MANILA, SEPTEMBER 27, 2006 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores  (You must be the change you wish to see in the world. –Mahatma Gandhi)

(Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change. – Alfred Lord Tennyson)

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo seems to have rewarded the loyalty of three Philippine business leaders last September 2 by personally conferring on Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president Donald Dee, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) president Francis Chua and Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) chairman Atty. Miguel Varela honorary doctorate degrees from the government-run Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in Muñoz City, Nueva Ecija. The event was a special convocation attended by numerous business leaders such as Dr. Alfredo Yao of Zesto and RC Cola and academic leaders like CHED chairman Dr. Carlito Puno.

FFCCCII president and Peru’s Honorary Consul Francis Chua agreed to give The Philippine STAR an exclusive interview. He is a top engineering graduate of UP. He is fluent in English, Hokkien, Mandarin and Tagalog since he spent his childhood in Nueva Ecija province, where his late father once had a sawmill. His dad, Chua Giok Hong, was a self-made man who was once a cook of my late uncle Samuel Dee’s Bonifacio Sawmill, but he learned the lumber trade and years later became a tycoon himself. Xavier School, where Francis Chua graduated as valedictorian, has also this year renamed its administration building in memory of his late father. UP also recently honored Francis Chua with an award as its outstanding alumnus. Excerpts from the interview:

Why are you perceived as very pro-GMA?

We are for democracy and for free debate, but we at the Federation are a business organization focused on economic and civic causes. We are not political partisans. It is in the charter of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. that we should support the incumbent and duly constituted government of the Philippines, regardless of the personality in power. You might ask why, because we believe if we don’t rally behind the head of state, the Philippines cannot move forward. If the captain of our ship wants to navigate in one direction but we want to move sideways, the ship of state will go around in circles and will not move forward.

What about the allegations of election cheating and various corruption scandals?

I personally believe nobody’s perfect. But it is my belief that business should support the leader, while we just allow the politicians to debate and discuss issues. We as business people should not be distracted from our vocation. We can’t waste our time joining in political debates directly, because the Philippine economy is already being left behind by our neighbors which are moving far ahead of us.

How do you assess her impact on the Philippine economy, because I think our economic gains are not fast or significant enough.

From an economic viewpoint, President GMA has political will. For example, the Value Added Tax (VAT) was very politically unpopular, but she still insisted on it. I believe she will eventually achieve a balanced budget for the national government in a matter of only two years, or at least within her term up to 2010.

What economic or social issues are you concerned about?

When the Federation was organized, our main concern then was to safeguard the welfare of our ethnic Chinese minority. Today we have also focused a lot on championing economic, social and civic causes beneficial to the whole Philippines. I’m very passionate about keeping consumer prices low. A lot of people in our society are poor, but how come the prices of our medicines are so expensive? There are so many debates on wage hikes but we need to relate this to the actual cost of living. Look at booming China: their workers’ wages are low, but consumer prices of books, medicines, transport and food are very low. Let’s keep costs of living low. Rich people in the Philippines can afford our expensive medicines, but can the many who are poor afford Philippine medicines, which are sometimes 10 times more expensive than those in other countries?

How do you assess our economic prospects, with our many factories losing out to China and Vietnam due to lower labor, electricity and other costs?

We can become globally competitive in other areas such as tourism, information technology, high-tech industries, call centers, BPOs, health care and others. We can still focus on manufacturing industries that require high labor skills. We need drastic economic reforms.

In what other areas should we push drastic economic reforms?

There are many economic areas for reforms. I believe we need to reform the existing agrarian reform law. We need big, efficient farms to compete with global giants. Chopping up farms into small lots prevents us from having economies of scale essential for higher productivity. In feudal times we feared the oppressive landlords with big landholdings who mistreated farmers as slaves, but in this modern world of high technology, we need to go into mechanized farming. Have you seen other countries using planes to distribute seeds and fertilizers? We also need big farms and better technologies. We have so much arable land, we need reforms so that we won’t forever be importing rice, sugar, vegetables and fruits from foreign nations, some of whom had their top agriculturists trained by the Philippines in UP Los Baños or IRRI!

Philippine education is in crisis. Whether government wants to admit it or not, there is chronic classroom shortage in public schools, there’s a lack of well-trained teachers because some are going overseas for jobs, and the standards of English, math and science are declining. What can be done by the business sector to help?

I think reforms are being made. Federation is committed to help bring better education to far-flung rural regions through existing wireless infrastructure. The Philippines has these facilities that we aren’t fully utilizing. Internet is a platform, but the medium is wireless. Since we’re an archipelago and fragmented, one solution is to go wireless in education to bring better teaching to far-flung isles and barrios. For 40 years already, the Federation has also been undertaking our "Operation Barrio Schools" project with Filipino Chinese entrepreneurs constructing and donating over 4,000 public-school buildings to the poorest barrios in all the provinces of the Philippines. Are you aware that every day, there are half a million public-school students nationwide studying in school buildings donated by our Chinese community through the Federation?

Is it true that Senator Franklin Drilon was so angry at government contractors’ public schools costing double the Federation’s public schools that he once channeled his pork barrel funds through the Federation to build public schools?

We at the Federation are very grateful to Senator Drilon for having allocated P250 million of his pork barrel funds and asking us in the Federation to construct for him the public schools he wanted to give poor rural barrios. Other leaders who work with us to bring public schools to the rural poor for the sake of social justice include then-President Cory Aquino; President Gloria Arroyo herself allocated P65 million; Senator Kiko Pangilinan allocated P40 million of his pork barrel funds and others for their public school donations to the rural poor. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that we shouldn’t give fish to the poor but teach them how to fish so they shall be free from poverty forever.

What is your hope for the Philippines?

It is my sincere wish that someday – whoever is the president of our republic – the business community and the public should give our support to our leader. Look at Japan, they have little natural resources and so had to invade Asian countries during World War II, but they unite behind their emperor. The Thais also are united behind their king. My sincere hope is that there can someday be national unity in the Philippines for the sake of economic development.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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