Superwoman at the SONA

This time, there was something special in the SONA for Go Negosyo. I was asked to attend since the President will be acknowledging the efforts of Go Negosyo in helping spur entrepreneurial development in the Philippines.

For the past two and a half years, Go Negosyo has touched the lives of so many people, especially the micro and small entrepreneurs and young Filipinos. PGMA’s acknowledgment in the SONA felt like receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award. But, this acknowledgment is not for me but for the cause we represent. For our country to progress, we need to change the attitude of our kababayans into something positive and entrepreneurial. This is our advocacy. This means finding opportunities in every crises, finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problems… in “lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness”. This is the cause our community of entrepreneurs, advocates, the Micro SME Council members, and our corporate partners have firmly believed in.

This recognition is for the trustees of Go Negosyo who share the same vision: Tony Tan Caktiong, Joselito Campos, Felipe Gozon, Dr. Rolando Hortaleza, Carla Limcaoco, Ramon Lopez, Imelda Madarang, Socorro Ramos, Harley Sy, Vivienne Tan, Gov. Lray Villafuerte, Myla Villanueva, and Vicente-Andres Zaragoza and to the hundreds of active advocates and mentors who are dedicating time to reach out and ‘pay forward’ this time to the other aspiring entrepreneurs.

People ask me – how did I find the President’s speech and why did she cite problems affecting the world such as the oil and food crisis. PGMA, in a way, reminds me of ‘Superwoman’, full of energy and with nerves of steel. She came face to face with the men and women in congress, even with what the news earlier stated that she has one of the lowest ratings. The President definitely has nerves of steel. I have to give it to her. She has gone through a lot of external challenges and survived. She deserves credit for helping this country attain record growth in 2007, sustaining the gains of earlier years.

In this year’s SONA, PGMA was stressing that the Philippines is ready to weather the worst that could be brought about by the economic problems in America. In one of my previous columns entitled “Superman meets a kryptonite economy”, I likened America to Superman, trying to save the world but ended up being in trouble.

The high price of oil and commodities are beyond our control. It is true that the economies of the world’s highly-populated countries like China and India are growing and their people’s purchasing power are increasing, affecting world demand. But the current hike in commodity prices are led mainly by hedge funds who bet on oil and commodities as they move higher, adding to their speculative nature.

Let’s admit that the Philippines is in a much better situation in facing global challenges, since it is close to balancing its budget and has achieved a current account surplus. Pockets of opportunities in certain growth sectors like tourism, business process outsourcing, call centers, telecommunication and information technology niches have kept the country’s growth potentials at high levels. I remember Mar Roxas, who was then the Trade Secretary under PGMA. He made these developments as one of his priorities, as he was supported by his boss PGMA. Moreover, overseas workers continue to contribute a lot to the country’s GNP.

Today, positive developments have helped erase an oversupply in office space and have spurred the growth of more office condominiums, call centers and BPO buildings. Residential condominiums also continue to grow, since more people can now afford to buy homes. So, yes, the Philippines is in a much better situation in spite of a global slowdown. The growth in the real estate sector is a testimony that more people can now afford to buy homes. But, what happens to the people who cannot afford? This is where the VAT on oil can go to. We agree that government has to help provide the basics to specially-targeted poor communities. It is important that their basic needs are met, before they can think of getting into negosyo. Of course, the more enterprising one would take on a negosyo at once to improve his condition, starting very small, but working her/his way up the ladder, with sheer determination, financial discipline and creativity.

This is where government policies and programs must continue to support an entrepreneur-friendly environment, like tax relief for the microentrepreneurs, increase in micro-lending programs (with the passage of the Magna Carta for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises), or have bills that would provide tax exempt to coops and micro-lenders for a period of time. The VAT on oil will cover for any shortfall and would allow government to provide help to specific sectors in most need. We cannot keep changing the rules. With market forces influencing prices, eventually the price of oil will go down as it has gone down to 120 dollars and by year end, we may even see oil at levels of 100 dollars. Who knows by next year, it can be down to 80 dollars. High oil price will force people to change lifestyle, force people to save energy, ride the MRT, do carpooling, plan travels better, buy smaller cars. We can prod the government to develop more public transport systems, more LRT’s, MRT’s covering wider areas. Developing the north and south railways to bring down freight and transport costs are needed, following the models of America, Japan and even Europe. There is merit in accelerating the development of alternative energy source, or push for more exploration which we now see in Galoc, and others to follow. Even now, taxi’s and private vehicles convert to LPG. Without oil being this high, we wont see an acceleration of efforts in this direction. This crisis situation, as we can see, presents new opportunities for entrepreneurs. As the whole world goes in this direction, there is no way but for oil prices to go down.

