FIL-AM  BILLIONAIRE  RALLIES  OVERSEAS  PINOYS  TO  SUPPORT  RP'S  ECO  RECOVERY

MANILA, August 25, 2004 (STAR) By Zinnia B. Dela PeŮa - Filipina-American billionaire Loida Nicolas-Lewis has urged overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to come together and get involved in steering the Philippine economy towards recovery.

In a press briefing yesterday, Lewis said she would be holding a convention in Cebu next year for the purpose of bringing Filipinos together and provide them a venue to share their best practices and showcase their products.

"Iím hoping that Filipinos abroad can come and help the Philippines. We should work hand in hand in rebuilding the Philippines into a strong republic and a dynamic investment hub," Lewis said.

Tagged as the "Convention of Conventions", this event is expected to attract at least 1,500 delegates from different countries, including the United States.

Lewis is chairman and chief executive officer of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., a US-based multinational food company.

An attorney by profession, Lewis served as an informal adviser and confidante to her late husband Reginald Lewis, TLC Beatriceís founding chairman and chief executive officer.

Lewis assumed TLCís leadership in February 1994, a year after her husbandís death. She immediately moved to cut costs, sell non-core and under-performing assets, reduce debt and strengthen her management team.

Since the 1970s, the OFWs have been significant contributors to the Philippine economy and were even considered a major reason why the country did not falter too much during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.

As of last estimate, there are about eight million Filipinos living or working abroad.

OFW remittances have contributed much to the countryís gross national product (GNP) and foreign exchange earnings. In fact, remittances comprised, on the average, about two percent of GNP in the 80s and that has more than doubled to 4.8 percent in the 90s.

In 2002, a total of $7.2 billion were remitted, accounting for almost nine percent of GNP.

Moreover, the dollar remittances strengthened the balance of payments situation that has been perennially beset by trade deficits.

Meanwhile, Lewis said she is not yet ready to make additional investments in the Philippines until she has put her house in order.

It would be recalled that Lewis was disqualified in the bidding for governmentís 76- percent stake in Philippine National Bank (PNB) as she could not get the nod of any bank to support her bid.

"I had a naÔve idea of buying PNB and Iím glad I failed," Lewis said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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