REPUBLIC of Fiji Consul General Jesus M. Pineda Jr. sees the pronouncements of President Rodrigo R. Duterte and members of his Cabinet, that concerns of the business community will be addressed and government bureaucracy improved, as steps in the right direction.
Speaking inside his 1970s-built Pasig City office that is adorned with paintings, Pineda said the country must step up if it wants to attract an increased number of foreign investors.
“Our foreign direct investment is quite low compared to our neighbors. We have about $6 billion, while Indonesia has $20 billon. We are being left behind by our neighbors,” Pineda said
He added that there are hindrances to establishing business operations in the country, from obtaining business permits all the way to changes in agreements and contracts mid-stream.
Pineda emphasized that companies investing in the country are looking to manage risks and work in a favorable business environment.
Pineda said he believes incoming Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, who has many friends in the business community, is aware of the problems facing the business community.
“I am sure Secretary Dominguez, a well-known businessman, knows the problem and I am sure President Duterte knows the problem, too. With the team that was assembled, he will be able to correct the problems so that we could catch up with our neighbors,” Pineda said.
He added that shortly after winning the election, he was struck by the image of Duterte being interviewed on television and talking about the law being an option for Filipinos.
“If you follow the law, we have no problem with you. Do not break the law and you are ok,” he said, interpreting what Duterte meant.
He laughed at the thought of Duterte exactly expressing the Filipino culture of violating the law with impunity because many of them think some of the laws do not apply to them.
Pineda is optimistic Duterte can eliminate criminality in the country and create an environment of peace and order. He believes positive changes are coming into the country.
According to Pineda, Duterte knows exactly what is happening, as the news is being filled daily with alleged drug dealers being killed by police personnel.
“I am sure Duterte knows the background of these policemen who pretend to arrest drug dealers. He was a mayor. He knows what is happening on the ground,” Pineda said.
The consul added that Duterte is different from most of the past presidents of the Philippines, as he is in touch with the masses and knows the roots of problems hounding the country.
Pineda hopes Duterte would prioritize the long bureaucratic system in government, where it takes multiple signatures just to get a permit to operate.
“This kind of bureaucracy loves this government because it empowers them to do what they have to do, which is corruption,” he said.
He added: “Can you imagine 36 signatures for one permit and you are investing? You want to put up a business. You are creating jobs. So why are you making it so difficult for the entrepreneurs and businessman to put up a business which will create jobs,” Pineda said.
Pineda added that the less subjectivity there is, the faster permits can be given.
The Republic of Fiji-Philippines connection
Pineda said he will be bringing a trade mission to Fiji in October and look at potential business opportunities for both countries.
Fiji, with only a million in population, is an island in the South Pacific, west of Australia and north of New Guinea.
“I am scheduled to bring in a trade delegation from the Philippines. I am vice chairman of Philippines Inc., a business association with advocacy for foreign investments in the Philippines. I am bringing some members from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which are, of course, also members of Philippines Inc. to bring in more foreign investors here,” Pineda said.
He added that Fiji is currently in the process of streamlining its agriculture, trade and other industries, because the country is transitioning from military rule to democracy.
Pineda said he has already introduced Nonresident Ambassador Isekeli Mataitoga, who comes to the country regularly, to several government agencies for technical agreements, including the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
There is also a standing agreement between Fiji and the University of the Philippines for its students to study agriculture in the university.
“Basically, Fiji is an agriculture economy. So far we already touched based and did some training for Fijians in IRRI in Los Baños.”
Although Fiji’s basic staple is taro, Mataitoga came to the country to get new information on new breeds of rice coming out of IRRI.
Pineda said aside from IRRI, the Fiji delegation also attended seminars and training conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Fiji is now looking at setting a meeting with incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol because, aside from rice technology, they are also looking at how the Philippines handle its coconut production.
Unknown to Filipinos, one of Fiji’s well-known products is Fiji water, which is comparable to Perrier, a French brand of natural bottled mineral water. Pineda said the water comes from an artesian aquifer in Viti Levu, the largest island of Fiji. He said very few Filipinos buy Fiji water, if available here in the country, because of its cost.
Outside of agriculture, Pineda added that Fiji is also looking to establish partnership with the Philippine National Police.
“Fiji supplies the guards for some of the United Nations Security contracts. The Fijians want to institutionalize. They just want to know the police work, things related to peace and order,” he said.
Mataitoga came to know Pineda during one of the events the diplomatic community in the country held.
It is from that event where they became acquaintances and, eventually, led Pineda to submit his credentials, which led to his current diplomatic post.
The constant businessman
Possessing an MBA degree from a prestigious New York university, Pineda was hired by former United States Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco to manage his company.
Pineda set up United Coconut Planters Bank. The bank grew to 20 branches under Pineda’s able management. He relinquished the job following the declaration of martial law.
Together with his wife, they also used to have Arte Flora in Pampanga, where they had 2,000 workers manufacturing artificial plants and flowers. The company eventually won a Golden Award from Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions for its unique products.
However, the idea for their business was copied by the Chinese who had a distributor in the country.
“The business was doing well, until one day, I realized my designs were being copied by the Chinese. They go to the fair but after 30 to 40 days they were already manufacturing the same products I made,” he said.
When he visited Shenzen, a declared manufacturing zone in China, Pineda was shocked at what he saw from his competitor.
“It was 50 hectares, and there were 10,000 employees there. The workers are in the factory from Monday to Sunday, and have one hour break in between shifts,” he said.
Universal Flower Corp., the name of the Chinese factory, pays its employee $20 a month with free lodging.
After arriving home, he told his wife to discontinue the business, as they cannot compete with the Chinese, where productivity was 50 percent higher and workers have 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shifts.
“Filipino exporters become uncompetitive because of economy of scale. In our country, if you order 10 or 20 containers, it is already big. With these people, 1,000 or 500 containers are normal,” Pineda said.
Pineda added that the closure of his factory was aided by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, burying his factory in 4 meters of lahar. He said what he earned from the business was eventually shared with the then jobless employees.
Then he went to become the exclusive distributor of compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) in the country, again manufactured in China, through a Chinese friend of Sen. Loren Legarda’s father.
Pineda said the CFL was just then being introduced and is becoming popular in the market. He bought 30 percent of the company. The arrangement was for him to handle the distribution in Asia.
“After a while, the market was flooded again by Chinese CFL and so I did not expand the project, but continued to support my friend,” he said.
From there, still with the same Chinese businessman, he became the manufacturer and distributor of Gree air conditioners here in the country. He went to the parent company in China to ensure that he would be solely handling its business here in the country.
After sometime, he found one common complaint about the product here in the Philippines. There was no after-sales service.
Not one to be discouraged by setbacks, Pineda went to see his biggest customers, SM, Robinsons and other outlets, promising that he would be back in six months to one year to organize a service company.
“The beauty of my product is that the best service is no service. The product is so good our repairs and warrantee is one-fourth of 1 percent. After 11 years, it is so good, modesty aside,” he said.
Pineda added that the Shuhai factory stands in a 120-hectare property and has 25,000 employees spread across China, producing 60 million air conditioners annually.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano