Speech: 2nd Alliance of Business Educators and Students of the Philippines, Inc. (A-BEST Phils.) National Congress

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Thank you very much for your warm and resounding reception, and your having invited me to join you in your 2nd National Congress.

As much as I would want to feel comfortable at this point, knowing that I am in the familiar company of like minds, I will have to beg your indulgence if I seem to be a little bit shaky and petrified standing here before all of you. Parang naaalala ko kasi ang aking buhay-estudyante noon, lalo na yung mga panahon na kailangan kong humarap sa aking mga guro at mga kaklase para sa isang business presentation, feasibility report, thesis defense o revalida.

For the information of everybody, I took up MBA in the late-1970s—contrary to the insinuations and alleged research of some. I was not able to finish it because of exigent circumstances, particularly the 1980 elections, in which I ran for and eventually won as Vice-Governor of Ilocos Norte.

If you have been following your social media news, just a few days ago, the veracity of my educational qualifications and credentials was put to question by a journalist. Although it is not in my character to judge the intentions of the writer, it would have been best if the facts had first been carefully and prudently checked and verified, as expected of any ethical journalist. First of all, why would I misrepresent on such a basic factual information as my educational attainment? As a politician and public official, I have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from misrepresenting such fact.

Excuse me, sorry na lang, pero tunay na orihinal at hindi lang gawa sa Recto ang aking mga diploma!

So, on the strength of my genuine credentials, not only can I now claim to be kindred spirit with all of you, but also confidently and credibly speak before you today on such a relevant and important matter which is precisely the subject of our National Congress.
To get on with our discussion, let me first say that I find it truly an honor to join everyone here in this forum, where business educators and students unite and converge in the pursuit of common interest, particularly the understanding and analysis of a very interesting—not to mention, very unsettling—topic: the forthcoming “ASEAN Integration”.

This so-called ASEAN Integration sets certain important target milestones for us to attain by the end of this year, as part of our international obligations as a member of the ASEAN. And according to a recent pronouncement of the ASEAN itself, eighty-two percent (82%) na daw ang completion at implementation rate ng integration.

But before we zero in on our topic for the day, let us first all be clear with the concept of this so-called “ASEAN Integration”. In essence, it calls for the creation of an “ASEAN Economic Community”, which, according to the Blueprint, will effectively transform the ASEAN region into: 1) a single market and production base; 2) a highly competitive economic region; 3) a region of equitable economic development; and 4) a region fully integrated into the global economy.

Put more simply, ASEAN Integration envisions the ASEAN to bceom one economic region wherein the inter-operability and interrelations among its members are characterized by a “free flow of capital and investments, free flow of goods, free flow of services and skilled labor”.

Para bagang magiging tila-European Union (EU) ang ASEAN, subalit ang direksyon at tuon lamang nito, sa ngayon, ay ang pagsasanib-puwersa ng mga ekonomiya ng mga miyembro nito.
However, this integration and creation of a single economic community will not be automatic, and neither will it a simple thing to do. The economy of any one country is already complex and mysterious as it is; imagine now the myriad complexity and mystery of the combination and commingling of the economies of 10 countries!

To use the EU example, it has taken them more than half a century, several treaties and name changes, and countless crises and challenges to get to the point where they are now. But today, they are still standing as a force to be reckoned with, strong and stable as ever, with 28 member-states and counting.

Aside from the strong external political will that has made possible the forging of all these international agreements and concessions among the ASEAN members, continuing internal political will of all the relevant sectors within the polity of the individual ASEAN members is necessary and essential.

For one, particular laws, rules, policies, institutions and mechanisms of the individual ASEAN members should be attuned to, and, if need be, reengineered to accommodate, what had been agreed upon by the body, as to render them not only operationally feasible but also legally possible from the point of view of local law.

These in turn call for necessary changes in our legal system, not only in the form of new legislation, but also possible constitutional change, and amendments and revisions of our existing laws.

Kaya nga po ngayon, naririnig natin ang mga usapin tungkol sa pag-amyenda sa mga sinasabing “economic provisions” ng ating Saligang Batas, lalo na ang mga naglalagay ng limitasyon sa partisipasyon ng mga dayuhan sa ilang partikular na mga industriya at gawain.

To faciliate the freer flow of goods, we have committed to reduce, or even eliminate, certain tariff rates, import duties and the like. For other non-tariff barriers, we have undertaken to reshape our protectionist policies, retrofit our laws and remodel our institutions with effective mechanisms for reciprocity, fair competition, and other tools calculated to attract capital and investments from our ASEAN neighbors, such as better immigration and customs procedures, improved infrastructure, lesser red tape and corruption, etc.

