Sen. Bam’s opening statement at the ASEAN Prosperity for All Summit

Good morning to everyone. Magandang umaga.

 Most of ​the laws we have passed are in support of  MSMEs and I think the favorite of Joey and Sec. Mon and a lot of the people here is of course the Go Negosyo Act of 2014 that was passed to create infrastructure to help our MSMEs, to help them grow and develop with a program that really is directed for that goal.

 A lot of people here I’ve met before becoming a senator. A lot of them know that my work in microfinance and social enterprise has led me to develop some of these policies.

And what you’ve seen is that most of our MSMEs will need what we call the 3 Ms – money, mentorship and market. We need the 3 Ms to create that enabling environment for them to be able to succeed and to be able to grow.

 Former President Arroyo talked about the first M which was money and definitely a lot of our MSMEs need that. We have a number of people here who own banks and who are part of banks, the medium and the large, I think these days are enjoying ​low​ interest rates.

 It’s your micro and small that need better interest rates, definitely opening up other forms of collateral or non-collateralized loans for them, or even a guarantee program which we have been talking about for years, is something that can truly help bridge that financing gap.

That’s the first M. The second M, of course, is mentorship and a lot of work is being put now in DTI and the ASEAN in terms of mentorship. In fact, the AMEN network is really to put together mentors not only from ​your own country but to be able to access that from our countries in the region is also equally important.

But the third M is the most crucial which is market. A lot of our MSMEs, a lot of our ​m​​icro​ and ​s​​mall do have good products, they do have a lot of potential but they aren’t able to access markets. This is something where when we talk about entering the global scene, are we ready, its all about accessing markets.

Initially, or maybe one way to be able to do it, and DTI does a lot of this, is through trade fairs and through bringing you closer to retailers, which I think we’re doing a lot these days. The other one is digital which is to skip the traditional structures and go straight to the homes of consumers. But I think one aspect which we really need to focus on is really to open up inclusive supply chain, which is what ​the KAPATID program is really focusing on.

 The classic example of this, of course, is Jollibee where they opened up their produce to local farmers. And that’s a 10-year program already, which a lot of the companies here I think can get into. These days, our ability to help our intention to provide prosperity for all has shifted already from dole​outs and CSR budgets to truly one where the challenge is opening up our businesses to smaller businesses, to micro businesses and it’s not the easiest thing to do as this has been documented already. But it’s what we need to do.

If we can do that within our country and eventually across the ASEAN, where your larger companies are able to get supply from smaller companies or even micro businesses supplying to small and medium, not just within the province or within the region but across the ASEAN. I think we’re really creating an infrastructure where prosperity can be spread for all.

 Government and non-government organizations can come in in terms of the readiness of your micro and small enterprises because not everyone is ready. In fact, I would say the majority will probably not be ready. So there’s readiness that we need to do both on the side of the large companies, which probably their foundations can do or groups like the Go Negosyo and the KAPATID program can do.

 But there’s also need, maybe this is where local government and the Department of Trade and Industry, through the Negosyo Centers, can come in, support our micro and small enterprises. Get them to a place where they can supply at a quality, frequency and rate that’s acceptable to the larger businesses with their larger supply chains.

If these 3 Ms are present – capacity to get financing, the mentorship, which can be done either through government education institutions and partners, and the access to market, which can be done digitally, which can be done by bringing your products to retailers, and most importantly I think is opening up supply chains, then I think your enabling environment can truly be enabling and we can find success and growth that we want to see in this sector.

Senate Bill No. 689: Rationalizing the Taxes Imposed on Non-Life Insurance Policies

Water-logged vehicles, homes swallowed by the earth, valuables blown over and washed away – these are scenes from the various calamities experienced by Filipinos over the past years.

From Ondoy in Metro Manila to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol and super­ typhoon Yolanda in Leyte, what Filipino families had spent decades working for was taken away and families without the protection of insurance had no recourse but to begin again from scratch.

Non-life insurance policies in the Philippines bear a value-added tax (VAT) of 12% amongst an array of other taxes, such as documentary stamps, fire service and local government taxes bringing the total tax burden to 27.2% per policy. In comparison, life insurance policies carry only 2% VAT after enjoying a 5% reduction thanks to RA 10001.

