The Philippines rolls out the red carpet Wednesday for the movers and shakers of the international financial community as it plays host to the 45th annual meetings of the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB)-an event that has not been seen here for at least a decade, despite the country being the permanent home of the ADB, and occurring at a most auspicious time when the Philippines has become one of the hottest emerging markets in the region.
In the next four days, more than 4,300 political and government leaders, finance officials and development experts will discuss pressing issues confronting the Asia-Pacific region, which has seen steady growth and is leading the recovery from the global economic crisis, yet remains vulnerable to growing inflation, fuel price spikes, austerity measures in the eurozone and the worsening impact of climate change.
As host of this year's meetings, the Philippines has chosen the theme of "Inclusive Growth through Good Governance," providing a platform for the discussion of one of the most pressing issues for the region-how to bring the benefits of Asia's rapid growth to all levels of society.
The private sector-which is teaming up with government economic managers in an effort to prove to the world that it's "more fun" to hold the meetings in the Philippines-is excited that the ADB has rediscovered the Philippines as a venue for its annual meetings.
Business leaders are optimistic that this event will create a bigger international buzz in support of the government's infrastructure-building and governance agenda as well as campaigns to boost foreign investments and tourism.
Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) chairman Jose Pardo described as "impeccable timing" the decision to hold the meetings in the country this year.
"While ADB meetings have long been planned, it comes at a time when our stock market continues its bull run. This provides us the opportunity to showcase the country as an emerging investment destination," said Pardo, who was finance and trade secretary in the short-lived Estrada administration.
Tourists and investments
"The upcoming ADB event will spotlight the Philippines as a bright spot for investment opportunities and will also highlight the good credit rating of the country," said Teresita Sy-Coson, chairperson of the country's largest bank, Banco de Oro Unibank, and vice chairperson of leading conglomerate SM Investments Corp. which owns the SMX Convention Center where some host-country activities and seminars under the Philippine Corporate and Investment Pavilion will be held.
Cesar Virata, former finance secretary and prime minister who played a key role in hosting ADB meetings five to six times during the Marcos regime, said the event would be good for attracting tourists and for attracting foreign investments.
"They (investors) can see what we need and also they can see the activities of our private sector and because they are going to be our partners and counterparties, that's the advantage of having the international meetings here," Virata said.
He noted that the Philippine International Convention Center was built by the administration of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos precisely for international meetings like the ADB conference. The PICC was part of the massive building frenzy that the Marcos martial-law regime engaged in to host the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in October 1976.
Since then, Virata said the membership of the ADB has increased and so has the number of attendees. He said a number of Indo-China countries were not represented in past meetings because there were undergoing internal wars.
The last time the Philippines hosted a full-scale ADB annual meeting was in 1999. A small-scale meeting was held in 2003 when the meetings had to be relocated because of political turbulence in the original host country.
"Most of the bankers in the member-countries do attend because they are able to meet their counterparties in a single venue so it's a very efficient opportunity," Virata said.
"And for people who have not been in the Philippines but who have read reports, they can see now what we need and how our private sector is filling up a number of investment requirements," Virata said.
PH takes center stage
Manuel Salak III, a Filipino banker who is based in Singapore as ING managing director for clients and corporate finance for Asia, is one of the international bankers who have flown in for the ADB meetings.
"Surely, the Philippines should take center stage and special prominence, not only hosting this important conference but also having its special status as permanent host for the ADB's headquarters. As a senior relationship banker covering Asia, our presence in the annual ADB conferences is important in promoting key relationships with various governments, corporate and financial institutions," Salak said.
"The ADB conference in Manila is a special siren call for me as our franchise here is built on solid ground and a track record second to none. Additionally, while I am officially a visitor, as a Filipino I am also part host. I am sure our government will do well in this event promoting not only honesty but also credibility, and convincing the international community that the Philippines is back on a sustainable track," he said.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, whose department has been at the forefront of the preparations for the meetings, described this event as a "coming-out opportunity" for the Aquino administration to showcase "the dividends of good governance."
Half of the participants are foreign VIPs, including the heads of the Inter-American Development Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation; the Agence Française Développement, and Europe Development Bank.
Senior officials of Asean+3 (China, South Korea and Japan) will be meeting on the sidelines of the conference. The ADB has also welcomed nongovernment organizations to participate in the event in recognition of their role in development, particularly in microfinance initiatives.