NEWLY elected President of the Malaysian Chamber of Commerce Inc. (MCCI) Edward Ling has been in the country for the last 15 years while opening shop to several successful companies.
Yet, he remains practically low-key, except for a few circles of business friends and acquaintances.
This is why despite the presence of about 100 Malaysian companies in the Philippines, he and his compatriots have been, shall we say, “under the radar”. Or maybe, many of us are unaware of their influence in our lives, despite the proximity of the two countries, geographically speaking.
But two Wednesdays ago, Ling and his fellow Malaysian nationals came out of the woodwork and launched the MCCI at a posh hotel in Makati City, attended by luminaries in the local business and diplomatic community, including Malaysian’s Ambassador to the Philippines Dato’ Raszlan Abdul Rashid and their Minister of International Trade and Industry Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.
Ling, a seemingly shy, reticent advocate of healthy living and a guru of wheatgrass who has dominated the local market for decades (he is the president of food supplements distributor Wheatgrass CAN International Inc.), invited some journalists to join him for lunch so that we would get acquainted with the founding members of the MCCI.
In the brief span between the main course and coffee, we came to know that Dome Restaurant, UEM (United Engineering Malaysia), Papa John’s Pizza, Metro Parking, Ssanyong, Mazda, Resorts World and Grab, among others, are either Malaysian-owned brands or controlled by Malaysian conglomerates.
(Or that Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng, a.k.a. actress Michelle Yeoh, and Denise Lorraine Keller, or model Denise Keller, are from the monarchy southwest of the Philippines, respectively. The most surprising find is that Datuk Jimmy Choo Yeang Keat OBE, is the Malaysian fashion designer of very expensive handmade women’s shoes, Jimmy Choo.)
So this reporter posed this question to Ling: “Why are you coming out openly just now?”
“First of the many reasons we formed MCCI is because we are encouraged by the new leadership of this country. We are greatly pleased that the Philippine government is seriously committed to implement and effect change,” Ling said.
He cited the current ease of doing business locally. “Red tape, I believe, has been greatly reduced. And infrastructure spending has increased, meaning more roads, bridges and railways [will be built] in the coming years. The enforcement of business contracts, tax reforms and healthy foreign-reserves position, [among others, are in place]. The many good things go on and on,” he added.
“I believe MCCI came in at the right place and time. The Philippine economy remains the fastest growing in Asia. Therefore, it is a perfect opportunity to invite Malaysian investors to come and create more jobs. We are actually in discussion with Malaysian companies who are keen to invest here.”
“Second, we would like to make the ties between the Philippines and Malaysia much stronger—a bilateral relationship that spans 59 years—or nearly six decades.”
Geared toward prosperity
THE MCCI president said there is also a continuous flow of people between Malaysia and the Philippines, with Kuala Lumpur being one of the top 5 countries with the largest population of overseas Filipinos.
“There are at least 790,000 Filipinos living and working in Malaysia, while there are an estimated 673,000 Malaysians in the Philippines.”
He said trade between the two countries in 2015 reached $4.5 billion (P218.8 billion) in 2015 or 3.6 percent of the country’s total foreign trade. Exports to Malaysia amounted to $1.2 billion (P58.35 billion), while imports reached $3.4 billion (P165.31 billion).
He said these numbers will continue to grow, “and I believe the investment figures most especially, since MCCI is geared toward prosperity for all and, hopefully, help reduce poverty at some point by creating more jobs for Filipinos”.
“As I’ve mentioned earlier, MCCI fully supports [our] government’s efforts to make the Philippines, which I consider my second home, a better place for trade and investment.”
He pointed out that, as the two countries strengthen their ties and presence in the business community, “we are signing a memorandum of Understanding with the Bangsamoro Business Council, headed by Assistant Secretary Gani Macatoman; the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industries, fronted by its President Domingo Yap; and Business Network International, led by its National President Dexter Ortega.”
“[They] are in full support of MCCI’s goals and visions. Rest assured that we share yours, as well. We are also currently in talks with other influential business groups to make MCCI effective and, perhaps, be influential, too,” he said, letting out an infectious chortle.
Actually, he admits that it was Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry who planted the seeds of an idea by establishing the chamber.
Ling explained that, during one business forum, Minister Mohamned asked him why there isn’t a Malaysian Chamber here in the Philippines.
“I thought hard about such and later on realized it is about time that we have a chamber here. That was the starting point for me to start conceptualizing ideas. So I began talking about it to my closest friends and exchanged views and collaborated on how we should go about [the endeavor].”
Three years later, on February 2017, Ling said they finally formed MCCI, fully supported by their ambassador.
“With his backing, it ignited our desire all the more to push forward,” he noted.
The members of the board of the MCCI include Vice President Eric Yam, Corporate Secretary Alli Garangan and Treasurer Azhar Mahmood. Ling said Yam and Diplomatic Advisor Amir are the brains behind the formation of MCCI.
He furthered they decided to invite two other friends to join the board: Mahmood, a hotelier and CFO of Berjaya Hotel Makati and Garangan, a Filipino who hails from a family of royal descendants from the South. Their Trade Commissioner Nyaee Ayup also joined as part of the advisory board together with Amir.
“Completing the mix is Hazel Parial, who runs the secretariat and is overall in charge of this launch,” he told the BusinessMirror of the former Peter Wallace executive.
Living healthy in PHL
LING came to the country 15 years ago and was one of the very first few international entrepreneurs to set up his base in the Philippines in 2005.
“He embraced the Filipino corporate culture, adapted himself with the corporate environment and built himself numerous successful and reputable corporations. His companies in Philippines today are involved in various fields, such as in international trading, nutritional products distribution, as well as marketing and management consultancy,” according to one blurb.
Established in July 2007 and incorporated in November of the same year, WCI is the leading distributor of wheat grass-based health products in the Philippines.
“The abbreviations CAN stand for ‘cleanses, alkalizes and nourishes’, which reflect more what our products do in improving body health,” he said.
Its products are currently found in over 2,000 distribution channels, from top drugstores, supermarkets, convenience stores and huge malls. The company is an advocate of healthy living through the benefits of wheatgrass.
He said 15 years ago, he was just renting an apartment in one of the homes in Gil Puyat, Makati City, specifically in Dian.
“There weren’t as many condominium [buildings] then, as compared today.”
He continued, “I basically I saw Fort Bonifacio when it was still a flatland, from its birth and infancy. I still remember, the price [of real estate there] was so low; now it is so expensive.”
He spends most of his time at the Makati Sports Club and at his home spa. “I do brisk walking as exercise and also climbing stairs. [Those are part of] my daily routine.”
We asked what his favorite Filipino cuisine is. “I eat Filipino food most of the time,” he said in confidence, probably not wanting to surprise his fellow Malaysians.
“Kare-kare and many others, but my favorite is garlic shrimp.”
Asked about his most memorable experiences during a decade-and-a-half hobnobbing with Filipinos, he noticed: “[They] are a very friendly people. Wherever we go, they invite you to their homes to eat, especially seafood.”
“In my 15 years here, I do not remember any unpleasant incident, [and] that is really something.”