan, Jose Pardo and Ramon Ang couldnít have come at a more opportune time. Upon getting hold of the document, I felt more depressed at the deplorable state of our country the paper painted in its opening arguments. We do have a crippling budget deficit, a back-breaking debt, a crisis in investor confidence, and an untenable law and order situation which has led to the feeling of cynicism of many and an exodus of nearly eight million Filipinos leaving the country for better opportunities.

However, after reading the paper completely, hope began to shine through. For some reason, this paper is different. I was half expecting a checklist of demands the business sector requests from the incoming President. On the contrary, the paperís centerpiece message is not about demands. The main message is about how these business leaders can contribute to and support the government for us Filipinos to attain our one wish that we move back on the right track to progress.

The business sector has been giving Presidents a 100-day business agenda since the time of Diosdado Macapagal. But this is the first time, these business leaders have said, in no uncertain terms, that they recognize that for this country to move towards greatness, it has to begin with us. No more finger pointing, just locking arms and pulling together.

The paper is not all talk. These businessmen have committed to the coming administration a minimum of P100 million to bankroll a guaranty fund to help the poor finance livelihood projects to uplift their lives. I heard that Mr. Sycip, the statesman that he is, wants the fund raised to P500 million.

I may not agree with all their points and recommendations, much like Iím certain other groups and sectors will not agree with some of their points. But one cannot disagree with the true spirit of the paper. That we all have to do our share to make this country great again. I must say that in Sycip, Pangilinan, Pardo and Ang, I am seeing a new breed of businessmen. Those that put country first before company. For how else can you explain Pangilinan (chairman of Smart Communications) agreeing to the possibility of taxing text without passing the burden to the common Filipino. Or Ang (president of San Miguel Corp.) signing a document calling for a review of excise taxes on "siní products. Or Sycip (SGV chairman) pushing for more taxes but skewed to the rich and affluent like him?

Iím sure many will take potshots at the paper. But unless you can match the intent of this group to raise P100-500 million for the poor, then criticism becomes unfounded. Having said this, in the end, it is about promises being delivered. If this group fails to execute on what they promised, then this whole exercise of putting together a 100-day business agenda is a waste of time. But if they deliver, then the whole country should listen to their message - It doesnít begin with the government, it begins with us. Iím going to make a bet Sycip, Pangilinan, Pardo and Ang will deliver. They have to. As they said in their paper, "we have one last shot at greatness." And as a good friend told me, "you just have to keep the faith."

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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