MANILA — Guam’s delegation in a landmark tourism and investment initiative was among 516 visiting Americans mostly of Filipino blood who got an unlikely welcome reception when they arrived at their Makati hotel on July 13.
With red banners fluttering in the wind and angry speeches blaring some 40 000 protestors calling for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo treated the visitors to democracy Philippine-style.
The Guam group including prospective investors and members of the business community were part of the First Ambassador and Consuls General Tour a brainchild of Albert del Rosario Philippine ambassador to the United States.
“We wanted to undertake our own initiative to support the tourism industry and so we organized this. Our first attempt generated 516 participants — Filipinos Filipino-Americans and friends and the objective of course is to come over and be able to enjoy the many beautiful locations in the Philippines as well as to be able to enjoy the hospitality offered by relatives and friends. And I think there will also be time for them to explore business and trade opportunities. Others I think will be looking at the possibility of considering the Philippines as a retirement home ” Del Rosario told the Journal.
Despite the ongoing turbulence in the Philippine political system which was sparked by revelations of illegally wiretapped conversations between Arroyo and an election official alleged kickbacks received by her family members from illegal gambling and the resignation of seven cabinet officials and three agency heads (Arroyo’s leading economic team) there were very few cancellations among the tour members. The original estimate for the tour group was between 530 and 550.
Among the 516 who actually arrived were 38 Guamanians who included Kurt S. Moylan president of Moylan’s Insurance Underwriters Inc. and Moy Communications; Judith A. Moylan director of Moylan’s Insurance and Kurt’s wife; Alfred C. Ysrael founder of Tanota Partners; Van Shelley president of Nissan Motor Co. in Guam; and his wife Cecilia; Simon A. Sanchez II general manager of Guam Dry Cleaning and chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities; Lourdes A. Sanchez manager for marketing and sales for Continental Micronesia and Simon’s wife; Frederick A. Black assistant U.S. attorney; Sheena Black Frederick’s daughter; Sen. Michael Cruz chairman of the Committee on Health and Human Services of the 28th Guam Legislature; and Sen. Judith Won Pat of the 28th Guam Legislature.
Also attending with their wives were Robert J. Hernandez president of Atkins Kroll Inc. and Microl Corp.; Mark M.Y. Zhao executive director of Westpac Institute of Management; attorneys Cesar Cabot and Frederick J. Horecky Tomas Ada member of the utilities commission; and Norman Analista marketing director of Triple J Enterprises Inc.
The high point of the tour was an audience with Arroyo on July 14 at the Ceremonial Hall of Malacañan Palace the historical residence of Philippine presidents.
Dressed in a simple powder-blue pantsuit and a white shirt Arroyo strode into the Ceremonial Hall where she was given a rousing standing ovation from the tour group.
The president gave the tour group high points in the economy. "Exports are up; growth goes on — the highest in 15 years the highest in non-oil producing Asia; investments are coming in.
"Job creation is up. Last year we had 3.1 million unemployed — now at least it’s gone down to 2.9 [million].”
Arroyo detailed investments in infrastructure by Japanese company Uniden “They are hiring 10 000 this time; they’re back in the Philippines ” and Malaysian group Mtd Capital Bhd. in freeways. “They are going to build our expressway from here to Batangas port — eight lanes 11 billion pesos — at no cost to the Philippine government.
“Monday [July 18] I have an invitation to inaugurate the Batangas port the alternative international port to the Manila port so that our Calabarzon companies can choose where to go depending on the traffic that they want to encounter or not encounter.”
Arroyo also referred to the expansion of FedEx operations in the Philippines (See “Asian logistics services gear up for economic growth ” in the May 2 2005 edition of the Journal.).
The security situation had also improved she said. “We are a more secure nation for what our administration has been able to deliver has been able to do against kidnapping against drugs in the peace process and with our U.S. allies and regional allies against terrorism."
During her short speech Arroyo expressed her gratitude to the different delegations and encouraged them to invest in the country. She also updated them on plans to put her reform agenda back on track especially with regard to fighting corruption.
“I’m very grateful for this meeting. It celebrates our friendship and shared history with the United States. … While we all share wonderful concepts ideas with the United States especially our cherished democratic traditions the most important link between the U.S. and the Philippines today is persons — our 3.5 million Philippine-Americans who are represented here today. You represent the personification of the cherished traditions shared by the United States and the Philippines — democracy the rule of the law ” Arroyo said.
Arroyo then proceeded to mow down her critics and leaders of the opposition. She also used the occasion to announce new appointments to her cabinet replacing those who had resigned.