The prohibitively high taxation rates on non-life insurance have caused Filipino consumers and businesses alike to shy away from this key necessity, placing their hard- earned investments at risk in our disaster-prone nation.

In order to empower our citizens and local businesses to protect hard earned assets and encourage more Filipinos to think long-term, we must pursue the reduction of taxes for non-life insurance policies in the country.

What’s more, as the Philippines enters the ASEAN Integrated Economic Zone, we have a responsibility to strengthen local industries, including our insurance sector who will be contending with foreign competitors who offer non-life insurance policies at 0.4-7% VAT.

This measure will not only safeguard the valued possessions of our hardworking countrymen; it won’t Just shield businesses from the risk of failure after catastrophes beyond their control, but will also create a thriving non-life insurance sector in the Philippines as it competes on a larger stage in the ASEAN.

In view of the foregoing, the passage of this measure is earnestly sought. 


Senate Bill No. 701: Penalties or Fines Against Erring Public Telecommunications

For years, Filipinos have been suffering from slow and expensive Internet as they struggle to communicate with loved ones living abroad, forge deals with potential business partners and clients around the world, or simply get work done and sent quickly and efficiently.

Our collective frustrations over our country’s Internet quality has been justified by studies on Internet speed and cost per country, putting the Philippines as slowest and most expensive in the region.

Being the fastest growing economy in the ASEAN, this is clearly unacceptable and measures to improve our Internet quality while driving down its cost must be prioritized.

One of the many steps we must take is to update current policies to ensure that Internet providers are held accountable for their activities.

Thus, this measure seeks to empower the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) by increasing the penalties and fines for violations against the authority of the NTC and its released certificates, orders, decisions, resolutions, or regulations. With heavier penalties, NTC can expect greater compliance from Internet providers to standards and regulations that have been set to advance Internet quality in the Philippines.

Now, with the promise and potential of innovations coming from all corners of the world, we must band together to create a framework for the constant improvement of our internet services for the benefit of all Filipinos, especially those engaged in commerce.

When it comes to public services, we must do more than just keep up with the development of our neighbors, but exceed them. Let us band together to significantly improve our Internet services in the Philippines

In view of foregoing, the passage of this measure is earnestly sought.


Senate Bill No. 707: National Quality Infrastructure Act

This bill seeks to facilitate the development of a culture of quality through providing a sound and effective National Quality Infrastructure that allows the development and compliance with increasing quality requirements and that can support the national authorities in their mandates for consumer protection, free trade, environmental protection and other societal objectives from a technical point of view.

With the imminent development of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2016, the capacity of the country to develop more competitive products, services and systems and to support industries to show compliance with both internal and external market requirements is a top priority to take full advantage of trade flows in terms of socioeconomic growth.

While the country is making great progress in many competitiveness and ease of doing business indicators, there is still substantial room for improvement, particularly when it comes to facilitating the access of Philippine MSMEs to foreign markets (the 12th edition of the Doing Business Reports shows the need for improvement in the trading across borders dimension).

A critical aspect of technical development and market access is the capacity of the country to implement and show compliance with mandatory and voluntary technical requirements. Technical compliance is supported by a number of interlinked activities, many of them of voluntary nature, which are usually collectively referred to as the National Quality Infrastructure. This includes standardization, accreditation, and metrology.

The need for a coordinated quality infrastructure has been already identified in the Philippines Development Plan 2011-2016: The government shall set up a National Quality Infrastructure to integrate and coordinate a series of activities involving metrology, standardization, testing, and accreditation and certification.

The reason for the existence of the National quality Infrastructure is to have the necessary institutions and practices that allow the different stakeholders to develop and show compliance with technical requirements and strive for increasingly higher levels of quality beyond the mandatory accepted level set out in technical regulations. Therefore it is not only a resource for more competitive products and services, but it is also used by government to support the definition of and compliance with safety, health, fair trade and consumer/environment protection and is used by Government in its dual roles of public purchaser and as overseer of service providers in both the public and private areas.

While the country has already a number of Republic Acts addressing the need for institutions and practices dealing with Consumer Protection, including the usage if National Quality Infrastructure that also address the need to support the Philippine economy in developing products, services and systems of quality levels beyond the mandatory requirements set out in technical regulations. 