In a democratic environment, which we have today, it is almost difficult to please everybody. In the end, the real judgment of achievement is not measured through ratings but through factual successes in economic targets. The final report card will come in 2010, when she does transfer her leadership to the next Philippine President. You can only imagine the kind of report card President Bush will have as he transfers his leadership to the next American president. America, today, is at the brink of the worst recession or depression, with a humongous trade and budget deficit that so many generations of Americans will have to pay for. The almighty dollar which was once 85 cents to the Euro is now 1.57 to the Euro – close to 100% depreciation.

PGMA has to continue to move on, even if her decisions are not popular. She has nothing to lose as she is not running for re-election. She has to pursue the infrastructure development of more super highways and more airports. This will further allow the transportation of goods at lower prices and open great opportunities for the negosyantes, in terms of tourism and agriculture. Farmers will benefit the most, with their products being able to reach the market on time and at the lowest cost. By allowing greater competition in airlines, we see now lower prices of airline tickets despite jet fuel going up. Now with Fred Yao, one of Go Negosyo supporters, buying into Asian Spirit, we will see further competition and hopefully more areas of the Philippines will be covered.

The next area which PGMA mentioned in her SONA is self sufficiency in rice. Henry Lim Bon Liong, a Go Negosyo advocate, has always been pushing for high yielding varieties and hybrid rice. He has proven that farmers using hybrid rice have higher yields per hectare. PGMA has also mentioned in her SONA how her government’s relentless pursuit of completing new irrigation systems in vast track of lands have helped Edwin Bandila of Carmen, Cotabato increased his irrigated farmland and rice yield from 35 to 97 cavans per hectare. While I am a believer of free trade, I support the position to allow protection of certain industries, if it means ensuring sufficient supply of basic items especially rice. Free trade must also mean fair trade. Some countries would export items that are in effect subsidized and thus are exported at lower prices, thus unduly hurting local producers.

PGMA is indeed a superwoman, an avid scuba diver who releases her stress under the sea. Maybe the silence underwater gives her the tranquility and peace even for just that moment. She has one and a half years to go, lets help her succeed, because her success is the Filipinos’ success. To those who just cannot resist, it might help to read the nice email being sent around, entitled “Ducks quack, Eagles fly”.

Ducks quack, Eagles fly:

“Years ago, my friend, Harvey Mackay, told me a wonderful story about a cab driver that proved this point. He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey . He handed my friend a laminated card and said: “I’m Wally, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk I’d like you to read my mission statement.” Taken aback, Harvey read the card. It said: Wally’s Mission Statement:”To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment.

This blew Harvey away, especially when he noticed that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, “Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.” My friend said jokingly, “No, I’d prefer a soft drink.” Wally smiled and said, “No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice.” Almost stuttering, Harvey said, “I’ll take a Diet Coke.” Handing him his drink, Wally said, “If you’d like something to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA Today.”

As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another laminated card. “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.”

And as if that weren’t enough, Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that he’d be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts.

“Tell me, Wally,” my amazed friend asked the driver, “have you always served customers like this?”

Wally smiled into the rearview mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day. He had just written a book called You’ll See It When You Believe It. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself. He said, ‘Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.'”

“That hit me right between the eyes,” said Wally. “Dyer was really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.”

“I take it that has paid off for you,” Harvey said. “It sure has,” Wally replied. “My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year I’ll probably quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don’t sit at cabstands anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on my answering machine. If I can’t pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action.”

Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of a Yellow Cab. I’ve probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn’t do any of what I was suggesting.

Wally the Cab Driver made a different choice… He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles.