Good morning to everyone.
Before anything else, allow me to recognize, our hosts for this forum and dear partners from Ateneo de Manila – Fr. Bobby Yap, President of Ateneo and Dean Ron Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government, Senator Sonny Angara, Secretary Vince Dizon, Head of the BCDA & Deputy Chief, our colleagues from the private sector, Cosette Canilao of Aboitiz; of course, Bill Luz from PDRF and Coco Alcuaz from MBC. Friends and partners from the Ayala Group and our other participants today.
Good morning again to all of you and it is my pleasure to join you in what should be an insightful and productive forum. Thank you to the Ateneo School of Government and Ayala Corporation’s Policy and Regulations Management unit, and Corporate Strategy and Development team for convening this broad and diverse group.
It is timely that such an esteemed group of institutions is here today. I believe this speaks to the power of the academe to convene a diverse group from the government and private sector for rational and constructive dialogue on how we might work together to address the challenges of the ongoing pandemic, especially as we face a historic challenge that surely none of us can address alone.
There was certainly no playbook to respond to the devastating crisis last year, which included natural calamities aside from a global pandemic. Amidst such dark and uncertain times, we needed a North Star to guide our efforts to ensure that our institutions and all those that we touch on daily basis will remain strong and stable. Working together with peers and partners from business, government, and academe, it was apparent that we all shared a common desire: to deeply care for and meaningfully support our stakeholders and communities who were greatly impacted by the pandemic. This, I believe, was the North Star that guided all our efforts last year and will perhaps continue to guide us as we begin the hard work to recover and build resilience for the future.
If anything, last year showed us that complex challenges such as the social and economic impact of COVID-19 can only be solved through a collaborative, whole-of-society approach.
Entering 2021, we have a golden opportunity to build on our learnings and further magnify our efforts in deeper, more meaningful, and even novel ways. Allow me to share three areas of partnership and some thoughts, which I hope may spark some ideas for today’s discussions. I would like to focus on collaborative response, collaborative recovery, and collaborative resilience.
Let me start with collaborative response. The onset of the pandemic and the strict quarantines had a swift and devastating impact to on everyone, most especially the vulnerable segments of our population. As institutions who owed much of our stability and success to the trust of our stakeholders, we strongly felt that it was only right that we helped to the fullest extent that we could during this critical time.
Public and private institutions took unprecedented steps to support their immediate and extended constituencies and leveraged partnerships to increase their impact. At the Ayala Group, we reaffirmed our commitment to an expanded stakeholder base, and harnessed internal resources and external networks for a stronger and more holistic response.
We began by protecting our employees and the employees of our third-party partners who were anxious about their well-being and financial stability. Through wage continuance, loan deferments, stipends, and building our own testing and treatment facilities, we hoped to provide our associates with peace of mind, especially during the critical early stages of the lockdowns.
We also provided critical support to our economic ecosystem partners, including the more than 250,000 MSMEs that we work with. We provided rent reprieves, deferred loan payments, and waived fees to business partners. We also set up the Ayala Enterprise Circle to help the over 250,000 MSMEs in our system to survive and pivot their businesses.
Lastly, we helped to bridge the needs of the broader Filipino community, especially the most economically vulnerable. We are honored to have shared this responsibility with Aboitiz and others in the private sector. Starting with Project Ugnayan, which brought immediate food and medical assistance to 14 million individuals, we followed this up by partnering with government to exponentially expand our capacity to fight COVID-19. This public-private partnership continues as we prepare for the rollout of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
I must credit the efforts of Secretary Vince Dizon and Bill Luz for their tireless work in assembling a broad coalition of committed and like-minded peers on a multi-sectoral solution to our current and even future challenges – thank you, Secretary Vince and Bill, for your leadership and service.
By expanding our stakeholder base and partnering with friends and colleagues in the private sector and government, we were able to collectively bring down our infection rates to a more manageable level. This public-private coalition that we established last year was a critical first step that perfectly set us up for the succeeding stages of our fight against COVID-19.
This brings me to the second critical area of partnership: collaborative recovery. Despite last year’s gains, we must not lose sight of how fragile the situation remains. It will take some time before the country is brought back to full health, with experts forecasting a late-2022 recovery of the economy to pre-pandemic levels.
As we prepare for a longer marathon with the virus, I imagine that our recovery will be gradual and uneven across different segments of society. It is thus crucial that our sectors work together on immediate priorities to speed up this process – namely, inoculating as much of our people in the fastest time possible; preventing more businesses from closing shop; and ultimately restoring consumer confidence.
On this note, allow me to recognize the leadership of Secretary Charlie Galvez, along with the rest of the T3 consortium for the tremendous work that has gone into developing a comprehensive vaccine roadmap for the country. From procuring large quantities of vaccines from the world’s most reputable pharmaceutical suppliers; to logistics and transportation; to administering the injections and monitoring the results — a task of this scale and magnitude can only be possible through close and meaningful private-public collaboration between all our institutions.