Based on all existing institutions mandated to develop National Quality Infrastructure related activities, and on the need to increase coordination amongst them, the need for greater ownership by the private sector in contributing to the governance and strategy of those activities, and the need to promote increasing levels of quality for products, services and systems, there is an urgent need to create a national vision of the quality infrastructure for the country. 

In view of the foregoing, the approval of this measure is earnestly sought. 


Senate Bill No. 178: The National Payment Systems Act

We operate in a world of trade and transactions. Today, thanks to innovations in science and technology, the interchange of resources can be completed quicker and more efficiently through online payments.

But while many countries have embraced these advancements, 99% of payments in the Philippines remain cash-based while only 1% is paid through electronic systems.

According to a study done by Better Than Cash Alliance, the Philippine e-commerce industry makes up less than 1% of total commerce in the country. This is relatively low compared to our ASEAN neighbors who generate 4-5% in e-commerce transactions.

The potential for growth and development of industry as well as the opportunity to improve and bolster of our financial systems must not be put to waste. To drive the economy forward, it is imperative that we empower the market with updated and streamlined payment systems.

Thus, the National Payment Systems Act seeks to organize, manage, and regulate all matters affecting payment instructions in the country under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to promote effective interoperability among payment systems, incorporating digital transactions.

In order to ensure the security and efficiency of payments for the benefit of all stakeholders – consumers, businesses, and financial institutions alike, we must upgrade the management and regulation of our payment industry.

Now, more than ever, we are compelled to advance our systems along with our ASEAN neighbors.

Through this measure, we have the opportunity to protect retailers, enhance buyer experience, boost the confidence in our financial sector, and keep pace with the ever-improving technology for cashless payment. 

In view of the foregoing, immediate passage of this bill is earnestly sought. 



People Power Is In Our DNA

Bumper to bumper traffic, honking buses, the scent of exhaust, startling potholes, and the allure of bright billboards… This is the EDSA we experience today.

30 years ago though, EDSA meant something more. EDSA, especially to my generation, meant courage in the face of fear and oppression, unity for a greater good, and the willingness to sacrifice for your fellow Filipinos. 

EDSA meant People Power. But now, some of our countrymen say that People Power is dead.

These Filipinos proclaim that the EDSA Revolution is just a ghost, whose remains have long been buried and its essence wasted.  

But these Pinoys who have lost faith are mistaken. EDSA cannot die; People Power is in our DNA.

Haven’t we all come across the iconic depiction of men and women lifting their neighbor’s kubo on their shoulders, selflessly bringing the house to safety?

During times of crisis, when a super-typhoon, massive flood, or earthquake hits our country, don’t we rush to a volunteer center with donations and a strong desire to reach out to those affected?

Do we not find joy and fulfillment in building homes for poor Filipino communities, carrying blocks of cement and painting walls with bright, happy colors along with friends from Gawad Kalinga and Habitat for Humanity?

These are all manifestations of the bayanihan spirit that is woven into our cultural fabric.

Around the country, we find strangers united in noble missions that extend beyond family ties, tapping a shared humanity and nationalism.

In the world of social enterprise, I have seen firsthand how social entrepreneurs, government agencies, corporations, microfinance institutions, cooperatives, and NGOs come together to find solutions to lift our countrymen out of poverty through business.

These mini-movements transformed the lives of the farmers turned agri-preneurs in Nueva Ecija, who now supply to Jollibee, the urban artisans of Rags2Riches, and Hapinoy’s successful sari-sari store owners.

In the youth sector, we see organizations made up of eager young Filipinos seeking to uphold noble values and uplift marginalized sectors.

Every year since 2002, we would award the Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations (TAYO Awards) and, just this year, we met the SOLACE organization that protect the rights of forgotten Filipino detainees in Mandaue City as well as the Kanlaon Theater Guild from Bacolod that educates communities on disasters through their talent, creativity, and volition – just two of thousands of youth organizations that have joined the TAYO search.

Finally, when the legislature was rocked by the Napoles-PDAF scandal two years ago, we still saw thousands upon thousands of our countrymen congregate to decry the corruption and push for reforms in an overly abused system.

The commonality is, much like in the EDSA Revolution, these people took matters in their own hands and took a collective stand, not against a dictator, but against violence, poverty, corruption, and suffering.

