MSMEs: Collaboration to recover and rebound



This word, collaboration, used to have a different connotation for people working with groups, organizations, and parties for other purposes. 


In college, I imbibed the word akin to being treacherous. Being a collaborator or so it seemed, was an act of betrayal. It meant you slept with the enemy and should face charges of collaboration, similar to acts of espionage. Images of “pagtataksil” run fast to mind straight from a thriller of James Bond, this English spy mogul who was the rage of young moviegoers in the 60 and 70s. Loosely translated, it meant “pakipagsabwatan” or “pagkakanulo,” or being in cahoots with a group not on your side. 


From ancient and biblical times, history is full of stories of betrayal, from Joseph, Noah, Peter, and the famous Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. In the local scene, the brothers Andres, Procopio, and Ciriaco Bonifacio suffered the fatal consequences of betrayal by their comrades, are thrown away to the boondocks and beheaded for treason. General Antonio Luna, the best Filipino revolutionary general during the Philippine Revolution, was betrayed and beheaded amidst bloody rivalry among its leaders.


Collaboration, in this sense, is contrived. And in the context of being in a secret conspiracy to cause harm to another. Therefore, it is unacceptable and not in the context of shared development and national progress.


But during the Pandemic and perhaps in every crisis, the word collaboration takes on a new form. During these times, people and organizations from ideologies or mindsets poles apart collaborate on projects and programs to solve everyday problems. It is also called forging a united front or a tactical alliance.


TBM has never been as busier as in the past two years or so during the Pandemic. With technology, collaboration took the shape of webinars and zoom meetings with different partners from the government, the private sector, and the NGOs/CSOs. TBM had long-day zoom online events and live-streamed Bicol-wide, accessible at no cost to the volunteers. There was a collaboration with the regional NGAs like Dep-Ed, CHED, and non-government organizations like the CPD on mental health, modular learning; with the DILG, the PNP, NEDA, DoH, the DSWD, PCGA-Phil Navy, and OCD for disaster relief, the Archdiocese of Caceres, the Protestant Church, Islamic group in Camarines Sur, the DA and DoST on agri-based projects of the Citronella distillation facility, and the People’s Farm, the Healing Ministry at Lidong, Albay, the schools like Mariners, CBSUA, BU and UNC, WIMA and other gender-based groups, the VACC and medical associations like the PMA and hospitals like the BMC and PGH, political parties, party-list groups, LGUs of all shades and sizes. The list of NGOs, CSOs, and people’s organizations in six Bicol provinces collaborating with and alongside TBM is endless. Common problems arising from the Pandemic, economic, socio-cultural, and political, the elections and fraud, crime and corruption, health and environment.


MSMEs Rebound?


The Pandemic caused a significant shift in lifestyle dictated by their circumstances. The MSMEs, or micro, small and medium enterprises, are the critical driving force of the economy. The MSMEs accounted for 99.6% of total establishments in the country and contributed 61.2% of the country’s full employment and 35.7% of total value added. They are the backbone of societies everywhere. They contribute critically to the Pandemic, climate crisis, and conflicts and sustain livelihoods, particularly among the working poor, women, youth, and groups in vulnerable situations. However, the growth of the MSME sector has not been vigorous enough to propel the economy.


We have the Go Negosyo Act and the 1991 “Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises,” a law that defines the national policy to promote, support, strengthen, and encourage the growth and development of MSMEs. It aims to develop the Filipino entrepreneurial spirit by providing a business environment conducive to MSMEs. Look around, and you see an enterprise on every corner of the street - underground or open: retail trade, repair services, manufacturing, restaurants, hotels, bars, stores, hardware, renting, professional services, construction, electricity, gas, and water, health, transport, storage, communications, creative jobs, printing, agriculture, forestry, social work, hunting, entertainment, mining, and quarrying, But this array of industries have relatively low value added to the economy.


Problems


A most severe problem is corruption and distrust in government. Another is the lack of access to financing. Most MSMEs have inadequate business operations, a small workforce, not “compliant” with set standards, lack of competition in packaging and marketing their products, regulatory issues in government, lack of infrastructure, low productivity, skills, innovation, and oh, so many others.


Bicol DTI Regional Director Rodrigo Aguilar said last year that about 75 percent of the region’s MSMEs are slowly returning to operate after easing the quarantine restrictions. But to recover? That remains a big question.


On October 21, the Bicol DTI and TBM are collaborating to spearhead the REBOUND: Regional Bicol MSMEs Summit, where 300 MSMEs from all six provinces will gather to share problems and concerns affecting the local industry. The Bicol based entrepreneurs will also listen to DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual as he shares the strategic plan of the DTI for the next six years.


MSMEs can help reduce poverty by creating jobs. In addition, they can stimulate economic development in rural and far-flung areas. A vibrant MSME sector is thus an indication of a thriving and growing economy. But the industry is still far from realizing its total growth and potential.  


There is a need to collaborate towards downstreaming industries. Some countries are no longer exporting raw materials but rather processing materials from their raw resources and exporting. Will the Philippines be able to do the same? Will there be a fresh start or a rebound for Bicol or the country in the following years?