MANILA, JULY 17, 2006
 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippines should treat foreign investors as VIPs, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said recently. I hope he and his boss, President Gloria M. Arroyo, will decisively follow through with this idea beyond the PR sound bites. This common-sense idea is long overdue, because many of our politicos and bureaucrats have for years treated investors as milking cows to be harassed, exploited and unwittingly duped, regardless of the incalculable economic losses for the Philippines.

How many horror tales have we heard of barangay captains acting as haughty datus, messing up legitimate businesses by not giving permits? How can we unleash the full economic potential of the Philippines without foreign and domestic investors?

Summit Media boss Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng suggested a column on the "Top 10 Stupidest Business Deals in the Philippines." This writer prefers to start first with some of the stupidest mistakes of our politicians and some in the judiciary, driving away the following top international investors whom President Arroyo should woo back again to the Philippines:

• Macau taipan Stanley Ho, Asia’s "Casino King," whose US$6.5 billion net worth estimated by Forbes magazine this year is bigger than those of our top three tycoons Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, and the Zobel/Ayala clan combined. Forbes reported: "The King of Macau sits on an ever-growing pile of chips. Revenues for Sociedade de Jogos de Macau – Ho’s gaming operation that includes casinos, greyhound racing, lotteries and horse betting – estimated at $4.8 billion in 2005; includes $3.5 billion from the Lisboa, the world’s highest-grossing casino."

Few people are aware that for 20 years, Stanley Ho has also been president of the prestigious Hong Kong Real Estate Developers Association, which is a powerful catalyst of Hong Kong’s rise as Asia’s financial hub. We should invite Ho back to invest in Philippine mass housing, hotels, air transport, and other industries.

Stanley Ho became business partners with a crony of then President Joseph Estrada, who was embroiled in political controversies at the time. Estrada’s political rivals then unfairly demonized Ho’s public image. However, Ho is a respected philanthropist in Asia, to whom the late Pope John Paul II awarded the "Eqvitem Commandatorem Ordinis Sancti Gregori Magni" in 1989. The Portuguese government also awarded him its highest civilian honor, the "Gra-Cruz da Ordem do Infante Dom Henrique," in 1995.

Ho is also a top patron of the University of Hong Kong, the Better Hong Kong Foundation, the Society of the Academy for Performing Arts, and many others.

• Thailand’s Amari Group. Whatever happened to their proposed investments in the Manila Bay reclamation project under the government’s Public Estates Authority (PEA)? Amari Hotels and Resorts is a Thai tourism conglomerate founded in 1965. It now has 15 major properties in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Koh Chang, Samui, Phuket and Trang; it also manages nature resorts and other properties. In terms of corporate responsibility, Amari has established the Baht for a Better Life Foundation, the Duang Prateep Foundation and the Amari Schools Project to help poor Thai kids go to school.

• Hong Kong taipan Li Ka Shing, the world’s biggest container port operator. The Philippine government, in favor of another well-connected local tycoon, unfairly and unilaterally canceled his two winning bids for the Subic Freeport. An angry Senator Richard Gordon recounted this tragedy to this writer, lamenting how Subic Bay had lost an opportunity to become a world-class seaport like Hong Kong. When the President of Panama later visited Subic to study how a former US military base could be converted to viable civilian use – just before the Panama Canal was about to be turned over to Panama after nearly 100 years of US control – then Subic chief Gordon advised the Panama President to invite Li Ka Shing to invest there, and the rest is history.

Who is this port operator whom the Philippine government has so mistakenly turned down twice? Among the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Li Ka Shing is founder of the Cheung Kong Group, which has market capitalization of US$100 billion dollars and has 210,000 employees in 51 countries. Li is admired as the operator of the Hong Kong International Terminals, the world’s largest independently owned container terminal.

At the time he bid for Subic, Li had already become the world’s biggest independent port operator, with 17 ports and 79 berths handling about 10 percent of global container traffic from Shanghai to Europe and Latin America. Li Ka Shing is also a big philanthropist, donating billions of Hong Kong dollars to educational causes in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US.

• Malaysia’s Renong Berhad Group, which in 1997 suffered a bizarre Philippine Supreme Court decision to cancel its winning public bid for Manila Hotel, which would have been beautified with plans of US$100 million dollars in new investments. The hotel was supposed to be managed by the ITT Sheraton hotel chain (which became Starwood, operator of the Sheraton and Westin chains). After the shameful mess, then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad angrily declared, "Malaysian investors will be more careful and will not invest too much in the Philippines." To add insult to injury, then Senate President Ernesto Maceda shamelessly retorted: "We can live without Malaysian investments."

Many of our politicians are some of the worst economic saboteurs who have for decades worsened massive poverty and social injustice in the Philippines due to their incomprehensible stupidity and narrow-minded selfishness. When do we impeach them, haul them off to the dungeons and throw the keys into the Manila Bay forever?

The Philippines cannot fully develop without foreign investments. Don’t listen to the rubbish from the so-called "nationalists" of the National Democratic Front/New People’s Army and their minions. Look at the so-called "workers’ paradises" of Kim Jong Il’s North Korea and Fidel Castro’s Cuba, which have bull-headedly spurned foreign investments. In contrast, the great "economic miracle" in modern history is that of China, which has been so pragmatic since the late 1970s when bold reformer Deng Xiaoping welcomed foreign investments. Look at China’s Communist rulers – despite being still officially at war with the political rulers of breakaway Taiwan, they have already amazingly wooed over US$100 billion dollars in Taiwanese investments!

There is no logical reason why the rich natural and human resources of the Philippines should not be harnessed with more foreign investments. Let us work hard, be pragmatic and improve the investment conditions of the Philippines beyond mere ningas cogon publicity stunts. Let us invite back Stanley Ho, the Amari Group, Li Ka Shing, Renong Berhad, and all others to invest in the Philippines!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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