Hope Springs Eternal



I now end my series of columns about micro, small and medium-scale enterprises on a more positive and hopeful note.


Two months ago, I had three main topics up my sleeves about the problems and concerns of MSMEs that I wished to write. Thanks that Bicol Mail, “Bicolandia’s only regional newspaper,” re-opened just in time. I had seven, not just three, columns published since September 15: “Importation brouhaha”; “Power Struggle” on the high cost of electricity; “Collaboration with MSMEs” on partnerships with the academe; “Gridlocks and Bottlenecks,” about other stumbling blocks for MSME to prosper; “Money Lending” for the entrepreneurs; and finally, “The MSME Agenda for Empowerment.”


The Bicol Mail joined the Philippine Chamber of Commerce Inc of Camarines Sur and PCCI -Albay, the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Legazpi City, and the Kawayan para sa Kalikasan at Kabuhayan as partners with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Tabang Bikol Movement (TBM) in holding the Bicol MSME Summit last October 21 to seek solutions to issues and concerns for recovery and inclusive economic growth.


The Summit that gathered more than 300 MSMEs and other stakeholders at Marison Hotel, Legaspi City, was a huge success. The one-day event was a full-packed, face-to-face program of learning, listening to speakers, and vibrant exchange of ideas among the participants.


The keynote speaker, DTI Secretary Alfred E. Pascual, spoke about “building back better amidst multiple crises and rebound toward the recovery of our economy.” He noted that Bicol has about 5% of the country’s MSMEs and DTI has assisted more than 21,000 of the 62,000 local registered businesses from January to September 2022. He stressed that industrialization, a regional development approach, digitalization and strengthened collaboration with the academe and industry partners are important for MSMEs to scale up and upsize. However, he did mention the Magna Carta for MSMEs and the need to develop “mindsets to improve the business climate, access to finance, management, and labor capacities, and access to technology and innovation.”


Secretary Pascual and his team - DTI Undersecretary for Regional Operations, Blesilda Lantayon, and DTI Commercial Attache, Assistant Secretary Glenn Penaranda - expressed explicit support to develop the local MSMEs and find their niche in the international market. At one point during the Summit, I mentioned to Usec Bles about the need to review, activate or reactivate the MSME Development Councils at the regional and provincial levels and be made more active, representative and responsive during these critical times.


Regional Director Rodrigo Aguilar reiterated that MSME-focused programs of the DTI will be sustained and be more accessible for local businesses to stay afloat and rebound. He presented breakthroughs and updates on assisting MSMEs in the region, among them, the active trade fairs that showcase and encourage the development of local products. Albay Gov. Noel Rosal welcomed the guests and participants, but he was confident to assure that, like the MSMEs, a rebound is coming. An upbeat open forum elicited various comments and hopeful answers.


Seeking solutions


The most awaited part of the program, next to the keynote speaker - I think from the organizers’ perspective - was the presentation of the Pre-Summit Survey Results, which the TBM initiated to gauge the sentiments of the MSMEs on their current situation and wish list. Then, Dr. Cely Binoya, TBM Board Trustee and an expert in disaster resilience and research and development, disclosed the various gridlocks that should be addressed immediately and in the long term. Foremost among them is the overwhelming lack of financial assistance that MSMEs - 80% women-led -- are struggling for in order to survive.


The speakers, including the DTI secretary, have all impressive credentials grounded in theory and practice in the conduct of business in the neo-liberal economic framework. As I introduced the keynote speaker, I wondered what the distinguished titles and positions meant for the audience’s micro, small and medium businessmen and women, looking up at me intently at the vast convention hall of the Marison Hotel. In fairness, the introduction was about the secretary’s background not only as an International Finance and Bank Expert with prestigious institutions like the Asian Development Bank but as a former President of the University of the Philippines System of 17 campuses, a passionate advocate for transparency, accountability, science and technology, and ICT. At the outset, the DTI should be in good hands.


The afternoon session was a big classroom for the participants. VP for Research and Innovation, Dr. Monet Ramirez of the Central Bicol State University in Agriculture (CBSUA), underscored the vast experiences of the SUCs, particularly the case of the CBSUA, in collaboration with the MSMEs to promote innovation. In a separate meeting, the president himself, Dr. Albert Naperi, emphasized the need to develop the function of the SUCs in providing start-up ideas and enterprise development models right inside the universities for MSMEs.


The Dean of the College of Business and Accountancy, Dr. Anne Marie F. Bagadion, on the other hand, shared the innovation in the hands-on education and training of students at the Ateneo de Naga University’s BS Entrepreneurship Program in support of MSMEs, its collaboration with industry practitioners and different agencies in the promotion of MSMEs. In addition, it shared its roadmap for the promotion of MSMEs through its Guru System, continuous training, provision for innovation hub and co-working spaces, and FDA-certified facilities. She sent Ms. Leciel Ramos to make the presentation on her behalf.


Did the Summit achieve what it aimed for?


Former Land Bank Manager Ferdinand Osio of Libmanan, a senior citizen farm entrepreneur, congratulated the organizers and said succinctly, “Congratulations on the very successful event, the first time I experienced MSMEs getting together and become more aware of their strength and potential to be drivers of the economy. We are more encouraged to do better this time.” Ethnic Organic coco vinegar proprietor Vicky Agoma added, “Thank you for the fruitful experience, congratulations, you inspired us, MSMEs.” Boat builder Nathan Bulanon of Albay “..sa una po, grabing supog namatian ko kan mahiling ko mga kataid ko na mga dakulaon na negosyante, pero ngkusog so boot ko parehas palan kita gabos, na inspayr po ako magdakula puhunan ko na ngani makaahon man po kami sa kahirapan.” Non-GMO soymilk producer Aurora Rico was being practical, she brought chilled drinks to our table, and we just observed everybody love organic soymilk, tasty and healthy. She is hopeful the local products are one to beat. In fact, towards the end of the Summit, 10 local entreps gave away raffle prizes for fun, namely Adelina’s Peanuts, JaimEliza’s E-Sense, Tragkilo’s Massage, ILAW Candles, Minds that Matter school, Benjie Santiago’s Resort, and Don Ramon wines.


Blue and Green Economy


The following day, the Mariners Legazpi held a “Forum on the Blue Economy” at its Mariners by the Sea campus in Rawis, with the DTI - from Secretary Pascual, RD Aguilar, USec Lantayona, and ASed Penaranda - joining Mariners’ regional maritime partners, the Maritime Industry Authority, Office of the City Mayor, Legazpi City, the Philippine Ports Authority, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Fr. Momoy Borromeo presented the resilient bamboo and the mangrove reforestation community-based projects for soil regeneration and climate change. Mariners schools are now at the forefront of promoting ocean and water-based industries. In Bicol, an archipelagic region like the rest of the country, fisheries and aquaculture, local boat building and repair, sustainable coastal economic tourism, and floating food hubs like restaurants, are innovative industries worth looking into.


For the closing remarks, I chose to mention the collective consensus reached at the Summit. The Bicol MSMEs are the backbone and drivers of the economy - blue or green altogether. We face challenging times like rising inflation, unemployment, an increasing number of people going hungry, and the impact of global tensions like the Ukraine War and other flashpoints. The economy’s rebound from the oppressive conditions of the three-year pandemic and other crises will depend mainly on the rebound of the MSMEs, which comprise the majority of economic players. Recovery and progress is the goal not just of Bicol MSMEs but of the world. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals embodies this all-embracing goal above all.


The MSMEs are a powerful force. Hope springs eternal. It is not impossible to realize. With an enabling environment, they are an answer to eliminating poverty and national development.