POSTSCRIPT / January 19, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Stained-glass view of corruption varies

VARIANCE: Stained glass windows are better appreciated from inside a church than from outside. While the object is the same image, its appearance from inside is always better – thanks to the transparency of the glass and the sunlight filtering through it.

This variance in the two views from opposite side of the same window may explain partly why a recent survey of business executives here showed a perception that there was more corruption in 2013 than in the previous year while another view from outside the country indicated otherwise.

The thousand or so merchants doing business in the Philippines who were surveyed and those still outside looking in were viewing the same image on the stained glass window.

But while the “insiders” reported seeing a rise from 43 to 56 percent in government corruption, an “outsider” (International Finance Corp.) said in its “Doing Business 2014” report it saw an improved 2013 perception of the Philippines jumping 25 notches to rank 108 from 133.

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FINAL ARBITER: The variance is also conditioned on the parameters used, the motives involved, and the spectacles worn by foreign investors looking in and by those already looking from their vantage inside the country.

It is actually more complicated than that. We leave the deeper analysis to those who have more space than this 900-word corner of the page.

But the final arbiters of how clean and caring is the government, we think, are Filipinos themselves, now numbering a hundred million and who are stuck in these 7,000-plus islands, whose lives are touched daily by official policies, decisions and actions.

The plain folk’s gut feel will vary from the commercial view of businessmen whose expectations and profit motive color their perspective.

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TUGADE RULE: Talking of corruption, we were somewhat surprised by the new management of the Clark Development Corp. in Pampanga in institutionalizing measures to curb corruption in the Freeport now teeming with locators.

As soon as lawyer-businessman Arthur Tugade took over last year as CDC president and chief executive officer, he laid down a rule that all current and incoming locators must sign a commitment in clear terms that they will not offer or give any accommodation or any form of largesse to any CDC personnel from the managers down to the rank and file.

A violation of this “contract” is enough ground for the imposition of sanctions such as the cancellation of their lease agreement, according to Mariza O. Mandocdoc, CDC vice president for business development and business enhancement group.

She was guest last Friday at the weekly breakfast forum of the Capampanagan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at its Bale Balita (House of News) in Clark.

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IMPROVED CLIMATE: Before that, we have heard of incidents of “gifts,” including Christmas presents, from locators actually being returned with an explanation that such practice has stopped and will not be countenanced by the new CDC management.

Tugade tells CDC personnel in strong terms in their Monday morning flag-raising ceremony, about this strict rule of neither asking for nor receiving gifts or bribes. Some government personnel may not ask but will receive. The new rule is neither should they receive even unsolicited presents and favors.

This game-changing policy of Tugade, himself a former businessman before he was installed at the helm of CDC, has improved the business climate in this investment and recreation haven.

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BANNER YEAR: This reform may be one of the reasons why 2013 was a banner year for this former US military installation fast becoming a magnet and catalyst for development in Central Luzon. The region is now seen as an alternative to congested Metro Manila.

Mandocdoc said Clark’s net profit in 2013 swelled by P140 million to P327 million on the back of some P1.2-billion revenues. Both gross and net income figures were the highest recorded by the Freeport operator since it began operating commercially in 1996.

Moreover, CDC capped 2013 with a record cash position of P1.48 billion, also the highest in the last 18 years.

By end-2013, the number of operating locators in Clark was 679, employing 72,616 workers. They exported some $3.831 billion worth of goods, or $212 million higher than the preceding year’s $3.619 billion exports.

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MORE REFORMS: As part of reforms, CDC extended to three years the term of Certificate of Registration and Tax Exemption (CORTE) of locators, and slashed by 30-50 percent the processing time for all applications and requests via automation.

Marketing forms have been simplified to make it easy for the locators. An “enhanced account officer system” has been adopted to deter “hanky-panky” deals that stem from over-familiarization.

In exchange for the CDC accommodations, locators were required to make clear commitments and timelines on project completion. Those who had bitten off too much space were asked to return part of their sites which were then opened for those waiting in line.

Such adjustments recovered in 2013 some 27 hectares earlier leased to locators that failed to pursue their projects.

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POSITIVE RESPONSE: The response was positive, Mandodoc said, referring to the surge of new locators, the revival of inactive projects and the recovery of some leased lands, reflecting the improved business climate in the Clark Freeport.

In 2013, four new locators signed lease agreements with CDC and committed to invest some P648 million and generate 2,254 jobs when fully operational.

One newcomer is Pishon Clark Phils. Inc., a Korean-owned electronic components maker of speakers and earphones. It committed a P72-million investment and to employ about 1,500 workers. The others are Preferred and Proven Therapies, Inc. — formerly known as Jade Duty Free — Sambon P&E Phils. Corp. and Hubble Multisport Inc.

Moreover, CDC succeeded in prompting eight inactive locators to proceed with their projects. They have committed to invest $177.77 million and open 9,180 new jobs in two to three years.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 19, 2014)

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