Likewise as a result of the planned integration, and to facilitate a freer transfer of skilled labor, mutual recognition agreements or MRAs have so far been signed by the ASEAN members with regard to eight (8) professional services, namely: medical, dental and nursing, accountancy, engineering, architecture, land surveying, and tourism.

However, aside from these structural changes, of course, all our preparations will also necessarily require a corresponding paradigm shift in the mindset and perception of the citizenry, as components of the Philippine economy to be subsumed eventually in this bigger ASEAN Economic Community.

According to the ASEAN Blueprint, we should now be more “open”, “outward-looking”, and “market-driven” in our thinking and in our approach. Kung dati ay “local” lamang ang ating oryentasyon, ngayon “ASEAN” na. Kung dati ang alam natin ay mga Pinoy lamang ang nagiging OFWs, ngayon, asahan natin na magkakaroon na rin ng mga dayuhan mula sa mga ASEAN na bansa na magdaratingan dito sa Pilipinas upang magtrabaho at magtayo ng mga negosyo.

Ang ibig sabihin ng lahat ng ito ay magiging hindi lamang magiging mas mahigpit ang labanan o mas “competitive” ang ating ekonomiya, kundi magiging “international” o “ASEAN” na rin.

At dito pumapasok ang mahalagang papel na gagampanan ng ating sektor ng edukasyon—ng ating mga paaralan, ng ating mga guro, at lalung-lalo na, ng ating mga mag-aaral.

The academe plays a vital role in this whole capacity-building and strengthening exercises for the ASEAN Integration.

The education sector will be crucial and instrumental in triggering this wave of change in the perception amongst our people, beginning from those nurtured within the four walls of the classroom: our studentry.

According to Prof. Melito Salazar of the Centro Escolar University:

“The change will only come about if Philippine business, government and the academe work together not only to bring about this change of mindset but also to enhance the skills and competencies of Philippine human resources so we can better compete in the era of ASEAN integration.”
Prof. Salazar hit the nail on the head when he confirmed the symbiotic roles to be played by the triumvirate in our economy: government, industry, and the academe, in beefing up the skills and competencies of our Filipino human resources.

This is why a conference such as this, and an organization such as A-BEST Philippines, are not only very welcome but also very desirable initiatives as they provide venues and opportunities in which the key players and stakeholders can—in contracts law parlance—”jointly and solidarily” map out the problems and critical areas affecting their particular sector of the economy, in this case, the education sector, with a view to resolving issues and preventing future ones from happening.

In venues like these, teachers and students come together, bound by a common goal, on an equal footing, and in such cordial and non-hostile atmosphere, and not as adversaries embroiled in daily psychological and intellectual warfare, as borne out by the popular stereotype.

Your own organization, “doing business under the name and style”, ‘ika nga, of Alliance of Business Educators and Students of the Philippines and this National Congress prove this notion wrong and rather put forward the view—the correct and more accurate view—that teachers and students are really “partners” in a symbiotic relationship.

This is akin to the concept that is very familiar among business teachers and students, and which is embodied in Article 1767 of the Civil Code: that of a “partnership”, which is a contract whereby “two or more persons bind themselves to contribute money, property, or industry to a common fund, with the intention of dividing the profits among themselves”.

“Alliance”, as your name professes.

The notion of a partnership or alliance between teachers and students is crucial to our analysis for this morning, because these two groups are jointly responsible for the constant supply of viable and productive human resource to our economy. The education sector is like a factory that churns out the creative minds and the warm bodies to our economy for its effective and gainful operation.

Sa mga pagkakataong ito, dapat ninyong pag-usapan, suriin, at resolbahin ang mga mahahalagang isyu at hamon na kinakaharap ng inyong sektor sa parating na ASEAN integration.

Unang-una at pinakamahalaga, kailangan ninyong suriing mabuti kung ang ating mga mag-aaral ng business courses sa Pilipinas ay may laban upang makahanap ng magandang trabaho o makapagtayo ng matatag na negosyo sa ating ekonomiya. Dapat nating siguraduhin na may sapat na galing at kakayahan ang ating mga graduates upang tapatan ang ibang mga taga-ASEAN. Mas maganda pa nga kung sila ay ating ihahanda upang maging mas “llamado” sa kanilang mga makakatapat paglabas ng kanilang paaralan.

Unlike other professional services, there is no Mutual Recognition Agreement with regard to business professionals. But this does not mean that our business graduates will not be affected or threatened by the integration. On the contrary, the business sector and business professionals are in fact the most directly threatened and affected by all this.