Let me also recognize the leadership of many LGUs who continue to be among the most progressive in terms of its pandemic response and recovery preparations. Local governments are a key component of our recovery efforts, and I am delighted that several cities whether in NCR or in the regions continue to be highly open to working with partners to deploy innovative solutions to simple and complex pain points. I hope that this could be sustained, and that we could further expand this pool of forward-thinking LGUs.
Most countries – ours included – is looking to the vaccines as the lasting solution or, at least, as the pre-requisite to solving the biggest health and economic ailments that we are facing today. However, as we await the rollout of our vaccination program, it is imperative that we find measures to support the economy and our people.
Globally, stimulus programs have been used to jumpstart economic engines or to tide over consumers during temporary income stoppage; and these have been welcomed by beneficiaries of our own programs domestically. I do recognize, though, that the balance sheets of the government and of the private sector are not quite geared for long periods of welfare support.
In the absence of a massive stimulus initiative, perhaps we can explore alternative avenues that may lead to not only to accelerated recovery, but also a solid platform for growth and resilience.
This leads me to the third critical area of partnership: collaborative resilience. With the strong foundations of trust and cooperation that our institutions have built, I believe now is the time to more aggressively harness this launchpad to bolster the industries that will be crucial to our recovery and competitiveness in a post-COVID Philippines. Allow me to offer four possibilities that the academe, private sector, and government can consider as touchpoints for deeper partnership:
Firstly, on healthcare: COVID has certainly exposed the woeful inadequacies in our country’s health infrastructure and system. This is gravely ironic, given that Philippine healthcare talent is, arguably, already world-class in terms of our technical expertise and our strong sense of empathy.
We have seen this for ourselves in AC Health, where together with experienced medical professionals, young teams of MBA-holding doctors – many of whom are products of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health – helped develop robust testing, treatment, contact tracing, and now, vaccination protocols. We have shared these frameworks with the public in the hope of meaningfully contributing to our collective knowledge on pandemic response.
I think this is a point of pride for the Ateneo and the country as a whole. I am interested to see how we might build on this solid base of talent and ensure that a long-term medical career in the Philippines is a compelling proposition. In addition, to complement our world-class medical talent, I also hope that we will finally find ways to elevate the quality of our health infrastructure and systems to also be globally recognized as world class.
Aside from healthcare, digital technologies have exponentially accelerated in the last 12 months, and I believe that we are at an inflection point in our state of digitalization. Digital infrastructure will be the highway to the future on which advanced industries will develop – from telemedicine, to inclusive finance, to e-commerce, to distance education, to resource management. It will be interesting to see what academic programs or government policies or corporate investments will help accelerate these transformations, and to ensure equitable access to all Filipinos.
We have also seen the blossoming of entrepreneurship during the pandemic. I believe that entrepreneurship, MSMEs, and even startups are crucial elements to our recovery and resilience, given their massive contribution to employment, national GDP, and technological development.
Now, more than ever, MSMEs and other high-growth enterprises need significant and meaningful support from partners; including government, with its policy-making power, and large business groups who are closely liked or greatly dependent on these smaller enterprises. I am likewise curious to see what role the academe will play, given its immense intellectual capital, to bolster our MSME and startup ecosystem.
Finally, with respect to education, a more resilient economy will also be built on the bedrock of youth equipped with the knowledge and skills to thrive in a more volatile post-COVID world. We are fortunate that the Philippines continues to enjoy a demographic dividend, and a dynamic and young population. However, this will not last forever, and I strongly believe that we should move faster to ensure that our graduates will have the technical and behavioral skills needed to find success in the future.
I believe we have some of the right ingredients already brewing. I am delighted to hear that the Ateneo is setting up a School of Education and Learning Design. This is an excellent contribution in the effort to innovate on teaching methods, create learner-centric programs that maximizing outcomes, and train teachers that will help shape enlightened leaders of our country. I am excited to see how this new institution develops, and I am also interested to see how might government and the private sector help in elevating Philippine education overall.
These are but just a few areas of collaboration that the government, academe, and private sector can work on together. Despite the difficult times that we had last year and the many uncertainties that still lie before us, I continue to remain hopeful that our collective capabilities and commitment will carry us towards recovery, resilience, and eventually, growth.
I say this, because I believe that this strong partnership we now have between the private sector and the government is our country’s distinguishing mark. In fact, we are humbled and amazed at how many international experts cite the degree of collaboration between the public and private sectors as unprecedented and unique to the Philippines. This is a model worth sustaining, strengthening, and even sharing with others as we move forward.
To close, we are at a critical time for the country. We emerged from 2020 having undergone the rigorous demands of responding to the pandemic, and we enter 2021 with a golden opportunity to build a roadmap for recovery and resilience around the pillars of inclusivity and stakeholder-centricity. There is a wealth of opportunities where we can collaborate, and I am filled with much hope and excitement at what we can achieve together.
Thank you very much and a good morning to everyone.