In an exclusive interview before the SONA, Austen Chamberlain, president of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) said that Aquino can deliver but it is contingent on his getting the right people, getting good advice, having the political will, and having the energy to continue to make the right decisions. He asserts, “I believe he can do it. And, hopefully, he will.”
His post-SONA rejoinder reads, “The message was clear and the content reasonable. I didn’t see a lot of Shock and Awe, but then again I might have, had there not been the build up in the papers.”
As head of Amcham, Chamberlain meets his counterparts monthly under the auspices of the Joint Foreign Chambers. He shares their impetus for growth to advance foreign direct investment (FDI): improve the climate for foreign investments by allowing more foreign ownership and participation in the economy, leveling the playing field, and a justice system that works.
The priority bills they believe will help the country attract substantial foreign investments are: the formation of a department for information and communications technology (DICT), and laws on transparency, anti-smuggling, and corruption.
Chamberlain said the new President is on the right track though. Aquino has to create jobs, invest in infrastructure, create transparency, improve procurement processes, and zero based budgeting.
There is a lot of work to be done and he hopes BSA’s team will stay focused on this vision of improving the lives of Filipinos, “I believe there is a lot more to do in order to accomplish these goals and fighting corruption is a major task that cannot be eradicated overnight. I hope that this does not sidetrack the new administration to the exclusion of a holistic approach to all the problems e.g., obtaining more foreign investment to create economic growth, jobs, extend education by 2 years, improve proficiency in the English language, and make hard decisions that are in the best interest of the country rather than populist.”
The Amcham president said it is hard to be in Aquino’s shoes because it is difficult to keep everybody happy since there are so many opposing forces to everything, “You can get so bogged down and mired by having all these opposing forces that are just too complex and too complicated. Somebody has to come in and say this is how we are going to do it. We are going to make some people angry but if want to get from this point and move forward we have to do this, this, and this. Unfortunately, you cannot keep everybody happy all the time.”
On the issue whether increased labor and electricity costs may force present investors to relocate elsewhere, he feels that labor cost is high because labor and government have not achieved the proper balance between productivity and populist policy. Labor cost in the Philippines compared to neighbors is higher. While, electricity costs have gone up basically because of lack of supply and sudden increase in demand.
Chamberlain explained that the country has been experiencing capital flight for a long time. Goodyear, Intel and many others closed their factories. He said a lot of it is due to China and the fierce competition from other Asian countries, “If you want the investments and the jobs, you have to compete regionally against China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Hongkong, etc. But there have been new factories that have come in as well. Texas Instruments invested a billion and a half in Clark. So the companies that have been here for a long time and have flourished here have reinvested. But there is not a lot of new investment other than Hanjin shipbuilding factory in Subic.”
Chamberlain observed that there seems to be more optimism in the air—more than anytime in the last 10 years, and that the SONA built on that sense of optimism. “The people I have talked and listened to generally feel there is a better chance then ever that the country will finally begin moving forward. There are always people that will disagree and fight progress every step of the way...that is democracy. But I sense that the general population is behind this and that a new “People Power” will emerge. Not one that marches down EDSA but people uniting in a single purpose to fight the county’s problems together for the betterment of all its citizens. When you get enough people thinking that way, you get synergy and if you do it with honesty, with integrity and with the right principles and purpose in mind, good things can happen,” he said, concluding, “Well done Mr. Aquino!”
Austen Chamberlain is the president and CEO of Carepak Moving and Storage, a leader in the international Moving, Storage, and Records Management Service industries in the Philippines. Since investing in the company, it has grown two fold in 7 years with increased market share, and a diversified revenue base including handling of shipments in and out of Micronesia. Carepak is the Network Representative for Allied Pickfords in the APAC and ME, Allied International in the Americas and Team Allied Europe. It is the world’s largest network of quality moving companies. Allied’s parent company is Sirva Inc. and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).