The traditional perspective that business has been trying to evolve from is that its role in nation-building is simply to provide jobs. That, mind you, is an extremely significant role to play when unemployment and underemployment have been the country’s woe for decades. Which is precisely why, when we talk of the ease of doing business, this role belongs primarily to government since the top priority of its citizens, alongside housing and education, has always been jobs.
Business leaders have over the years realized the need and advocated for expanding roles for the private sector as an indispensable partner in nation-building and sustaining inclusive growth. Washington Sycip, Ramon V. del Rosario and George Ty are but some of the champions of this call for business to do more and to pay forward. Yes, they have done well in business but, most certainly, they have also done good by making lives better for the Filipino.
I apologize, but I just have to cite the role that Manila Water, and its counterpart in the opposite zone, Maynilad, have taken upon themselves. These are private companies. One is run by Ayala, while Manuel V. Pangilinan steers the other. Make no mistake, they have made good money from operating as water concessionaires. The Ayalas have done so well that they now have investments in water projects in Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand. Not many may know, but what they have established here in the Philippines is a globally recognized business model.
Enough is being said about the ongoing water crisis, so this short column will not belabor the continuing exchange all over the place about who is to blame. Instead, I want to remind everyone just how tough life was before Manila Water and Maynilad. The crisis you see today is nothing. In those days, numerous barangays simply had no water. Definitely, areas for informal settlers would only have illegal taps or manual deep wells built by some politician that people had to queue for; at times, they even had to pay some person in charge to have access to the water source.
Communities like the one we live in today, Rancho IV East in Marikina, had to engage with Nawasa (the old MWSS) to get it to connect an area previously unserved, as long as the residents there paid for the cost of laying the pipes and installing meters per home. To this day, if you build a house in one of the few remaining lots in our village, you’d have to pay P50,000 so that the original residents who paid for the pipe-laying can be reimbursed in part for that huge cost.
Fast forward to the start of the Manila Water and Maynilad concessions. Both companies invested in replacing all pipes and meters and regulators so that they could deliver clean water with enough pressure. These and more, so that no barangay or urban poor community would be left behind. Everyone finally had access to clean water, one of the global sustainable development goals. And the cost? It started low and was even further lowered, only recently being increased to address growing costs, especially of the needed expansion. And there was no upfront cost to consumers or to the government.
Take a look as well at the schools Phinma bought and invested in, which today educate over 70,000 students with lower tuition and better-quality teachers who are better paid. I believe the Ayala, SM and Yuchengco groups also want to go in that same direction as they expand their investments in education. Aside from the required quota of scholars in their schools, Phinma also provides a scholarship and leadership program for over 100 scholars at the Philippine Normal University, University of the Philippines and Polytechnic University of the Philippines—premier state universities—in education, engineering and accounting. Try talking to one of their scholars, and you will be inspired and filled with hope for the future.
So, next time you want to demonize a private sector investor, ask yourself this: Will the country be better off if business goes back to just generating jobs?
Peter Angelo V. Perfecto (firstname.lastname@example.org) is public affairs director of the Phinma group and former executive director of the Makati Business Club.
Posted on 23 March 2019 under Business Matters section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer