, SEPTEMBER 24, 2011 (STAR) (PHOTO - President Aquino speaks upon his arrival at the NAIA yesterday from a working visit to the United States.)

President Aquino returned from his US trip early yesterday morning, declaring that the Philippines is now a tale of success and no longer the subject of “horror stories.”

He cited new investments in the coconut industry as coco water is becoming a hit in the United States. Officials said an investment pledge in the Philippine coconut industry in the next four years had been generated following Aquino’s meetings with business groups.

Earlier reports pegged the amount at $15 million, but officials said the actual figures would be known once the investments were finalized.

The President said other companies have committed to expand their existing investments in the Philippines and explore other possibilities.

“There really has been a big change. Think about it – what we used to export before were ‘horror stories’ about the country’s condition. Now we’re getting invited left and right to share our best practices here in the Philippines. If before we look at ourselves low, now the progressive countries are the ones looking up at us,” Aquino said in a speech upon his arrival from a five-day working visit to the US.

“If before only few listened to our cries, now they sincerely listen to the voice of the Filipino,” he added.

The President participated in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in New York upon the invitation of Presidents Barack Obama of the US and Dilma Rousseff of Brazil.

He said he was grateful to have been part of the new initiative not just as a member but as part of those who would lead in pushing for open, honest and trustworthy government.

The Philippines is part of the OGP steering committee along with Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and the United Kingdom aside from the US and Brazil.

Obama praised the country’s reforms in a brief talk with Aquino in New York.

He said he met with some US lawmakers to make sure the Philippines would have ample support in treading the straight path.

“We are proud to say that our doors are open and the Philippines will openly take care of their investments in the Philippines,” Aquino said.

“The truth is, it is now more appropriate to say that foreign companies are now lining up to improve the country’s economy,” he said, citing two American companies who would like to invest in the coconut industry.

These are the US giant Pepsi Corp., the US beverage company Vita Coco and its local affiliate Fiesta Coco Equity.

“Because it is nutritious, natural and pro-environment, it is becoming the new natural sports drink in the US. Right now it is already a million-dollar industry,” he said.

The President said coco water was sometimes wasted in the country as people never thought they could make money out of it.

He showed two tetra packs of coco water from the United States.

The President said he also had productive talks with the companies that wanted to expand operations in the country.

These include IBM that has investments in the information technology sector, business process outsourcing firms Convergys and EXL as well as CG/LA, which was interested in infrastructure projects.

The President was also able to meet with officials of the US-ASEAN Business Council, a big group that would include Coca-cola, GE, Pfizer, Citigroup and many others.

Aquino said these companies had only one message: “We like what we’re seeing and we are interested to invest in your (country). Let us help each other, we want to help you reach your full potential.”

Aquino said he had been telling the businessmen and various governments that “good governance is good economics” and that the Philippines would make sure that all the economic gains would trickle down to the poor.

Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo said the President had a talk with Coca-Cola officials who assured him that they were on target in their committed investments.

He said CG/LA was a group that put together several companies interested in infrastructure, including some fund managers as well as those involved in construction and engineering supply.

“So the fund managers who are interested gave us some criteria to invest in a big way,” Domingo, who was one of those who accompanied the President, said.

“Criteria like the target yields, conditions that they need,” he added, citing investors wanted a risk-free business environment.

On the other hand, Domingo said there was an equity fund that had expressed willingness to take risks, “but they require a higher yield.”

He said there were no tie-ups yet for the Public-Private Partnership projects but there was much interest in the Philippines.

Domingo said one of the important meetings was on coconut water, “which is quite exciting.”

“On a relative scale, the investment amounts are not so big but in terms of employment generation, that will be a very big contribution and it will be at the right place because it will be countryside development. This will include all the coconut farmers in the chain because buko juice, which they call coconut water in the United States, is experiencing tremendous growth, about 40 percent growth per year,” Domingo said.

Domingo said there were a lot of suppliers like Brazil, but some of them had been running out of supply to export.

“So they looked for other sources – the Philippines. There are so many coconut trees here…We have several suppliers already exporting to the United States, and their forecast is that there will be a big growth for the Philippines,” Domingo said.

Domingo said the farmers would have to plant more coconut trees to make the industry’s growth sustainable.

He said coco water was also becoming popular in Europe and that demand for the product would even become bigger in the coming years.

Domingo noted coco water was being made an alternative to orange juice and soft drinks and other sports drinks because it is natural and preferred by athletes.

“Right now, we have sufficient supply, but once the market becomes bigger because of the 40 percent growth per year, we need to support the planting of coconut trees,” Domingo said.

He said there was no specific number of employment that could be generated “but definitely, we’re talking in the tens of thousands over a period of time.”


Meanwhile, administration lawmakers urged yesterday President Aquino to take advantage of the renewed trust and confidence of the US and other multilateral institutions for the country’s economic gain.

Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, chairman of the House committee on higher and technical education, said the government should seek more aid programs from the US and the multilateral agencies to fund good governance and anti-corruption initiatives.

The administration should also seek an “improved treatment for exporters, like the case of garment manufacturers who are dependent on foreign quotas.”

Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, vice chairman of the House committee on housing and urban development, said the renewed confidence was “a golden opportunity to pump prime the economy and infuse investment to the country.”

“We should reciprocate by removing bureaucratic red tape and corruption,” Castelo said.

“The international community is seeing signs that the Aquino administration is making sure to level the playing field for investors. Since the President is a believer in ODA (official development assistance)-assisted projects, we may expect more of the same in the future,” Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, chairman of the House committee on public information, said the reaffirmation of the US government and multilateral agencies of its support for the country will further boost investments in the country.

“This is really a positive signal that our country is open for serious business. President Aquino’s successful visit to the US has again put the Philippines in the world map of countries which have transparent, stable and sound economic and social policies,” Evardone said. – Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago, Paolo Romero, Rudy Santos

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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