Delegates from all over the Visayas converged in Ormoc City, Leyte to attend the annual Visayas Area Business Conference (VABC). The 3-day event concluded last September 16, 2016 and featured notable resource speakers on different business issues.
Staying true to its theme of ‘Change is Here,’ the business conference carried a message of resilience and adaptability amidst socio-economic and political upheaval.
“When I came in, we needed to rebuild the system.” Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez said, referring to the policy changes the city made under his administration. In particular, Gomez shifted the city’s focus on peace and security and tourism. He also said the city is now compliant with the Anti-Red Tape Act for the benefit of budding and existing businesses.
Leyte Governor Dominic Petilla credited the fast recovery of the region after Typhoon Yolanda to the people’s resilience. “In less than a week businesses managed to reopen,” Petilla said.
The governor also highlighted the fact that the economic growth of Region VIII remained strong, topping 11 other regions, despite the aftermath of one of the world’s strongest tropical cyclones. Household disposable income in the region has also been increasing, Petilla noted.
Former Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, who is now the House representative of the 3rd district of Cebu, said ‘resilience is how we adapt to change.’
“Change is the opposite of status quo,” Garcia said. “It is a disruption whether good or not.”
She said the country is currently in a transition stage with the entry of the Duterte administration who have definitely brought about significant changes in the political dynamics. She added that the country needs a strategy to cope with the changes in order to adapt to the new socio-political landscape.
Advancing her advocacy for tourism, Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez said the Visayas is a bright spot for tourism despite its ‘raw and rugged’ state. Torres-Gomez, who is also the new chairperson of the House tourism committee, said the region just needs to learn from other places in terms of presentation and marketing.
Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan also noted the strong potential of the region for tourism. She said increased collaboration in terms of tourism projects among the provinces will increase tourist numbers in the Visayas region. Tan said that the One Visayas initiative, which aims to promote the lesser visited destinations, will be instrumental to the achievement of these goals.
The problem of connectivity in the Visayas area was heavily tackled in the conference. Being largely composed of islands, business leaders and experts noted that province-to-province and region-to-region linkages are hard to facilitate without proper infrastructure. However, they said the strengthened focus on infrastructure spending especially in the rural areas and countryside by the new administration is a cause for optimism.
Investments on ICT infrastructure were also considered very important to drive further growth and development. Asked on whether Leyte in particular was ready to follow the steps of Cebu in terms of its flourishing BPO sector, Governor Petilla said the province is not far behind with its strong IT education and training. He added that the province is prepared to take in more investments in the said sector.
In response to concerns of connectivity and coordination in the region, various proposals were put forward to address the problem during the conference. In tourism, the promotion of a diving package for tourists by the One Visayas initiative was seen as a good way to improve coordination and linkages between the provinces and regions. Another proposal that was put forward was an inter-regional trading system based on regional strengths especially in terms of agricultural products.