Monthly Archives: January 2015

Giving is more fun in the Philippines

It should come to no surprise philanthropy is big in the Philippines given our generous and hospitable culture. However, its ability to replace the decline in foreign donor aid is going to be a big challenge. I would like to believe with over 10 million OFWs, there is an opportunity to harness their generosity to share the benefits of their better lives with the less advantaged in society and be able to cover any shortfall. Let’s work together to develop opportunities for this to happen.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

January 06, 2015

Study says Philippines leads in philanthropy

THE PHILIPPINES was cited as a Southeast Asian leader in modern-day philanthropy but questions have been raised about its sustainability since its local institutional donations remain insufficient to arrest foreign donor support, a study in Singapore said.

The Philippines’ “philanthropic sector… is… among the most diverse and structured in Southeast Asia, with the largest number of locally established philanthropic institutions,” the Lien Center for Social Innovation of the Singapore Management University said in a study. The study also noted that the Philippines was able to forge ahead of its neighbors even if overseas development assistance and foreign donations declined steadily over the past decade in several Southeast Asian countries.

“While these illustrate a fairly mature philanthropic sector in the Philippines as compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, nonprofit professionals interviewed for this study indicate that domestic institutional philanthropy has not been sufficient to fill the void created by declining foreign donor support,” the study said.

Despite the country’s commendable success in developing sustainable funding mechanisms and experimenting with new forms of philanthropy to mobilize local resources and domestic philanthropy, “current levels are insufficient to meet the needs of the country’s nonprofit sector,” the study said.

“Growing domestic philanthropy is imperative to supporting NPOs [nonprofit organizations] to tackle persistent social challenges… civil society’s effectiveness and ability to engage constructively in national development is being threatened by limited sustainable sources of funds,” it said.

“Sustainability remains the biggest challenge facing nonprofit organizations in the country. In many cases, the lack of funds has impacted the ability of NPOs to sustain their work and attract and retain personnel,” the research added, noting these despite the country’s “tremendous wealth creation in recent years as its economy grew steadily over the past decade — with an average growth rate of 4.5% in the past five years, even outpacing the rate of growth of economies in India and China in the past quarter — and is expected to be among the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia for the next few years.

“Mobilizing additional local resources is essential to sustain the efforts of the nonprofit sector in tackling pressing social problems and to ensure that philanthropy in the Philippines keeps pace with existing and emerging social needs,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Lien Center enumerated the features of the country’s institutional philanthropic sector as characterized by “a mix of private and publicly supported organizations; the largest funders are three publicly endowed foundations: the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, the Foundation for a Sustainable Society, and the Peace and Equity Foundation; corporate donations in the country are an increasingly important source of income for NPOs; government support for the nonprofit sector is primarily in the form of fees for services and contracts; there is a growing movement for community philanthropy in underdeveloped areas of the country; and international philanthropic resources have been declining steadily, making it more urgent for the Philippines to mobilize and expand domestic philanthropy.”

The research entitled, “Levers for Change-Philanthropy in select Southeast Asian countries” — which is part of the Social Insight Research Series, closely examined philanthropic activities in the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand.

Article location : says Philippines leads in philanthropy&id=100399

Promoting local offshoring in the Philippines

This article presents an idea which until now private business in the Philippines have not adopted as a strategy to be competitive. The idea is to decentralise its operations from being concentrated in locations like Metro Manila and offshore them to other parts of the country where there is less congestion, lower labour costs and maybe even a better quality of work life for its staff. Let’s hope the current approach of BPOs to expand in other parts of the country will develop a similar practice among local private business.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

January 06, 2015

Urban congestion: Time to relocate?

I HAVE NEVER ridden the MRT because at the time I left Manila, I was technically a PWD (person with disability) because of my arthritic knees. However, in the 1980s, while doing consulting for a Department of Health (DoH) project, I would drive to Baclaran from my home in Alabang, park my car there, and climb up to take the LRT all the way to Tayuman whence it was just a short walk to the office of then Secretary Jesus Azurin. Instead of the hour or more long drive to DoH, it would take me 20-25 minutes on the LRT. I didn’t mind having to stand in the crowded non-aircon train back and forth because it saved me time and energy. So, I have a keen appreciation for the benefits of these railways.

That was about 30 years ago. So, I can imagine how much more grueling it must be to wait in line to get space on these trains now, and how angry commuters must be about the price increases, having become used to the highly subsidized fares (estimated to be to the tune of P12 billion a year) that have not increased for over a decade.

The government cannot continue to subsidize these railways in the billions of pesos, while the provincial areas lag behind the Metro Manila area in development investment. I suspect that the deal with Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC) — the private sector investor in the original MRT “hardware” (railways and trains) — signed in the time of President Erap could have been a sweetheart deal. This is because the contract seems to tie the hands of the government while protecting the private firm from some of its risks and responsibilities for maintenance.

At the same time, the MRTC claims that the government did not fulfill some of its end of the bargain. Apparently, the original MRTC investors (who they?) had even cashed in and surrendered majority control of the firm to the Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, which now control the board.

Because Robert John Sobrepeña (of College Assurance Plan) remains an investor and board member, I cannot help smelling a rat. He has clearly messed up many of the firms established by his respected father, Enrique Sobrepeña. I have an axe to grind against him because my son, who fully paid for the college education of his children, was only able to collect reimbursement for one college semester of his son. It was just money down the drain. And John Sobrepena is still in business? Doesn’t he have any responsibility to the families who invested their savings in College Assurance Plan? Why do these guys get off scot-free?

In this situation, it seems to me, the government is “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” Instead of blaming previous administrations for the accumulated railway mess, Transport and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and the President have chosen to bite the bullet and just go ahead with the price increase, in order to reduce the burden on the government.

Since I am now once more a probinsiyana, I am happy that there will be P2 billion more for us “promdis” to fund our farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, and other development projects.

I don’t think that the problems of overpopulation and urban congestion in the National Capital Region are going to get any better, no matter what the government does to try and ease things. It is already investing in flood control, new highways, air terminals, etc.

As long as public investment keeps pouring into this region of extreme primacy, businesses will continue to focus its investments on Metro Manila. People will continue to jostle for space in buses, jeepneys and trains, to inhale polluted air, spend more time on the road than with their children, and shorten their lives.

One alternative I would suggest is for employers to provide or increase transportation allowances for their workers. If they bellyache about the additional personnel costs (which I suspect will hardly make a dent), they can choose to relocate some of their operations to the provinces. Even the call center and other BPO service providers can relocate. Their workers can be persuaded to relocate because their children will have easier lives, and they will also have more time for them.

College students too, can choose to study in the provincial cities (Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Bacolod, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Angeles, Lingayen, Naga, Legaspi, etc.) where there are enough first-rate colleges and universities; and they don’t have to breathe all that foul air and compete for disappearing space in public transport. This problem can force us to rethink development and business strategies. About time, too.

Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.

Article location : congestion: Time to relocate?&id=100379

A Private utility do better in providing good customer service

One of the benefits one gets to enjoy when living abroad is the good customer service given by government agencies and similar utilities like telcos, water and power utilities. In Sydney, where I am based, the local telco and power utility has been privatised leaving the water utility still being publicly owned. But regardless of whether its public or privately owned, I can rely on the same good customer service provided by government agencies to serve me in my needs. In the Philippines, it is common knowledge, customer service at the government level is virtually non-existent. So, one would expect the privatised telcos and other utilities would do better. For telcos, probably the intense competition has brought the service to be better than those days when it was a PLDT monopoly. However, no significant improvement has been observed from the water utilities. It appears even if the utility is managed by among the best of Philippine business (the water utility mentioned in this article is majority owned and managed by Ayala Corporation), the level of their customer service is still no better than what one can expect from a government agency. What gives? I would like to believe its partly the lack of government regulation to require them to provide for an adequate level of customer service. Of course, the other reason is nature of the business culture present having a lack of competition as these are business monopolies. Nevertheless, I was hoping a private company and one as good as Ayala can make it a difference by showing it can provide better level customer service inspite of these circumstances. Let’s see how we can help them make this happen.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

January 06, 2015

The public deserves better service from utility firms…and the government

ON NEW YEAR’S EVE I went home to unusually weak or low water pressure. There was water from the tap, but the pressure was not strong enough to serve beyond the ground floor. Come New Year’s Day water pressure was still low. And by the day after the tap was dry, and it remained dry for almost 48 hours.

