Monday, March 22, 2010

Repost from Domini Torrevillas, Philippine Star 3/13/10

A lesson plan for DTI

As of the latest, and most likely last, Cabinet reshuffle, Secretary of Education Jesli Lapus will be moving to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) by the end of the month. I’d like to express my congratulations to Lapus for accepting the position. A three-term congressman before being named secretary of education, he previously earned his stripes as the chief executive officer of the Landbank of the Philippines, transforming it from a medium-sized development bank to the premiere state bank of its time.

Holding a doctorate in public administration, a master of business administration (MBA) from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), and a post-graduate of Harvard University, Lapus first joined the government service in 1987 as undersecretary of the Department of the Agrarian Reform.  

Having held top executive positions in some of the largest manufacturing companies in the country, Lapus presents the most credible and capable choice for DTI head, aside from incumbent Trade Secretary Peter Favila.

Since the announcement, Lapus has been lauded by the business community, with highly-respected Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Donald Dee welcoming him to the position; Executive Director Rob Sears of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) has also given Lapus high marks for his unblemished reputation and intimate understanding of business. Hailed by Sears as being “pro-business,” the onus now lies on Lapus to inspire investors and businessmen alike to achieve greater things with our economy.

From the stands, it seems that the route of localization is the best trail if Lapus wants to make an immediate impact at the helm of DTI. Instead of following the worldwide trend of overextended economies, a logical course of action would be to turn inwards to another economic and cultural exchange, hinged on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). These localization efforts entail increased attention to the tangible, the interpersonal, and the community; direct connections with SMEs and ties with businesses will surely prove useful for Lapus in the following months.

A turn to local business would necessarily move Lapus to ensure the protection of SMEs from unfair trade practices perpetuated by multinational companies that enjoy monopolies, which is a goal perfectly in line with Senate Bill No. 3099, or the Anti-Trust Act of the Philippines. As penned by Sen. Miriam Santiago-Defensor, the Act prohibits monopolies when public interest so requires it.

Presently, developed countries use anti-trust regulation to maintain healthy competition and promote an efficient working market economy; the circular flow of income between producers and consumers in these countries is, for the most part, uninterrupted by unscrupulous practices such as pressuring distributors and other SMEs to continually meet and exceed aggressive sales targets while simultaneously downsizing marketing and promotional support. In the Philippines however, there have been numerous instances of this exact behavior by multinationals forcing their distributors to close up shop, using bullying tactics and pointless mediation.

A well known multinational, for instance, makes it a habit to pass on non-performing accounts onto their distributors and insist that they deal with the problem instead. The same company has been known to cut off their in-house financing for distributors, leaving them to suddenly deal with the higher rates of a third-party bank. Combined with unreasonable quotas and the constant threat of termination, these distributors have no other recourse but to bite the bullet.

While SB 3099 and a slew of other bills on competition law are in enforcement limbo, the often-overlooked yet fully-empowered Ministry Order (MO) No. 69, Series of 1983, puts Lapus at the head of the crusade against unfair practices such as the ones described above.

MO 69 covers everything from price tags to monopolies and unfair competition. As a consumer — but a Filipino foremost — I urge Lapus to see the good he can do in his new position. He can put a stop to our SMEs being trampled under the feet of multinational giants, and maybe even spur our ailing economy to pull itself up by the bootstraps.

I for one am quite excited to see what Lapus has in store for us. If his record at the Department of Education is any indication, the DTI will become yet another feather in his very capable cap.

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