Agri, education reforms top Sulong recommendations

Proposals to rev up Philippine agriculture and education along with fast-tracking financial inclusion topped the list of do-ables that business leaders have drawn up in the latest Sulong Pilipinas workshop for the country to achieve a quick and strong recovery from the global economic slump unleashed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

These recommendations were on the Top 10 list of reforms that close to 500 online participants from various business groups nationwide came up with at the end of Monday’s “Sulong Pilipinas: Partners for Progress” e-conference. The workshop was hosted by the Department of Finance (DOF) in partnership with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

Held via the Zoom large meeting service, this forum was this year’s second Sulong Pilipinas, the government’s largest annual policy consultation workshop.

The event was also livestreamed on Facebook, and garnered about 30,000 views during the workshop itself and thousands more after the event.

After Monday’s breakout discussions, the participants’ top recommendations were presented to the government by PCCI president Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico.

“We believe that these represent the most important measures that the government must take to ensure that our country and our people, especially the most vulnerable, recover from COVID1-19 in a quick and sustainable manner possible,” Yujuico said as he presented the recommendations.

Below are the top recommendations from the workshop:

1. To improve access to farm produce, the Departments of Agriculture (DA) and the of Trade and Industry (DTI), together with Local Government Units (LGUs), should set up a system where small farmers can efficiently deliver their produce to food hubs located in various cities and provinces where prices are regulated by LGUs;

2. To ensure continued learning for all students, especially those from lower-income families, the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) should partner with LGUs and private institutions in providing flexible learning materials, free WiFi connection, and access to computers for both students and teachers before the start of the next school year;

3. To promote financial inclusion and digitalization, the government should implement the National Identification (ID) system and ensure the digital connectivity of all government agencies and LGUs as soon as possible;

4. To strengthen the government’s response mechanism to pandemics, the Legislature should pass a bill providing guidelines and mechanisms on how the different government agencies, non government organizations (NGOs) and other private groups can efficiently and effectively provide aid to affected areas and communities as soon as possible;

5. To improve Internet connectivity and accessibility in the country, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) should implement policies that will allow more service providers to operate, while Malacañang should certify the Open Access in Data Transmission Bill as urgent to ensure its speedy congressional passage by July 2020;

6. To improve the availability of public transportation as the country copes with the adverse impact of COVID-19, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), together with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), should allow the operation of mass public transportation, while ensuring that these adhere to the highest health and safety standards with guidance from the Department of Health (DOH); and at the same time look into more sustainable transportation modes and open more and wider pedestrian and bike lanes within the year;

7. To strengthen the manufacturing sector, value chains and linkages between agriculture and manufacturing should be strengthened for better collaboration, prioritization of homegrown resources and raw materials in supply chains, and enhanced product specialization;

8. To align peace and order initiatives with good governance, the Department of National Defense (DND), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should reaffirm their commitment to the rule of law and to defend and uphold the Constitution, as well as engage in multi sectoral dialogues to promote cooperation rather than animosity across sectors of the society within the next two months;

9. To improve the competitiveness of Philippine tourism and support the development and growth of the sector, the Department of Tourism (DOT) and LGUs should improve coordination, align efforts, and work together to craft a more detailed recovery plan for this sector by 2021;

10. To increase Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) and ensure job creation and preservation, the Congress should pass the Public Service Act, Foreign Investment Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Liberalization of the Agriculture sector by August 2020;

After receiving the recommendations from the private sector, Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II thanked PCCI and the participants of the event for taking part in the workshop.

“Events like Sulong, remind us of the power of engagement, of what can happen when we come together for the public interest.” Lambino said, reiterating that consultative workshops are a way for the government to check the progress of its reform initiatives, and to ensure transparency and accountability in their implementation.

“We always need the public’s insights, which you have delivered during this Sulong Pilipinas workshop,” Lambino said. “It is always encouraging to see such a strong sense of civic responsibility and empathy for the most vulnerable of our fellow Filipinos.”

Also part of the program was the final phase of the Inclusive Growth (IG) Story, a competition in which student groups submitted proposals recommending ways in which the country could achieve high-income country status with zero extreme poverty by 2040.

These proposals tackled the following topics: creating a culture of sustainable investment; advocating financial inclusion through digital effective technology; and establishing an inclusive agricultural micro-financing and insurance.

The student group finalists presented their proposals to the judges, namely Finance Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa Habitan, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Managing Director Pia Tayag, and Action for Economic Reforms (AER) Coordinator Filomeno Sta. Ana III.

The first place was notched by the Threeconomists group from the De La Salle University (DLSU) composed of Hannah Gayamo, Jem Rhey Parrocho, and Gillian Maegan Montalbo.

Meanwhile, Martin Velasco, Aeron Sanidad, and Richard Canlas of the Titos of Puray group, from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, placed second.

The group 11:59 AM consisting of Nicole Formoso, Jego Agabin and Paolo Jorge also from UP Diliman was awarded third place.

The 2020 Sulong Pilipinas forums are being held online to observe physical distancing protocols amid the mobility restrictions that the national and local governments put in place since March to suppress the spread of the highly infectious COVID-19.

Earlier this year, more than 400 youth leaders and stakeholders from more than 100 schools and 35 organizations nationwide participated in the Sulong Pilipinas: Youth Partners for Progress e-conference hosted by the DOF in tandem with NEDA on May 14.

The government initiatives that were among the top recommendations in past Sulong Pilipinas events include the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP), the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, the National ID System, the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Act, the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law and the new taxes on tobacco and alcoholic beverages for UHC’s sustainable financing.

Sulong Pilipinas is the annual consultative conference between the Duterte administration and various citizen groups.

The first consultative workshop was held in Davao City in June 2016, even before then-City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency.

Since then, Sulong Pilipinas has been a platform for stakeholders to come up with and present their actionable recommendations for the government’s socioeconomic priority programs and projects under the Duterte presidency.

At the opening of the Sulong Pilipinas forum with the business community, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the President’s economic managers are pushing four legislative “imperatives to help ensure that the economy recovers quickly from the coronavirus-induced crisis in a strong, sustainable, and resilient manner.”

While presenting these imperatives to the business committee as head of the economic team, Dominguez underscored the need for all proposed economic stimulus measures, including those pending in the Congress, to be fiscally responsible and sustainable.

Dominguez said these four imperatives needed to spell a quick and strong bounce back for the economy are: (1) infusing more capital to government financial institutions (GFIs) to enable them to more effectively assist micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and make equity investments in strategic companies experiencing solvency issues; (2) allowing banks to sell non-performing loans and assets to an asset management company similar to a special purpose vehicle; (3) reducing the corporate income tax (CIT) rate from 30 to 25 percent and other investor-friendly reforms through the swift congressional approval of the recalibrated Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE); and (4) amending the Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act to make it easier for banks to pump fresh capital into the farm sector.

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