Come Sunday evening, as the long holiday weekend came to an end, water service resumed but pressure was still weak. However, there was enough juice from the tap to allow people to fill up pails and other water containers in preparation for the next day, the first official working day of the year 2015.

By Monday late afternoon, however, water service and pressure were back to normal. Until pressure temporarily weakened anew come Tuesday mid-morning. As of this writing yesterday, service and pressure seemed to have stabilized — but this was six days since the “issue” started on New Year’s Eve. And over this six-day period, I had called the water utility’s customer hotline twice to inquire about status and resolution.

But despite those two calls, which were presumably recorded, I have not received clarity as to the what, how and why of the problem. In short, the hotline did not seem to know what the specific problem was and when it would be resolved. Although they knew where the problem was — the barangay in Makati City where the Vice-President resides.

In fact, on the second call to the hotline, my contact number was even requested on the promise that I will be contacted or called through my home phone to be informed of the details of the problem and the timeline for resolution. To date, I have not received the promised call. Not even a flyer or an announcement regarding the interrupted water service.

This is considering that my water bill was delivered on Jan. 2, three days after the problem started, and not even a note with the bill to explain the issue. It was somewhat insensitive, in my opinion, to bill a customer at a time when service was interrupted. Worse, service was interrupted and billing came amid news reports that water prices will go up by February.

The rate increase was in light of foreign currency differential adjustments (FCDA) that will be reflected on customers’ bills starting next month. The FCDA is a mechanism that allows water utilities “to recover or compensate for fluctuations…in foreign exchange rates.” Gains and losses can arise from their payment of concession loans and foreign currency-denominated borrowings used to improve services.

And then yesterday, there was also news that water customers could expect another price increase with the conclusion of one utility’s dispute with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) that took over a year to resolve through arbitration. The higher rate, I believe, is to cover the period 2013-2017.

Frankly, as a water customer, I don’t mind paying more to get efficient service. I also understand the need for water utilities to recover investments and to earn profits from business. Also, I realize the possibility of occasional accidents or unforeseen troubles that can result in interrupted service.

What I cannot understand, however, is the lack of information — intentional or otherwise — to customers. Two calls to the customer hotline were for naught. Even the promise of information via phone call never came. Lack of information prevents customers from anticipating and properly planning for interrupted service. Another water utility is expecting within the year a similar resolution of a pending rate dispute.

My problem with water service now is no different from my experience last year with a telecommunication utility for interrupted Internet service. No information came to customers precisely because even the customer hotline was down during the service interruption. Worse, customers were advised to “e-mail” the company for information. But how could we if we had not Internet service?

But then, perhaps it should not surprise us that utilities choose to deal with customers in a seemingly dismissive way. In the case of water service, for instance, one does not really have a choice since service supplier is determined primarily by the location of one’s residence. It is not as if customers have several choices in every location.

The actual service is not the issue here — far from it, in fact. Other than the rare occasion of interrupted service, I have been happy with my water and Internet services. However, in my opinion, the true quality of service is measured best during crisis periods. It makes a big difference to customers how utilities act toward them, particularly during times of troubles.

It appears that in general, the level of service quality in this country, particularly from utilities, leaves lots to be desired. This is unsurprising, perhaps, considering that even public service quality is just as horrible if not worse. Just ask commuters who ride the Metro Rail Transit or the Philippine National Railways.

This being the case, how then can people bring to the government their grievances over poor customer services in the private sector if the government itself cannot deliver the most basic of services with efficiency? Can the government even be expected to effectively regulate privately owned utilities so as to promote and protect consumer interest?

Sadly, instead of bringing out the best in private utilities — and the government — crises appear to have revealed just the opposite.

Marvin Tort is a former Managing Editor of BusinessWorld, and former chariman of the Philippine Press Council.

Article location : public deserves better service from utility firms…and the government&id=100378

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