These are modern-day examples of the EDSA spirit, the bayanihan instinct, and People Power.

Call it what you will, these revolutions, however sizable or small, are alive and thriving in the Philippines.  And to deny that this exists is simply misleading and fraudulent.  

Much has changed over the last 30 years. From being one of the poorest countries in the 80s, we are the fastest growing economy in the ASEAN.

Then considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, we have pushed for justice against the most powerful in all of the three branches of government.

People Power has also evolved from being centralized and primarily focused on political reform to one that includes a social and economic agenda and is dispersed throughout our country.

Historically, People Power was the well we drew upon when things took a turn for the worst; when corruption was at its highest, the rule of law least respected, our human rights and freedoms abused and trampled upon by the few for their own gain and benefit.

The challenge today is to evoke this revolutionary spirit not only in times of crisis, but in moments of opportunity as well.  

The challenge is to never forget that there is greatness in us.  And that if we stand together, much like 30 years ago at EDSA, even the most insurmountable can be overcome.

First Published on Manila Bulletin

BIDA KA!: Usapin ng magkakapitbahay

Nabanggit sa akin ng mga naka­tira doon na kapag dinire-­diretso ang dagat ay matutumbok na ang mga istrukturang gina­gawa ng Tsina sa Bajo de Masinloc.
Humigit-kumulang daw na 124 nautical miles o 230 kilometro lang ang layo ng mga itinatayong istruktura ng Tsina mula sa Masinloc. Katumbas lang ito ng biyahe mula Maynila hanggang Pangasinan.

Kapag ginamitan ng pump boat, sa loob lang ng labing-dalawang oras ay mararating na ang nasabing mga istruktura. Apat na oras naman kung speed boat ang gagamitin.
Mga Bida, sa nasabing distansiya, pasok pa ito sa tinatawag na 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) ng bansa.

Pasok ang mga ito sa ating teritoryo.

Ang Bajo de Masinloc ay isa lang sa pitong isla kung saan may ginagawang reclamation at iba pang ginagawa ang Tsina.

Batay sa mga inilabas na surveillance photos ng AFP, makikita ang mabilis na paggawa ng mga Tsino ng isang airstrip na kaya ang maliliit na eroplano.

Ngunit hindi pa malinaw kung kanino nga ba ang mga na­sabing lugar. Hindi lang tayo at ang mga Tsino ang nagsa­sabing atin iyon, kundi iba pang bansa sa Asya.

Tayo ang may pinakamatibay na posisyon dahil sa lapit ng mga islang ito sa ating bansa. Ang totoo, tatlo nga sa mga ito ay nasa loob na ng EEZ ng Pilipinas.

Kaya kung posisyon lang ang pag-uusapan, tayo ang may pinakamalaking karapatan sa mga nasabing teritoryo.

Ngunit walang pakundangan ang Tsina sa pagpapatayo ng mga istruktura kahit hindi pa nareresolba ang mga isyu.

Mga Bida, hindi naman natin pipiliin ang makipagdigmaan sa isyung ito. Lalo lang lalaki ang hidwaan at hindi pagkaka­unawaan sa pagitan ng mga bansa.

At palagay ko, pati rin naman ang Tsina, hindi rin nagnanais ng karahasan.

Kinakailangang idaan sa tamang proseso ang pagresolba sa isyung ito, kaya minarapat ng ating pamahalaan na dalhin ang isyu sa mga komunidad ng mga bansa na kinalalagyan natin, na naaayon sa United Nations (UNCLOS) at sa Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Mga Bida, ang usaping ito ay hindi lang panlokal, kundi ito ay isang panrehiyon at global na isyu. Kaya nararapat lang na maresolba ito sa mas malawak na pag-uusap kasama ang ibang mga bansa.

Sa panahong ito ng globalisasyon at matitibay na mga relasyon ng mga bansa sa isa’t isa, naniniwala tayo na ma­payapang mareresolba ang usapin sa tulong ng ating mga kaibigan at mga kapitbahay sa rehiyon.

Kaya buo ang ating suporta sa hakbang ng pamahalaan na tahakin ang mapayapaang daan at dalhin ang usaping ito sa UN at sa ASEAN.


