Four days in a Palawan paradise: The Palawan Business Club
It was a happy coincidence that my hosts in Puerto Princesa booked me in a hotel downtown called Aziza Paradise Hotel, a Filipino-owned and -managed hotel resort. It was very edifying that Filipinos can operate hotels that have the same quality as any five-star multinational chain. Aziza Paradise Hotel is a local counterpart of hotel chains owned and managed by Filipino conglomerates like Ayala Land with SEDA Hotel, the PHINMA group with Microtel, the Gotianun group with Crimson Hotel, and Double Dragon with Hotel 101 that has just announced that they intend to put up 100 of their hotels all over the world, starting with Spain.
The owners of Double Dragon have seen the writing on the wall. The biggest challenge to hotels in developed countries like Japan and Spain is the shortage of human resources for the hospitality industry. Even now, numerous hotels in Japan, which is exerting a lot of effort and money to attract foreign tourists, are unable to operate their hotel facilities at 100% occupancy because of the serious shortage of workers. If the hospitality industry in the Philippines can invest a lot of their resources in helping to develop the various skills needed in their industry through upskilling, reskilling, and retooling training programs in collaboration with TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) and NGOs involved in skills training, the Philippines could actually have some kind of monopolistic control of these human resources and can compete with global hotel chains in countries whose populations are rapidly aging and are running short, not only of hospitality workers, but especially of nurses and caregivers.
I was glad to hear that Governor Dennis Socrates of Palawan is seeking the help of the private sector to put up technical training programs for the youth of Palawan on skills needed by agribusiness, manufacturing (such as electro-mechanical workers), and the hospitality sector. He has heeded the advice of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in his second SONA regarding the shifting the K to 12 curriculum towards not college degrees, but towards TESDA-type courses. In fact, among other scholarship programs for the children of the underprivileged, the good Governor is intending to send hundreds of scholars to one of the leading technical schools in the Metro Manila area called Dualtech that has, for the last 40 years, produced more than 10,000 skilled electro-mechanic workers not only for local industry but also for such multinationals like Lufthansa that is employing Dualtech graduates to maintain and repair planes all over the world. Following the same reasoning, the Provincial Government of Palawan is trying to tie up with agritech schools in different parts of the Philippines to train high school and even grade school graduates to become the master gardeners that will be needed by the many farms, large and small, all over Palawan if the agribusiness sector is really going to be an engine of the sustainable and inclusive growth of the province.
Speaking of sustainable and inclusive growth, that was the theme of the road show organized by the Palawan Business Club in which I gave an economic briefing on the second day of my stay in the paradise that is Palawan. More exactly, the complete title of the road show, intended to promote both domestic and foreign investments in the province of Palawan, was “Fostering Inclusive and Sustainable Growth Through Good Governance.” I was very glad to speak along with my former colleague at the Center for Research and Communication (CRC), the founder himself, Dr. Jesus Estanislao, who was also the Secretary of Finance during the Cory Aquino Administration. He was accompanied by Evaristo Francisco, President and CEO of the Institute for Solidarity of Asia (ISA), also founded by Dr. Estanislao. The top officials of ISA gave very important insights and guidance on how the provincial government and other LGU units of Palawan can combat corruption and achieve good governance, as ISA has succeeded in doing in similar LGUS like La Union and Bataan as well as in government agencies like the Bureau of Customs and units of the Armed Forces.
But first, a word about the Palawan Business Club (PBC). It is an attempt of people doing business in Palawan — whether or not they are natives of the province — to replicate the functions the Makati Business Club (MBC) is performing at the national level. Having been one of the founders of the MBC in 1981 — together with its first Chairman, the late Enrique Zobel — I helped conceptualize and organize the PBC. The idea of the MBC was not to duplicate what private chambers of commerce and industry are already doing: to define and defend the legitimate vested interests of business in constant dialogue with the government and civil society. The members of the MBC start with defining what is the common good for the nation as a whole and ask themselves what they can do to promote this common good, even if at times they have to go against their own vested interests.
This is a proper blending of the principle of subsidiarity which states that what can be accomplished effectively and competently by a lower body should not be taken over by a higher body, least of all by an authoritarian State. This principle is the foundation of a market-oriented economy as contrasted with a socialist society. However, the other side of the coin in establishing a just and orderly society is the principle of solidarity which states that every small component of society — from individuals, households, private enterprise and civil society — must always do what is within their capacity to promote the common good, which is defined not as the greater good for the greater number but as a social order in which every person can attain his fullest integral development. Integral refers to every dimension of human fulfillment, i.e., economic, political, cultural, social, moral and spiritual. There should never be a narrow focus only on the material or economic needs of man.
In my personal experience advising communities in many cities of the Philippines, the Palawan Business Club — together with the Iloilo Business Club — has been the most successful in the shortest possible time to convince their constituents in working for the common good of the business community by promoting the appropriate investments in their province and implementing CSR programs. In less than two years, the PBC was able to organize its relatively few members at the start to attract much-needed investments into their province.
The present President of PBC, Quintin Pastrana, although not a native of the province, has mobilized the resources of the company he works for —We Energy of Singapore — to endow the municipality of Sabang — where the famous tourist attraction, the underground river, is located — with a modular solar plant that energized the municipality, prompting a multinational hotel chain to build a five-star hotel in the area for the convenience of tourists who no longer have to go back to the center of Puerto Princesa for accommodation. This success story of how an off-grid community benefited from a renewable energy power grid has encouraged WeEnergy to invest in more of sites in Rizal and Bataraza. Anyone familiar with Palawan would recognize these names as major areas for significant investments, either in tourism facilities or agribusiness ventures (as we described in relation to the town of Rizal). The mention of El Nido should make it evident that these powered microgrids can do much to help promote tourism, as energizing more efficiently these tourist destinations will redound to the comfort of tourists — both domestic and foreign — as electricity supply, and with it internet connections, become more dependable.
The road show organized by the PBC on Aug. 23 also became a platform for existing investors like PLDT and Converge to announce their bullish plans for expansion for the province. One of the founders of the PBC, Haidee Enriquez, formerly of SITEL and now the CEO of MicroSourcing and Beepo, is constantly putting the whole Palawan on the map for potential investments in the ever-growing BPO-IT sector that is transitioning from customer services to more knowledge-intensive industries like animation, game development, data analytics, and fintech. The other founding members of PBC are Marion Malanjao, Clink Hagedorn, Oscar Joseph Miguel, and Ernie Dawson, all natives of the province. I forecast that in no time at all — because of the accomplishments of the Club in so short a period of time — their membership will rapidly swell to more than 50. That was the experience of the Iloilo Business Club. I cannot say the same thing about other business groups in even bigger cities that attempted to follow the footsteps of the Makati Business Club but failed. They shall remain anonymous.
(To be continued.)
Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.