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[Transcript] Q&A with Vice President Leni Robredo at the Joint Membership Meeting

10 October 2017
Joint Membership Meeting (MBC, MAP, PCCI, PHILEXPORT, SEIPI)
Hotel Fairmont, Makati City, 9 October 2017

EMCEE: The Vice President will now take a few questions. We’ll give those questions to the heads of the five business groups. We’ll ask them one by one, beginning with Mr. Sergio Ortiz-Luis of PHILEXPORT.

SERGIO ORTIZ-LUIS: We appreciate the program that you’re doing. Often, many of us, especially SMEs, are looking for areas where financing, various financing. Is there any effort that you’re doing in the area of financing for our SMEs?

VP LENI: Actually, that is our primary goal for this year. As we go around the country, we discovered that there are so many… there are so many small businesses which have started already, but are not thriving because they did not have access to capital. So perhaps we can partner with your organization. We have met with a lot of microfinance organizations already to partner with us in making access to capital easier for these groups.
We have gotten around the country already, and we have started meeting with several groups already. For example, we went to Hinoba-an in Negros Occidental. We met a group of women sewers there who have started businesses already. They have markets for their goods, they have access to— They have demand already, but they do not have access to capital. So the Office of the Vice President started meeting with them already.
And one piece of good news is that for the past year, we have been implementing Angat Buhay without any funding at all. It is not part of our— It was not part of our mandate, since our mandate is mostly ceremonial, so we were actually dependent on private partnerships for a very long time. But just before coming over, at noon today, we came from the Senate to attend the budget hearing and the Senate decided to give us a small amount to start Angat Buhay with.
So it is a very good development, in the sense that if there are urgent matters that come our way, we do not have to depend solely on private partnerships anymore. But Sir, if your organization can give us time to present our programs with you, we have a lot of existing micro-small businesses already, just waiting to be heard.

EMCEE: Mr. George Barcelon of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

GEORGE BARCELON: First of all, I’d like to thank Vice President Leni Robredo for accepting the PCCI upcoming Philippine Business Conference that will be held October 18, and she will be there to grace the occasion and be our keynote speaker. Thank you, Madam.

VP LENI: Thank you for the invitation.

GEORGE BARCELON: This is… This has something to do with one of your pillars, on public education. And something that the PCCI has been advocating. Because we’re talking about creating more jobs. We hardly have the skill sets to match those job opportunities. We’re very focused on the technical-vocational educational training, but to be honest, it’s still not enough. We’d appreciate if there is any help that the government offers, so that we can spread it to our local chambers. I know you mentioned that you’re working in about 143 communities—

VP LENI: 153 now. As of today, 153.

BARCELON: That’s very good, because we have— the PCCI has about more than 110 local chambers spread all over the Philippines, so we will be very happy if there’s any collaboration with your office.

VP LENI: We will also link with your organization, sir. In fact, we have been… we have done initiatives already to link public education to existing industries, because we think that’s really the way to go. There have been a lot of trainings already, but they are not well-suited. When I say they are not well-suited, they are just teaching skills, but with no market in sight. We’ve come across so many groups already, we’ve come across so many skills trainings already. But after the skills training, there is nothing there.
So we pledged that as far as the Angat Buhay, as far as the program of the Office of the Vice President is concerned, we’ll only be involved in skills education and, you know, teach-for-training, if there is already an industry we’re partnering with.
Right now, I think, Rapa from my office already visited several of you. We’re trying to look at partnerships with senior high schools, with the industry zone in Laguna. We have also partnered with a seafarer group and partnered it with some senior high schools in Bicol. And we’re looking for more industries we can partner with, because there are so many senior high schools across the country with no partner industries yet.
That’s the— If you’re familiar at all with the senior high school program, that’s very ideal for senior high schools… for senior high schools to partner with existing industries, so that there is an opportunity already for graduates of high school to immediately work after senior high school, for those who cannot afford to go to college yet.
But the problem is there are so many schools across the country that do not have industry partners yet. So if we can work with your organizations, sir, we are very much willing to do that.

GEORGE BARCELON: That’s very good, Vice President. We also have the senior high school workshop program in our chambers activity, and we have a few major local chambers that have already moved in that direction.