The immediate challenge to our learned instructors is for them to have a keen and intelligent survey of the new landscape and the new possibilities offered by the more open economy. Then, considering the new landscape and possibilities ably surveyed by our educators, they should proceed to lay more emphasis on imparting lessons to increase business skills, competencies and competitiveness, and also address the so-called “mismatch” between available jobs and available skills.

On a more practical note, students should be taught how to study the markets and economies, consumer behavior, competition behavior, finance and marketing, intellectual property rights, and the like—now, against the larger backdrop of the ASEAN economy. The usual practical study of the feasibility and viability of SMEs and other businesses should now focus on what would be well-suited or adaptable to the new ASEAN market landscape.

To boost skills on staying competitive, emphasis should be given more on number-crunching, like cost and tax accounting, to develop in our students a more instinctive, reflexive and more realistic and comprehensive approach to monitoring the cost of doing business, in order to ultimately help increase competitiveness and profitability.

To prepare students against the possibility of cutthroat employment situations in the future, they should be taught not only labor economics but also essential labor rights under our Constitution and existing laws.
Mahalaga ito para maintindihan nila ang laganap na “contractualization” ng labor ngayon, ang “5-5-5 (5 months-5 months) contracts”, ang pangamba ng “ENDO” o “End of Contract” at ng retrenchment o layoffs, para maturuan sila ng mga hakbang upang maiwasan ang mga ito at maprotektahan ang kanilang mga karapatan sa ilalim ng ating batas.

Now, it may be prudent to undertake curriculum review of our business courses at this crucial turning point of our history. Baka ngayon, kailangan na nating magdagdag ng mga asignatura na tulad ng pag-aaral ng ekonomiya, kultura, at wika ng ating mga kapitbahay sa ASEAN.

Not to be forgetten, our schools should encourage more and incentivize research and development, in order to spur business creativity and innovation among our Filipino students.

Lahat ito ay upang lalong mas mapaghandaan ang mga hamon na dulot ng ASEAN integration.

Our schools should play a more proactive role, and be more practical and results-oriented. They should focus on developing the employability and economic competitiveness of the students, who are really highly dependent and reliant on their schools for these necessary skills and capabilities. If our schools do this, they would no longer be perceived as mere “disconnected individual institutions”, as mentioned by the World Bank in its 2011 report.

Kayo naman, mga mahal kong mag-aaral, aba’y magsipag at magsumikap kayong mabuti! Huwag ninyong bale-walain ang edukasyon ninyo at ang mga leksyon ng inyong mga guro! Please be warned that the world out there is cruel and competitive. Better prepare for it now under the guidance of your schools and teachers, than learn the hard way later—when all will be too late. Ayon nga sa kasabihan, palaging nasa huli ang pagsisisi!

But things are looking great, and the outlook brimming with potential. Our DOLE has formulated its 2020 Vision, bannered by its flagship “Project JobsFit”, to address the perceived jobs and skills mismatch amongst our Filipino human resources.

Private sector is also doing its share. In 2013, the National Industry-Academe Council (NIAC) was formed by the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) in order to form a communication and coordination linkage between the clients of human resources (business and industry) and the suppliers of human resources (schools).

The academe should also team up with the regulators, Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education, for the constant improvement of the business course curricula, and for the alignment and coordination of policies and vision.

Ayon sa ating Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Philippines daw is already “primed and ready for the integration”. Even our scorecard from the ASEAN Secretariat shows that we are eighty-seven percent (87%)-ready for the integration. Kumbaga, sa eskuwelahan, “B-minus” ang ating grado.

But take note that our B-minus grade is for our “readiness” for the integrated ASEAN economy, and not our actual performance yet. We shall be soon graded on that subject in the ensuing years, when the singular ASEAN Economic Community would begin to unravel its substantial and significantly effects.

Marami pa tayong kailangang gawin upang mas lalo pang paghandaan ang ASEAN integration! Sa tulong ng A-BEST Philippines, panatag ang loob ko na may nagbabantay at nagmamatyag sa interes ng ating business education sa bansa, lalo na mula sa hanay mismo ng ating mga magigiting na mga guro at mga masisipag na mga mag-aaral.

As your name suggests, always strive to be the BEST in the pursuit of your common goals in the educational system. Sa inyo na mismo nanggaling ‘yan! Ipakita natin sa ating mga ASEAN counterparts na ang ating mga business graduates ay magagaling, may “K”, at may laban upang harapin ang pagbubukas ng mas malawak na ASEAN Economic Community!

Hanggang dito na lamang po.

ASEAN Economic Community, we are ready for you!

Mabuhay ang mga guro at mag-aaral ng pangangalakal sa ating bansa!

Mabuhay ang A-BEST Philippines!

Muli po, maraming salamat at magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!

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