Despite the sudden changes in the business scene brought about by COVID-19, the business sector of Region 2 remains optimistic, as they hold the card to economic recovery—one that has been anchored all along to their competitiveness roadmap.
‘In a society that is trying to combat a massive crisis, what role do we play?’ This is likely the question that most institutions, enterprises, and individuals have asked themselves when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out during early 2020. Day-to-day movements were being classified as ‘essential’ versus ‘non-essential’, and for businesses and entrepreneurs, belonging to the latter one meant that a halt in operations was expected or even required.
These were the events that the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) – Region 2 witnessed unfold as the COVID-19 issue escalated. Yet, even with the sudden changes in the business scene, the business sector of the region remains optimistic, as they hold the card to economic recovery—one that has been anchored all along to their competitiveness roadmap.
The initial itinerary
Back in 2019, representatives of Region 2’s business sector realized that their Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP), which measures the economic performance of a region, is growing at a positive rate. But on a wider scale, it was lagging behind the figures of other regions. Because of this, a cause for change was formed among them, along with a group of initial change agenda champions, including Mr. Cloyd Velasco, Regional Governor of PCCI Region 2.
In photo: Mr. Cloyd Velasco, Regional Governor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry – Region 2
“There was no one who wanted to stand up and take the lead to initiate the change here in our Region. Since [the private sector] was given the chance, we did not hesitate. We jumped in right away so we can help our region,” recounted Mr. Velasco.
Through various engagements with the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Region crafted a competitiveness plan aiming for Region 2 to become the “leading sustainable agri-industrial hub and a preferred tourism destination in Luzon (by 2023) and in the Philippines (by 2028).” To maximize its potential, Region 2 needed to firm up the capacity of the agricultural sector by providing an enabling environment for its mobility and productivity.
This competitiveness plan needed the support of both the public and private sector. However, according to Mr. Velasco, it was a real challenge: “It’s hard to gather all the people [who can] contribute to the changes. In our region, people act in silo. ‘This is my business, this is what I’ll do’; ‘This is my sector, this is my only concern.’ They don’t want to participate in the bigger changes that Region 2 would like to happen.”
While the champions of the competitiveness agenda known as the Regional Policy Change Advocacy Clusters (RPCAC) were rallying for engagement, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly shook the whole business world. Coordination within the RPCAC and its network became even more difficult as enterprise operations started to shift from face-to-face to digital setups. The bigger hurdle, however, was business continuity.
(Related: #ISAngKilosBayan: Leave no enterprise behind)
According to Mr. Velasco, head of the RPCAC, many of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region are having a hard time coping with the impact of the pandemic, with some being forced to close down operations completely. Though PCCI is encouraging SMEs to maximize the loans offered by the government, the needed requirements for application are considerably complex and difficult to complete.
To help provide the basic needs of the vulnerable sectors, PCCI Region 2 took the initiative to distribute food and relief packs for frontliners, transport sector workers, stranded students and drivers, small vendors, and communities not being reached by government aid. On the other hand, they are catering to their network of entrepreneurs through consultancy and knowledge sharing, to help businesses restart and recover from the crisis.
In photos: Initiatives of PCCI for the sectors that were highly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
As things have begun to settle down and enterprises have slowly reopened with new ways of serving consumers, the business world is gradually moving forward in this redefined reality. This then begs the question, what happens to the region’s competitiveness agenda?
For Region 2, though many things have changed about conducting business and facilitating economic growth, the same cannot be said with regards to their regional goal. According to Mr. Velasco, while the tourism and service sectors were down, one sector continued to operate in spite of the difficult situation. This was the agricultural sector, one of the focus areas of their competitiveness agenda.
In photos: Agricultural sector of Region 2
“[Agriculture] thrived even during the pandemic because we needed to feed the nation. Region 2 is one of the suppliers of food so although [its mobility] was lessened, it was not [as] affected. [Suppliers] still [come] in and go out. They can still do their work and do the trade,” stated the PCCI Regional Governor.
For him, that agriculture is a regional asset gives hope for the region to continue its pursuit of competitiveness. He said, “Most of the businesses located here are related to agriculture. We understand that when the agriculture [sector] thrives, a few months from now, all the sectors and the businesses related to agriculture will also restart. It’s a good standing for Region 2 and we’re so happy for that.”
Indeed, it seems that there may be a stronger reason now for public and private stakeholders to engage with the RPCAC in working towards the regional change agenda, as agriculture has become the ultimate card for bouncing back from the impact of the pandemic.
In photo: Agricultural sector of Region 2
For the same reason, Mr. Velasco shares that his personal mindset moving forward remains optimistic: “[While] we are in lockdown, we had the time to sit down and think of ways on how to improve economic growth and competitiveness. There’s a lot of knowledge and wisdom that we received from different agencies and organizations, from colleagues, to be used to achieve the goals we have for our region. Everyone of us is now gearing towards the kind of unity we were looking for before. I hope the unity of the government and the private [sector] doesn’t break because that is our strength. [From there,] we can capitalize on the agricultural asset of the region and really bounce back from COVID-19.”
It is in this view that both the public and the private sector are now called to redefine their roles in the new normal and to collaborate for the nation’s pursuit of a better future.