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Alberto LimForget the cliché of heartless corporate drones from the 1980s. Today’s businessmen are giving back to the nation—with interest

Laissez faire has been the cry of capitalists since the 1600s, preferring a government that lets market forces do their job. The hands off approach does not go both ways, it seems.

The business sector has been investing in Philippine development, believing that uplifting the nation will result in a better bottom line for everyone.

“I think we need to improve our nation by helping the people get out of poverty,” says Makati Business Club (MBC) executive director Alberto Lim. “There are too many people [living] in poverty. We need to be more welcoming to investors so they will create jobs. So people can be employed and get out of poverty.”

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies reported an unemployment rate of 7.6% last year, while the Asian Development found that some 27.6 million Filipinos live on less than US$1.25 a day.

In order for investors to even consider setting up shop in the Philippines, the country must first put its house in order. The Business Processing Association of the Philippines, representing one of the country’s best performing industries, has identified government corruption as a potential hindrance to the BPO sector’s continued growth. Lim says the MBC has been doing its part in making the country business friendly through the Coalition Against Corruption (CAC).

The CAC comprises members of the academe, business associations, civil society organizations, and church groups. Members of the CAC include the Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN), the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG), and regional groups like Cebu-based Dilaab (roughly, ‘tongues on fire’).

The coalition focuses on implementing and supporting projects to rid government of graft and corruption. Lim says, despite their common purpose, each group has its own project and advocacy. TAN, for instance, has various programs such as the Supreme Court Appointment Watch, Ombudsman Watch, and a project to monitor the procurement of automated polling machines by the Commission on Elections. These projects focus on what the CAC calls “exchanging information on developments and initiatives in transparency and accountability.”

TAN has successfully lobbied for the Freedom of Information Bill, which will give citizens access to government records, especially those concerning appropriations. The bill was passed by the Senate of the Philippines in December last year.

CAC also has a Medicine Monitoring Project. NAMFREL volunteers together with the Department of Health (DOH) to keep an eye on the procurement, delivery, and distribution of medicines in governmentrun hospitals and health centers. The aim of the project is to catch ‘ghost’ deliveries, overpricing, and the diversion of much needed medicines and vaccines.

CAC-member ASoG also has Government Watch to monitor three government agencies: the DOH, Department of Education (DepEd), and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The ASoG tracks agency implementation of programs as well as their expenditure. The ASoG even has a partnership with the DepEd to allow volunteers from scouting organizations to monitor the construction of school buildings and the distribution of textbooks.

Lim’s own MBC has a particular focus on legislation. The business club has CongressWatch, a project that monitors the country’s lawmakers. “We monitor legislation, the bills that are going through Congress. If there are bills that we’d like to support, or bills that are not fit for the national interest, we comment on it.”

Aside from that, the MBC also maintains a database of legislators’ attendance when Congress is in session as well as their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. According to Lim, the MBC’s files are more comprehensive compared to those kept by other business associations.

The MBC has also taken a more active role in national issues, taking a stand on issues like the onerous ZTE National Broadband Network deal and the recent massacre in Maguindanao.

Change From Within
While some groups focus on government activities, another CAC member organization is taking another approach. The church-based Dilaab, for example, has a formation program to instill change from within. While it also takes positions on issues like charter change and reproductive health, it claims that its main mission is “Forming heroic Christian citizens” for “a transformed Filipino nation.”

This approach is one that resonates well with members of the Anvil Business Club. As their president, Daniel Ching, says, the development of a nation relies more on the personal development of its people than on ‘bandaid’ solutions. “As Chief Justice [Reynato] Puno said, all of our current problems are rooted in our moral problems,” Ching explains. Anvil believes that change can be achieved through civic and moral education. Ching says the government should create highereducation scholarships and adult-education programs, and provide technical training courses for the youth. He cautions, “We must not jump to step two or three without passing through step one.”

According to Ching, Anvil is planning to launch a grassroots level moral or civic education program for preteens, teenagers, and families. “One of our objectives is to incorporate entrepreneurship classes with our civic education program to enable our participants to see their potentials and become creators of opportunities.”

The Anvil Business Club is also planning on working alongside Chief Justice Puno’s Moral Force Movement. Ching admits that this advocacy is still in its infancy, but adds that “this is a group that must be watched as this may gain momentum once the Chief Justice retires on May 17.”

Although businessmen have been increasing their participation in nation building, government is not entirely off the hook. A nation with a principled people but a corrupt government is just as doomed to a life of poverty and mediocrity. “Hopefully, the next president can put morality back into our society, so that we will be on the way to become the next tiger of Asia,” Ching says.

Print ed: 02/10

 

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