Message of Maria Leonor Gerona Robredo Vice President of the Philippines for the 42nd National Conference of Employers
Thank you very much for inviting me again at your annual national conference. Today is an even more special event because we are also holding the Kapatiran sa Industriya Awards. To all the finalists: Congratulations! We hope that your business practices can provide a viable mode for others so we can accelerate our journey towards a better normal for all.
We are by now all starkly aware of COVID-19’s impact on business and economies. In an annual global competitiveness report, our country dropped seven spots – the steepest decline in Asia after our economic performance slumped amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The stream of supply for production slowed down and the demand for goods dropped. Many businesses, especially small ones, have been forced to fold up or let go of their employees. Very few new investments are coming in, expansion is limited to a few select industries, and risk has become equated with imprudence. Among our people, even those who have jobs are cautious to spend as they did before, worried that in the next day or two, their employers might be forced to lay them off. On top of this, transmission is hitting record numbers in many parts of the country, the healthcare system is being overwhelmed, and prices of basic goods are rising, leaving more and more Filipinos in need of ayuda or financial assistance from government.
We now ask ourselves: How can we truly “reform, rebound, and recover?” What gaps need to be filled, urgently and with resolve? What steps do we need to take? The answers to these questions, of course, are complex, and must take into account not only our economic reality, but the entire socio-political context of today. But from where I sit, I see the crisis as a chance to reimagine the future. The novelist Arundhati Roy said it precisely and eloquently: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world.”
This reimagining begins with a reassessment not only of how our systems work, but for whom it works. And the pandemic has brought a revelation that is central to the entire project of nation-building: Everything is interconnected. When the most vulnerable get sick, the entire network of their linkages is affected: Their families and communities, their workspaces, our operations. Absent an income, our people will have little power to patronize businesses. Without proper digital infrastructure, the next generation of learners will fail to acquire the skills necessary to fill the workstations of the future.
The imperative, then, is clear: The most vulnerable among us – and there are so many of them – must be looped into the cycle of empowerment and economic participation. If we are to rebuild our economy, we must rebuild it with inclusiveness as an animating philosophy – focusing our approach towards uplifting the lives of those in the margins, iyong mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan. The way for everyone to thrive will be to ensure that the energies of our economy flow freely and with purpose – from the bottom up, from the daily wage earner and street vendor, to the big and small businesses, from the margins to the center.
President Biden’s newly launched American Jobs Plan is one model we have been observing. Prior to his assumption of office, millions of Americans lost their jobs in the pandemic, with women of all races and men of color struggling the most to regain employment. This, while the wealthiest strata of society became even wealthier, in part due to tax cuts passed in the previous regime.
President Biden’s economic reset emanates from marginalized workers, women and minorities, and from those who suffered the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. Researchers predict that it could become one of the most effective laws to fight poverty in a generation. The plan’s provisions, which include a generous expansion of tax credits for low-income Americans with children, is estimated to reduce the poverty rate in US by more than a quarter for adults and the child poverty rate in half.
Here at home, the Office of the Vice President, within our meager means, has subscribed to the same philosophy. Over the past year as we faced the challenges of the pandemic, we transitioned from solely protecting frontliners to enhancing livelihood opportunities for those in need. For instance, we launched an online job matching platform called Sikap.ph with Elevatech that harmonizes the needs of businesses with those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. We came up with Bayanihan Mart, an online platform to help entrepreneurs of small businesses build an online presence, market their products and services, and increase their income. Understanding the vast energies of the youth that are waiting to be tapped, we have begun the process of training young social entrepreneurs through the Angat Buhay Young Social Entrepreneurs Program. We also started TrabaHOPE for unemployed youth with the help of USAID and YouthWorks PH of Philippine Business for Education and the Angat Buhay Youth Upskills Program, in partnership with Dualtech and ING, to provide tech-voc skills and employment opportunities to young people from our different Angat Buhay communities. And we are hoping that we can link them to our partner companies for employment in the future.
As has been proven time and again, the private sector plays a critical role in any effort, and you have often been called to step forward and widen your circles of action so that it may encompass more of our people. This to me indicates a deep understanding of a simple truth that can sometimes be lost in today's hyper-politicized landscape: Every Filipino is in this together. I know, for example, that you have proved invaluable speeding up our immunization efforts – from directly procuring vaccines from manufacturers, to shouldering the cost of storing the vaccines, to programs to deploy them widely, swiftly, and efficiently. Your generosity has enabled government to fill in the gaps as we journey towards herd immunity – the first and most significant step towards full economic recovery. Thank you for all that you do for our people.
Now more than ever, we are called to intensify and scale up our efforts. Yes, we need to create jobs; we need new investments. For this to happen, we must reestablish the fundamentals – good governance, integrity, respect for the law, the stability of rules and regulations, and the sanctity of contracts. Beyond doing business, we are called to foster a world that truth-telling, honesty, and integrity remain imperative. It is through the stability that such values create that outcomes become predictable— that horizons become more visible, and that we are able to plan and execute our strategies for the future.
Our task is clear: To widen the reach of our empathy; to direct all our actions towards our fellowmen; to understand that ultimately, our destinies are intertwined. To assert that good governance matters; it has always mattered. And while the government has significant work ahead, you will be on the frontlines as we continue to pave the way towards a better normal.
History has taught us that every crisis is an opportunity to build a better world for Filipinos. As long as we draw strength from each other, we can win. We should be able to do this; we have a long history of emerging triumphant over challenges like this. We may, at times, forget who we really are. But we must remember: We are Filipinos. Strong of spirit and open-hearted. Ingenious. Always ready to reach out and lift each other up, especially in times of need. We are stronger than any struggle before us and I believe in this with my whole heart: With faith, with conviction, and most of all, in solidarity, we will overcome any challenge.
Thank you. Again, congratulations to the awardees. May you have a meaningful and insightful national conference.
 Businessworld. June 18, 2021. https://www.bworldonline.com/philippines-slumps-to-lowest-competitiveness-ranking-in-5-years/?utm_source=Arangkada+News+Clips&utm_campaign=493dc6f5b3-Arangkada_News_Clips_01_10_2018_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_08e85a2ab1-493dc6f5b3-45566941
 The NY Times. March 6, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/06/business/economy/biden-economy.html