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Salamat, Secretary Gregory Domingo

I first met Greg Domingo in August, 2012 when I interviewed him for an article on the improving business climate. Back then, he was already making waves as the Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Right from the get go, I could tell that he was different from the other Cabinet Secretaries I had spoken to before. Instead of rushing through the interview by spewing one motherhood statement after another, he took the time to share his aspirations for the country and describing the various programs in government’s pipeline that would make them possible. Our conversation lasted three hours. I could tell he was a dreamer, an optimist and a patriot. I was inspired and we hit it off famously.

Secretary Greg is a quiet man who carries a big stick. Although he was never one to toot his own horn, those privy know that he is one of the best department heads the DTI ever had. Over five and a half years, his body of work traversed multiple dimensions, all of which set the country on a course towards a sustainable path of growth.

Greg can be considered among the country’s more talented sons. After earning a management engineering degree in Ateneo, he went on to finish two post-graduate degrees – an MBA at the Asia Institute of Management and a masters degree in Operations Research from the Wharton School of Business (UPenn). With impeccable credentials, numerous multinational companies in the Philippines and America came knocking at his door.

Most corporate executives in his position would never consider trading a life of affluence and influence for a thankless job in government. Greg willingly did – first in 2001 to head the Board of Investments and then in 2010 as DTI Secretary. He once said that for professionals who’ve had some success in their personal pursuits, it is only right that they give back to the country through public service. He practiced what he preached.

Greg dedicated the prime of his life doing his share without expecting anything in return. Last December 31, he bowed out from public service to go back to the private sector. He was a professional until the end, handing the reigns of the DTI in the able hands of Atty. Adrian S. Cristobal Jr.

I think it’s only fair that we recount his contributions while in government.

His body of work

Greg’s body of work is proof that when you have the right person in the right post, doing their job with aplomb, challenges seemingly impossible to overcome become a matter of course.

These are among the DTI’s greatest achievements under Greg’s baton.

1. Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). It will be recalled that the Philippines was among ASEAN’s least favored investment destination in 2010 impeded by expensive power, a wieldy bureaucracy, inadequate infrastructure, restrictive provision in the Constitution and corruption. The country booked an anemic $1.07 billion in FDI’s that year.

Five years hence and the DTI, through its attached agencies,the Board of Investments and the Philippine Export Processing Zone Authority, recorded a six-fold increase to $6.02 billion.What makes this feat even more remarkable is that it was achieved while the impediments continued to hound the investment climate.

While the “perception of reform” and our constantly improving fiscal conditions played a part in increasing investor confidence, the real tipping point happened within the DTI itself. Through one of its sub-agencies, The National Competitiveness Council, the DTI made great strides to improve the economy’s competitiveness and ease in doing business. They sorted out supply chains, defined industry development paths and streamlined bureaucratic processes, among others.These made all the difference.

2. Manufacturing Resurgence. I have always been an advocate of the industrialization as it is the only way we can graduate from a lower middle income economy to a high income one. Greg shares the same view. Following decades of erosion in our manufacturing sector, Greg championed a program called The Comprehensive National Industrial Strategy. At the heart of it are what they call “development roadmaps”. These roadmaps provide the framework and chronological steps in which to elevate certain industries from its current state to a level of global competitiveness. They were drafted in collaboration with industry practitioners, the labor sector, the academe and affected government agencies.

To date, more than 40 industry roadmaps have been ratified including those for electronics, IT-BPM, chemicals, copper, furniture, metal casting , rubber products and mass housing industries, among others. Three years into the program and we are already reaping its fruits. The manufacturing sector has grown by an average of 8.9 percent since 2012, outpacing the service sector. After a long draught, manufacturing is finally on its second wind.

3. Auto Manufacturing. Having a thriving auto manufacturing industry is crucial considering the savings we stand to realize on imports and the number of jobs it can create. At present, we produce only a fraction of automobiles manufactured in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

The Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) was launched under Greg initiative. The idea is to revive the auto and auto parts manufacturing industry by having participants commit to locally manufacture at least 200,000 units each, every year. In exchange, the program offers R27 billion tax incentives to its participants. As of this writing, I hear Toyota and Mitsubishi will definitely be among those participating in the program.

4. Promotion of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) – Promotion of MSMEs is key to achieving inclusive growth what with 99% of Philippine businesses falling under this category.

To encourage more MSMEs and spur growth for those already operating, the DTI launched the “Shared Service Facilities (SSF)” and the “Negosyo Centers” programs. SSFs are a one-stop centers rigged with office equipment and basic manufacturing machines that can be used by MSMEs, free of charge. On the other hand, the Negosyo Centers facilitates business registration and permits processing. They also provide business advise and information database. In just two years, Greg’s team managed to open 1,614 SSFs and 149 Negosyo Centers across the country.

5. Business Name Registration System (BNRS) – Provincial entrepreneurs need not make the trip to Manila to register their business name like they used to. It can now be done online through bnrs.dti.gov.ph.

6. Preparation for ASEAN Integration – As of Jan. 1, ASEAN became a fully integrated economic bloc where goods, services, labor, investments and capital can flow freely between member countries. As early as 2013, Greg organized a national roadshow to teach MSME show to stand up to foreign competition and take advantage of the opportunities that regional integration offers.

7. Spearheaded Negotiations of Free Trade Agreements – The DTI is the lead agency in negotiating trade treaties to expand market access for Philippine products and services. Among those recently negotiated were trade agreements between the Philippine and France, the Philippines and Russia, the Philippines and Liechtenstein-Norway-Iceland and ASEAN and Hong Kong, among others.

8. Creative Industries and Garments – After a long slump due to China’s price advantage, our creative industries and garments are now on a rebound.

I can go on about Greg’s contributions, but suffice to say, the economy is much stronger today because of it. No longer are we the region’s perennial underachiever but among its “bright spots,” as foreign media attests.

On a personal note

On my own, I’ve done a number of projects to do my small share in nation building. One of these projects is a program called “Philippines on a Plate,” a food tour to promote Philippine gastronomy. Greg was there to support me during the launching of the program.

As a member of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, I invited Greg to speak before the group. It just so happened that the President needed his presence that afternoon. Greg had no choice but to beg off at the 11th hour. Instead of simply sending his regrets, he sent his BOI Chief, Chito Manalo, on the fly, despite Chito’s heavy workload. Greg did not leave me high and dry and I will never forget that gesture. That’s just the kind of man he is.

I count Greg as a friend, and as a friend, I say thank you for the sacrifice of public service. Your work has not come unnoticed and you have the nation’s gratitude for it.  Maraming Salamat.

Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan.