President Benigno Aquino’s government continues to be criticized severely for budgeting 10 billion pesos to host this past week’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Manila attended by 18 heads of states, including US President Barack Obama, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
What concrete benefits did the Philippines get in exchange for the 10 billion pesos earmarked for that conference? Was that amount better spent lifting from poverty the poorest of the poor, like rice farmers?
Out of anger, thousands of leftist protesters and other militants tried to no avail to storm the venue in Manila where Aquino, Obama and other world leaders tackled some of the world’s hottest issues, such as the need to fight global terrorism after the terrorist attacks on November 20 which killed 129 people and the need to maintain the free flow of trade.
The fact that APEC resolutions are non-binding to all its 21 member states and that the conference is merely a “talk shop”, or a venue for world leaders to discuss global issues but not adopt resolutions that require members to implement them, has further angered its critics.
Critics argue that the Philippines, with about half of its 100 million population still in poverty, should not have spent up to 10 billion pesos on an international forum that will not bring immediate benefits to the country, especially to the poorest of the poor. They argue that 10 billion pesos could have built more schools, created small livelihood projects for those without any steady income and helped rice farmers increase their production and income.
But critics certainly have solid grounds for lambasting the Aquino government on the following:
1] Despicable and appalling lack of foresight and planning as the lockdown of Roxas Boulevard, EDSA and major streets around meeting venues deprived tends of thousands of commuters of regular public and private transport.
2] Equally despicable lack of foreisight and political will to persuade Philippine Airlines and other airlines to use Clark Airport as an alternative to Manila’s airports which were closed to all commercial flights during APEC, resulting in the cancellation of up to one thousand international and domestic flights.
3] Loss of millions of manpower hours and drop in productivity of private companies and government offices as tens of thousands of people were unable to work on time or failed to report for work.
4] Gross incompetence and inefficiency in failing to do proper planning and implementation well ahead of time an international conference with over 10,000 delegates that was scheduled to be held in the Philippines many years before November this year.
These failures and omissions are certainly unjustified, deplorable, inexplicable and should never happened in the first instance, especially because they could have been avoided had relevant government officials done their work much earlier and more effectively than they did.
On the other hand, critics who continue demanding to see instant concrete results of the just concluded APEC conference may be short sighted and narrow minded. Scores might have seen the benefits, but are unwilling for vested political and other considerations to acknowledge them.
With vast information readily available in the internet even via mobile phones, it’s easy to know that the Philippines has reaped IMMEDIATE and MEDIUM to LONG-TERM BENEFITS by hosting APEC’s latest gathering.
These are some of the major benefits that the Philippines gained from the APEC conference:
1] Obama’s pledge to provide the Philippines with US$250 million worth of war vessels, presumably to bolster its ability to defend its interests in the South China Sea against China’s increasing encroachment.
2] Japan’s Shinzo Abe’s promise to provide a US$2 billion loan for a North-South 150-kilometer high-speech train system.
3] Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to find a solution to Canadian thrash that was dumped to the country.
4] Obama’s exposure and endorsement to the world of the ingenious sal-water-powered lamp of Filipino entrepreneur Aisa Mijeno.
5] Aquino’s informal chat with Chinese President Xi Jinping which can help ease worsening political tensions between the two countries over China’s increasing encroachment into islands claimed by the Philippines in the South China Sea.
If APEC critics are really obsessed with dollars and cents or making a detailed accounting of the benefits reaped by the Philippines from the conference, then US$250 million or 11.5 billion pesos in US military grant should silence them. Since leftist militants are fighting for the cause of the poor, including fishermen from Zambales and other provinces at times unable to catch fish in the sea because of Chinese patrols, the US military grant should be welcome to them. Intriguingly, the leftists have never said a word about US assistance which can immediately help poor fishermen and yet they never offer any solution to Chinese encroachment into Philippine territory.
The US$2 billion or 92 billion peso loan offer of Japan’s Shinzo Abe during the APEC conference for the Philippines to build a North-South 150-kilometer high-speed train will certainly help tens of thousands of people get in and out of Metro Manila more efficiently and comfortably. Abe’s offer will likely involve “soft loans” which refer to heavily-concessionary loans that carry very low interest rates and are usually payable over long periods of time, thus providing substantial benefits to loan recipients.
These two items alone — forged during the APEC conference — are more than enough to justify spending billions of pesos for holding a global conference in Manila even if it inconvenienced tens of thousands of Filipino and international travelers.
The additional benefits that the Philippines reaped from the just concluded APEC conference are also worth discussing even briefly.
Whether Canada will take back what remains of 2,500 tons of garbage viciously and callously imported to the Philippines by a businessman said to close to the Aquino government remains a thorny issue between the two countries. Newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was put on the spot on this issue during a meeting with Filipino and international media. He promised to look into this problem and a compromise solution might eventually be reached. Had the new Canadian prime minister not visited Manila, the Canadian government could have easily chosen not to respond to this issue before the glare of the international media.
Obama personally invited Filipino entrepreneur Aisa Mejeno to the APEC’s Chief Executive Officers forum, a very prestigious part of the global conference often featuring the heads of some of the world’s biggest corporations. Obama’s magnanimous gesture has shown to the whole wide world that Filipino entrepreneurs, however small they are, can create inventions that can help the poorest of the poor around the world.
Obama’s gesture should inspire more aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs to press on with their ideas for new businesses, especially those that can help mankind in general. The US president’s gesture will definitely inspire more Filipinos to put up their own small businesses as small-time but promising entrepreneurs — just like Mijeno and her younger brother — can one day find financial and other assistance form big corporations and institutions, like the president of the US who personally endorsed Mijeno not only to Filipinos in general, but to the whole world as well.
A US president’s direct endorsement to the whole world of the entrepreneurial and creative spirit and ingenuity of Filipinos is one immense gain of the Philippines from the APEC conference as it immediately fires up the enthusiasm and commitment of aspiring entrepreneurs to press on with their ambitions while also jolting relevant Philippine government agencies and private companies into helping Filipinos who dream of setting up their own businesses.
A strong boost given by Obama to Filipino entrepreneurship will also go a long way to helping the 11-million strong community of OFWs or overseas Filipinos. Many overseas Filipinos dream of coming home to their to their loved ones back home, to their roots, to their motherland. But they need to replace their good income abroad with a steady and ample alternative income source if they go home for good. After Obama jolted the Philippine government and private companies on the need to provide much needed assistance to the country’s budding entrepreneurs, overseas Filipinos will hopefully find it easier in the coming years to set up their own businesses and rely on supp0rt infrastructures to nurture and grow their own businesses.