VP LENI: Actually, sir, when we were just starting with this initiative, we were stating that senior high schools in Metro Manila, in CALABARZON, and perhaps Central Luzon and the Cebu area would have no problems partnering with industries because there are a lot of those in these areas. Most industries are concentrated in these three or four regions.
But we went around already. One of the senior high schools we visited was a senior high school in Concepcion in Marikina, and they were doing semi-conductor training. They were actually doing that, and they said their problem is they do not have industry partners yet. So we promised them that we would help them look for partners. And I think if a senior high school in Metro Manila has this kind of problem, how much more for other senior high schools in other provinces, where there are not much industries available?
Kaya our partnership with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce will be very welcome.

GEORGE BARCELON: Thank you.

EMCEE: Mr. Edgar Chua from the Makati Business Club.

EDGAR CHUA: Thank you, Ma’am, for that speech. I think the speech has highlighted a number of issues you’ve identified for the economy to grow, including the issues that we need to address.
One thing I would like to ask, Ma’am, which may not have been fully addressed in the speech, was the BPO sector employs—it’s one of the biggest employers right now—we’re at 1.3 million in employment in the sector. There is talk of artificial intelligence that may actually impair this employment sector. So, in your mind, Ma’am, what should we be doing to address this?

VP LENI: I think that’s one of the things that has been scaring our BPO sector already. When the US started their pronouncements on more protectionism , that has sent a lot of jitters as far as the BPO sector is concerned. I don’t know if I’m correct, but right now there’s no immediate threat of pull-outs yet…
There is already? Mayroon na ba? … There is already.
But you know, aside from that… aside from that, perhaps those in the BPO sector would agree that there are no new investments from the US BPO sector. There are none.
You know, aside from the US protectionist policy, we’re also dealing with artificial intelligence. And I think this is where education will be a silver bullet. Artificial intelligence would really create a big dent as far as the BPO sector is concerned, more particularly with customer service. So it would be good if we move up the value chain already. When I say move up the value chain, do more trainings—technical trainings. Make sure that the trainings would be on, you know, AI skills… We refer perhaps to graphic design, game development, those things.
Because if we will just stick to customer service, medyo malaki iyong epekto ng artificial intelligence. So I think that has to be— I believe there has to be a conscious effort, strategic effort, to really concentrate training on technical skills already. So that people in the BPO sector will step up. Hindi na lang customer service skills, but skills that despite artificial intelligence, they won’t be affected.

EMCEE: Speaking of the BPO sector, Marife Zamora of Convergys and Management Association of the Philippines.

VP LENI: I think, Ma’am, your reaction a while ago gave us a hint that there are already pull-outs…

[laughter]

MARIFE ZAMORA: Thank you. I’d just like to address that… Well, in terms of IT-BPO investments, from January to July 2017, there is about 33-percent reduction. Anyway, my question was asked by Edgar already. So I think what I would like to ask is, What would the Office of the Vice President work with the different business groups here today to further your advocacy for inclusive investments? So I think we need specific actions to address the problem of poverty.

VP LENI: Actually, there are a lot of things that we can collaborate with. We actually have been working over the past year with many companies already … We have been working with companies individually, and when I say individually, we try to link with CSR programs of companies and see if there are possible areas of convergence. In fact, we have partnered with about 300 companies already. These companies are the ones funding all our programs. What we do is we position ourselves, our office, just as a sort of a conduit, as a sort of a conduit, where we set the environment for communities needing help. And we partner these communities needing help with companies doing CSR work.
Our realization is that there are so many people wanting to help, but do not know how. And we provide that assistance. If you want to help, what advocacy do you want? If they want feeding programs, then we partner them with communities with very high malnutrition rates. Some companies want to help build school buildings, so we partner them with communities which lack a lot of school buildings. Those things.
But more than that, we’re doing a program now with Seaoil Foundation. It’s all Bridging Leadership Program. It’s actually capacitating the local chief executives in the communities we are in, and making sure they are ready to absorb all the help that is coming their way. It is one of the realizations that we have come across with—that there are many local government units needing help, and help is coming, but the absorptive capacity is very low. They are not ready to receive help, they are not ready to implement programs. So the thing that we’re doing with Seaoil Foundation is a lot of help already.
We are actually launching Angat Kabuhayan on October 17. It is an offspring of Angat Buhay, and we’re launching it because as we went around the country, pushing for our six program areas, which I discussed in my speech, we discovered that all of these are actually hitched on jobs and livelihood. Malnutrition, the core basis… the core reason why there is malnutrition is lack of jobs and livelihood. Public education, universal healthcare—everything is hinged on jobs and livelihood.
So we’re pushing that particular program on October 17. But the organizations will be a big, big help for us by providing us an inventory of all the jobs they can offer and the skills that they require. Because the Office of the Vice President has also partnered with TESDA, we have also partnered with many other training institutions. We can prepare the community for the kind of skills that you need.
In one of the roundtable discussions we had with the Makati Business Club, one of the things that we realized was that there are jobs available, but some of the skills are not there. So we want to fill that gap. We can provide training for the skills, and provide you with the skills that you need.

