Monday, January 10, 2011


The Manila Times
January 9, 2011

FOR Manuel “Manny” V. Pangilinan, eradicating poverty should be Job No. 1 for every Filipino. But to be successful, more people should help not just in civic projects but also in government programs that invite partnerships with private businesses.

Pangilinan, who is sometimes referred to by his initials MVP, is one of the top business chief executives in the country, probably also in Asia. He heads many of the largest corporations in the Philippines, like the telecommunications giants Smart and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. And his business interests extend beyond telecommunications: to media with the Associated Broadcasting Co. (TV5); to utilities with the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco); and to infrastructure development and management with First Pacific Tollways Corp.

He spoke to The Manila Times in his capacity as chairman of the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), a social development foundation founded in 1970 by 50 of the country’s most prominent leaders at the time. PBSP will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this month.

“Our principal foe, really, is just one word. It’s poverty,” he told The Times.

“My belief has always been [that] a lot of the social ills—crime, et cetera—could be solved if people were better off economically,” he said.

According to Pangilinan, fighting poverty could make a dent against corruption, the primary target of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd. In the May 10, 2010 elections, the President’s campaign slogan tagged corruption as the cause of poverty in the Philippines.

He explained that PBSP was involved in many programs, not necessarily on those addressing corruption, but rather those that were focused on its root causes.

PBSP has programs in 65 provinces across the Philippines, with numerous projects in area resource management, education infrastructure, public health, environmental protection and others.

Pangilinan was particularly keen on education and livelihood programs, which he said were enablers against poverty.

Poverty incidence in the Philippines when PBSP was founded, according to its website, was about 40 percent.

The general trend is that poverty is on the decline.

Poverty decreased by 1.4 percent a year between 1991 and 2003, according to the Philippines Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2010, which was updated just last October. The MDGs are a set of goals and related targets aimed at eradicating extreme poverty—the number of those living on less than $1 or $2 a day—around the world.

In the Philippines, however, poverty incidence remained high at 32.9 percent as of 2006, which was the latest figure available. But the incidence rate was higher than three years earlier when it was at 30 percent, the report said.

Pangilinan admitted to feeling frustrated that poverty incidence remained high despite the efforts of the PBSP, which has grown to include 180 companies in the Philippines that also work with the public sector, nongovernment organizations and other civil society groups.

“Yeah [it’s frustrating],” he told The Times. “But what do you want us to do? Pack up our bags and leave?”

“You’ve got to keep trying until it finally goes away,” he added.

More help needed
Pangilinan seemed to take pride in what the PBSP does, but most of its work has been done quietly over the last 40 years. And he wanted to change that.

“Maybe in the past that was OK,” he said. “In today’s world, in a way you have to beat your own drums.
And from the public-exposure standpoint, we’re trying to get PBSP better known, not so much to claim credit, but really to promote PBSP in a way that enables us to raise more money.”

There have been substantial amounts given to the organization’s programs, but more was needed for greater impact, he explained.

“The fact of the matter is, the majority of funding for PBSP, at least during my time as chairman, has been foreign, which is typical of capital sourcing anyway even for corporations and governments,” he said.

On average, PBSP gives P400 million annually in grants and donations, but local membership funding is only at P70 million, Pangilinan explained. The balance comes from abroad, he added.

For instance, Pangilinan cited a PBSP project helping Filipinos with tuberculosis that received a significant grant—more $70 million from foreign sources like the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Global Fund, an international public-private partnership dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

To implement the program, PBSP worked with the Department of Health, an arrangement that Pangilinan described as a good example of public-private partnership.

The Philippines ranks ninth out of 22 countries with high-burden tuberculosis, according to USAID, citing a 2009 report of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The agency added that some 100 Filipinos die daily from the disease, although significant gains have been made in detection and treatment.

Acknowledging the big amount given to the tuberculosis program, Pangilinan said that the fight against poverty could make greater progress if the Philippines received funding of that magnitude for other concerns, such as malaria, dengue, and even building classrooms.

In the national government budget for 2011, the Department of Education was allotted money to build 14,000 new classrooms, which is 10 percent of the current needs, according to an earlier report in The Times.

Not just money
Money, although important, is not everything.

Equally important was a long-term commitment to end poverty, Pangilinan told The Times.

“To make a dent on poverty in this country, in any country, it has got to be long-term. It’s a long-term commitment,” he said.

“It just won’t go away,” he added. “Even if you give away money to everybody, it won’t go away in one day.”

Pangilinan encouraged more companies to get involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, and he added that there were many organizations doing good work—but that the PBSP was different.

“The thing about PBSP is it’s trying to employ the discipline of business into CSR. That’s the distinctive characteristic of PBSP. We’re not just another foundation that’s trying to do social work,” he said.

He added that more businesses could also answer the government’s invitation to help in infrastructure development, such as the Public Private Partnership (PPP), the centerpiece program of President Aquino.
Referring to the President, Pangilinan said, “He deserves all the help we can give him.”

“I think he’s very well-intentioned,” he also told The Times. “I have no doubt he’s an honest person. So I wish him well.”

As for PBSP, Pangilinan said, “We just have to be more focused. But we [also] need to be bigger, because the size of the poor in the country is large.”

“Like PBSP, I’ve always believed that in your life, if you could just change for the better one individual’s life, you’ve done OK. So if do if you do it for more than one [person], that would be great,” he said.

He said that helping others was not just for large multinationals or for successful people, although he added that one must be financially healthy in order to give.

But he added, “No matter how poor you are, if you could change somebody else’s life for the better, that’s OK.”