First Published on Abante Online

SRN-809: Congestion in the Ports of Manila


Whereas, the State recognizes the indispensable role of the private sector, encourages private enterprise, and’ provides incentives to needed investments. It is also settled in jurisprudence that although the Philippine Constitution enshrines free enterprise as policy, it nevertheless reserves to the government the power to intervene whenever necessary for the promotion of general welfare;

Whereas, the different government agencies have yet to address the gridlock in the ports which already resulted in untimely delays in the shipment of goods. The prices of goods carried by importers and exporters have already been severely affected. The delays in the cargo deliveries also affected ‘the prices of agricultural products. Even manufacturers of fresh produce cannot fully ship out the goods due to possible spoilage because of long cues in the ports. Ultimately, Philippine exports have become highly uncompetitive;

Whereas, the problem on port congestion is not only exclusive to the Philippines but it has also hit other ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam. Based on news reports, Saigon Newport proposed to the Vietnamese government diversion of traffic to alternate ports such as the two new ports of Ben Nghe and Phu Huu, as well as to upgrade the ports of Cat Lai port. This is similar to the Philippine government’s call to divert Manila shipments to the underutilized ports of Batangas and Subic;

Whereas, according to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA). data showed that containerized cargo volume went down 3.12 percent to 418,204 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April compared to the 431.654 TEUs handled in the same period last year due to the imposition of the day-time truck ban issued last February 2014. Foreign boxes declined by six percent to 247,5471″EUs wherein import boxes retreated by 4.16 percent to 131,095 TEUs while export boxes dropped 8.1 percent to 116,452 TEUs.;

Whereas, the Bureau of Export Trade Promotion under the Department of Trade . and Industry also said that the previous estimated 2013 export tally was at Php 76 Billion, with the growth range pegged between 5.8% and 7.2%. At the rate of the disturbance on the operations of local businesses, ~xporters and importers, the target for exports in 2014 might not be achieved. On the other hand, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) has reviewed its targets in the 8% growth in exports from PEZA administered ports due the problem on the congestion of ports;

Whereas, the decrease in trade volume affected the law on supply and demand, which resulted to abrupt price increases. Further, the inefficient operations of the ports had an adverse effect on free enterprise and the competitiveness of Philippine goods. With , , the upcoming ASEAN integration in 2015, there is a need to have immediate and long-term solutions to the problems on port congestion since the flow of goods had been restricted by the issuance of policy orders of the different government offices/agencies.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, as it is hereby resolved to direct the Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alarming disturbance on the operations of local business, importers and exporters due to the congestion in the ports of Manila.

Lower Customs Cost for OFWs’ Balikbayan Boxes, Packages – Sen. Bam

Good news for 10 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) burdened by the tedious and costly process of sending balikbayan boxes to their loved ones in the Philippines.

Sending balikbayan boxes and other low-value and low-risk packages to the Philippines will be faster and cheaper if the proposal of Senator Bam Aquino to update the current de minimis threshold is enacted into law.

“Sending a balikbayan box home especially this coming Christmas season becomes burdensome for these modern-day heroes. Currently, these packages undergo a tedious process in the customs and are charged fees that are discouraging for OFWs to send more regularly,” the senator said.

“There is a need to provide the ten million Filipinos abroad, who have been already contributing greatly to the economy the past four decades, a better customs administration by reducing the de minimis threshold,” he added.

Currently, the Philippines has the lowest de minimis threshold, or the minimal volume of declaration of goods in the customs for consignments, in the ASEAN, at PhP10 or US$0.23. The ASEAN average threshold is at a hundred dollars.

“The extremely low Philippine threshold has not been changed since 1957 and is clearly antiquated. It needs to be updated to be reflective of current prices,” the senator said.

The lawmaker explained that thresholds for customs declaration signify increased documentation and processes for shipments at entry points in the country.

“Increased documentation leads to larger turnover and delivery time of goods, and larger administration costs that would yield lower revenue impact for both businesses and government,” he added.

 By increasing the de minimis level to a more realistic and relevant figure of P10,000, Aquino saidbalikbayan boxes and other packages of OFWs, entrepreneurs and other individuals will be processed by Customs faster with minimum fees.

“Also, it will enable the Bureau of Customs to focus its efforts in looking out for high-value, high-risk and high-revenue goods for collection and enforcement, thereby making customs processes more efficient,” he added.

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