EMCEE: Our final question, from Dan Lachica of SEIPI.

DAN LACHICA: Hello, Vice President. Thank you for inspiring us with the Angat Buhay program. Before I ask my question, I would just like to comment on a couple of points you’ve mentioned. The first one, is on BPO and the threat of artificial intelligence, you are absolutely right. Artificial intelligence would just give the no-contact type of service. But for the BPO, as you said, move up the value chain. In fact, I see a convergence between the BPO and electronics, because we are finishing a roadmap, ICT design and R&D, and there are several aspects… in the BPO industry, so we can have a conversation on that.
The second thing is you mentioned that you would work with partners, and you would have companies as partners. Actually, I’d be happy to work with you on that, because today with the TESDA program, we train close to 10,000 high school graduates and employ about 92 percent in the electronics industry. We can expand to add more trading partners.
So to my question: While we are still the biggest dollar generator on exports … but one of the biggest details is we’re also the biggest importer at 22 billion dollars, right?. So what we wanna try to do is localize. Imagine if we can just localize, that’s a huge shot in the economy. Our problem is we’ve gone to Region I, Region IV-A, Region VII, and tomorrow we’re going to Cagayan de Oro. We can’t seem to get enough traction. We’ve involved DTI and DOST. We can’t see to get enough traction on SMEs or the supply chain. And somebody gave us the advice, talk to LGUs. But you know, things like this, you have to have empowerment and leadership, and I guess my question here, Ma’am, is how can you help us reach out to developing businesses, the SMEs, just like you mentioned earlier, so we can gain traction and become world-class exporters of Filipino-made products? Thank you.

VP LENI: This is one of the things that… what we want to do is we also plan activities—We should be more industry-specific when we plan our activities. We have been working with a lot of SMEs already, but one of them, I think we can partner… we can recommend to you now.
I am also flying to Cagayan de Oro tomorrow, baka magkasabay pa tayo. [laughter] I am actually going to Bukidnon. But you know, I think my team can meet with yours, so we can ask you what are the specifics that we need, because we will be very much willing to train, we’re very much willing to organize—because that’s what we’ve been doing for the last year.
Ito lang, as an aside. This is not related to your industry, but one of the things we discovered was that there are so many groups, most of them the poorest, who really don’t have access to information of what the market needs. They do not have access to government programs, not because we lack government programs. They just do not know how to do it.
We have been working with a lot of farmer groups in my district, when I was still in Congress, and we did an environmental scan. We discovered that the poorest of the farmers… When I say poorest, their average income then was only 1,800 [pesos] a month.
When we tried to research— We were engaging with them. We tried to research what kept them from earning what they should. One of the things we discovered was that they do not get organized. So what my district office did was organize them, have them accredited, help them with their organization because they said, “We cannot organize because we cannot, you know, part with our money just for membership and other fees.”
So when we organized them, there really has to be a collaboration with key government agencies. What we did was we collaborated with DSWD, we collaborated with DA, we collaborated with DAR, and asked DSWD, “Can you provide market for the produce of these farmers?” So we entered into a memorandum of agreement with DSWD, where they promised that at least 30 percent of what they need from their feeding program will come from these farmers. So again, we entered into a memorandum of agreement with DA and DAR, where both agencies promised that they will take care of these farmers by giving them access to equipment, input, access to capital, etcetera, etcetera. Without their help, we would not be competitive.
I’m saying this because that might be related to how we will be able to help you also with the program. When we know what you need, then we will be able to respond to that. Perhaps organizing, skills training, pulling government agencies to collaborate.

EMCEE: Vice President, thank you for spending so much time with us! [applause]

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