Kurt Moylan said the speech was “excellent in laying out bringing back Filipinos and Filipino-Americans to invest here in the Philippines. The economic activities she outlined during her administration are astonishing. I think what she said is right in following the constitution. I admire her. She’s a powerful lady.”
One call for resignation came from former President Corazon Aquino the icon of the first people power revolt in 1986.
But on July 14 Arroyo exuded newfound confidence after being propped up by former President Fidel V. Ramos who offered his blueprint for a constitutional amendment that would transform the presidential government into a parliamentary system. The plan would allow Arroyo to stay in power for another year before a transition government is put in place. She has yet to say whether she would adopt the plan but said she was grateful for the support of Ramos a retired general who continues to have the backing of the military.
After the speech the delegations from Washington D.C. New York Atlanta New Orleans Honolulu Guam San Francisco Los Angeles Florida and Chicago took turns getting their photos taken with the president. Also on hand for the photo session was Trade and Industry Undersecretary Tomas Aquino Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo Tourism Secretary Ace Durano Ambassador del Rosario and Commissioner of Overseas Filipinos Chairman Dante Ang.
On July 13 members of the Guam delegation attended a briefing by the Board of Investments where they heard various speakers tout the industries and sectors they could invest in.
Celeste Ilagan executive director of the BOI told the Journal that investments in the Philippines were generally rising with Americans among the top investors. Most of them are going into information technology or IT services such as call centers.
“Our Investments Priorities Plan has listed 11 areas of investment — IT and IT services are part of that electronics is part of it because electronics is our largest export then health and wellness (under tourism) —a new sector we are adding. We are leveraging on the kind of medical professionals we have because we know our doctors and nurses and health professionals are highly regarded overseas ” she said.
Other investment areas are agribusiness particularly processed food; assembly of motor vehicles and manufacture of auto parts and components; energy exploration and development; infrastructure such as construction of mass housing infrastructure projects logistics oil and gas distribution waste management and water utilities; shipping and shipbuilding and repair; manufacture of fine and costume jewelry; and fashion garments.
The Philippine Retirement Authority an agency under the BOI also made a pitch for investments encouraging Guamanians to consider building retirement homes and villages or themselves retiring in the Philippines (See “Guam codgers urged to invest in the Philippines” on Page 10.).
Several housing and condominium developments by real estate companies as well as franchising opportunities were also presented to the delegation for investment consideration.
Despite the attractive incentives outlined by the government to would-be investors Ysrael Filipino by birth told officials that government should first address issues such as the lack of enforcement of contracts the Squatters Law which protects the squatters more than landowners and peace and order problems.
Dennis R. Miralles marketing director of BOI said while data is unavailable there appears to be a healthy trade and investment relationship between the Philippines and Guam. The health and wellness industry for example are main beneficiaries with many Guamanians coming to Manila for medical treatment.
Guam investments fall under the United States which in the first quarter of 2005 pumped $5.9 million directly into the Philippine economy up almost 300% from the $1.48 million invested in the same period last year.
As for trade between Guam and the Philippines Mendiola said the balance of trade is “favorable to the Philippines ” with more Philippine products being exported to Guam. No data was available however.
Asked whether he thought the tour was a success Del Rosario said: “We aimed for 500 and we hit 500. And hopefully by next year we should be able to bring more.” He said he is targeting 1 000 travelers for the tour group next year.
“We only had three who didn’t show up but it was not because of the political situation ” said Teresita L. Mendiola Philippine Consul General to Guam. “About two or three called about what’s happening here and we told them everything’s under control ” she added. There was no delegation from the Saipan consulate.
The United States is the largest source of tourists for the Philippines due to the many Filipinos residing there. From January to May 2005 there were 234 038 who visited the Philippines up 13% from the same period last year. Tourists from the United States accounted for some 22% of total tourist arrivals in the Philippines for the period.
The groups from the 10 Philippine consulate offices were given a short tour of the historical city of Intramuros Manila; the Ayala Museum in Makati the central business district; and the presidents exhibit at Malacañang. They were also treated to a fashion show July 14 featuring the creations of leading Filipino designer Pitoy Moreno.
Members of the group also traveled to different prime tourist destinations in the Philippines which included Cebu and Bohol in Eastern Visayas; Palawan in Western Visayas; Laguna south of Manila; and the island resort of Boracay also in Western Visayas. Some travelers said they were staying for a month eager to shop and visit with relatives. The group came at the right time as most malls were holding end-of-season sales. MBJ