President Benigno Aquino outlined the infrastructure sector as an investment priority at the opening of the FinanceAsia Infrastructure Philippines 2010 conference in Manila yesterday.
Highlighting the nation’s natural charms in his keynote address, he said it was crucial to improve the means for tourists to get to the Philippines given that the country has just three million tourists a year compared with upwards of 14 million for countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.
In a drive to increase arrivals, Aquino highlighted plans to expand domestic airport capacity and runways. He also said the Philippines would further liberalise its civil aviation industry through full implementation of an open skies policy to enable local and foreign carriers to expand operations as well as to guarantee international connectivity.
Plus he outlined plans to revive tourist police to better protect visitors from crime and scams.
Aquino noted that the government had already liberalised telecommunications, trade and foreign investments and that this had been key in raising confidence in the nation’s economic prospects.
He characterised the time before he swept to office this year as one in which the rules of business were unclear and not consistently applied, with a tendency for the playing field to change once deals had been signed.
“You might be shaking the right hand while the left hand was picking your pocket,” he told the packed conference. “It was a winding road of dishonesty.”
Aquino was inaugurated in June on the back of a campaign to end poverty and corruption, securing over 15 million votes and trouncing his nearest rival, former president Joseph Estrada.
The Philippines finished joint-bottom of a list of Asian countries in a recent corruption survey by Transparency International, along with Bangladesh.
But Aquino said he had taken encouragement after returning from the recent Apec Summit with $2.85 billion of new investment and $2.6 billion of potential investment from Japanese investors.
“We’re going to be operating in the daylight, acting in a clear, honest and transparent way,” he said. “If we are to reduce corruption and poverty by 2016 [the end of his first term], things can’t be done in the dark anymore.”
The two-day infrastructure conference focused on such hot topics as investing and financing in public-private partnership projects, priorities for the transport sector and the incentives and prospects for investors.