Team Philippines

Diplomacy for Development

In his sixth State of the Nation Address on 28 July 1997, President Ramos reported that his foreign trade missions generated an estimated USD 21 billion worth of investments from the thirty-six countries he visited during his term. President Ramos enjoyed his self-described persona as “the number one salesman of the Philippines,” despite criticism about his frequent foreign travels. He had something to prove: that Filipinos stood to gain hugely from heightened global presence. He set out to deploy diplomacy to serve economic interests, and to increase the country’s external security capacity. His overseas forays markedly delivered in investments. Moreover, the trips rachetted up foreign tourism at a yearly growth rate of sixteen percent, the highest in the Asia-Pacific region in the early 1990s.

Much of the appreciation for his efforts drew from the Philippines’ prior reputation as an unattractive investment destination. The economy was moribund when President Ramos assumed office. Even with the considerable global goodwill that accrued to the Philippines after it staged the peaceful end to a dictatorship, democratic restoration had to take place while the economy was in sharp decline.

Stable growth was obtained when President Ramos took on economic management through a top-seeded technical team. His success is attributed to the calibre of his policy and administrative reforms, and the creation of a consistent policy environment. Growth was also assured by the strength of prioritization, notably the early resolution of an inherited power crisis through a long-term energy plan in consultation with industry stakeholders; and the rehabilitation of the energy generation and distribution ecosystem that needed Congressional support. The first in a series of strategic moves was the ratification of the Electric Power Crisis Act or EPIRA Law, which authorized the instrumentality of the negotiated contract to fast track the production of power plants; and to shorten the procedure for Environmental Impact Assessments and equipment procurement.

Energy self-reliance was a priority ambition, and Republic Act 7638 underscored this with the re-establishment of the Department of Energy (DOE), closed down during the preceding Aquino presidency. The new DOE guaranteed the continuous and adequate energy supply required by the Ramos administration’s high octane economic agenda. This law was among the first to encourage private sector participation in resource development. Amendments were introduced to the Build-Operate-Transfer Law (Republic Act 7718) and its Implementing Rules and Regulations to allow the operations of independent power producers. The National Power Corporation was reorganized to efficiently implement the long-term energy plan, furthermore infusing it with fresh capital from the Oil Price Stabilization Fund. Continuous energy supply also renewed Filipino confidence in economic possibilities.

With the energy problems addressed, President Ramos expanded and increased Special Economic Zones, and labor entered into a harmonious status quo with the government. To accommodate local and foreign investments, Congress enacted a law creating the Philippine Economic Zone Authority to identify and develop special economic zones as agro-industrial, industrial, recreational, commercial, banking, investment, and financial centers in strategic growth areas. The principal of such zones were the former American naval and air facilities at Subic Bay, Zambales, and Clark, Pampanga. Several were established in the southern Luzon provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon (and given the collective name CALABARZON), and in Cebu City. Meanwhile, at the newly established East ASEAN Growth Area, the zones were sponsored by Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

A total of forty industrial estates and export zones were established throughout the archipelago. These estates were strategically located in relation to material and manpower potential, and in their geographic relation to specific countries that signified interest in investing in these areas. Two sites proved particularly important: the Zamboanga City Special Economic Zone that serviced the East Asia Growth Area; and the Cagayan Special Economic Zone that accommodated the investor markets of Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. The Ramos presidency pursued industrial peace as a primary objective, and enjoined the national workforce to understand that cooperation and collaboration were requisites of achieving marked growth in a field of intensifying global competition.

Outstanding contributions towards industrial peace were officially recognized, highlighting successful collective bargaining negotiations and agreements; labor-management cooperation; increased productivity and quality; and increased access by more Filipino youth to training and research. The Ramos administration invested substantially in human resource development, primarily signaled by the creation of the vocational training supervisory body, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) through Republic Act 7796, signed by the President in August 1994. TESDA devised the Technical-Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system to support the economic infrastructure undergoing improvement. It formulated an industry-based training program to align course offerings to various labor needs. The offerings were designed to be readily availability to Filipinos who wished to relearn, upgrade, or begin training in specific technical fields.

Privatization, deregulation, and liberalization policies facilitated access for new entrants into the Philippines’ economic theaters. The Philippines received fresh investment and private sector participation gained momentum. The liberalization framework for foreign investments was set by Republic Act 7042, which set the initiatives to harmonize trade and investment infrastructure mechanisms. This pivot was intended, among other aims, to guarantee the security of foreign companies in their ownership of plant sites in industrial estates. Among the law’s provisions were: the registration of non-Filipino nationals’ investments; foreign investment in export and domestic market enterprises; investment rights of former natural-born Filipinos; and transitory provisions of the Foreign Investment Negative List. Under President Ramos, liberalized access to the Philippines by foreign investors produced growth without devolving into issues of sovereignty or disadvantage to local labor and capital movement.

The Ramos administration’s Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) helped to achieve the objectives of the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan 1993–1998, through the Board of Investments, an agency under the purview of the Department of Trade and Industry. The IPP set forth the priority investment projects and identified those that are entitled to incentives under the Omnibus Investments Code of 1987. It streamlined the process of business matching with incentives to attract capital flow into priority sectors, thus easing the overall experience of doing business in the Philippines. The IPP was designed to generate capital and economic activity by sustaining its macro economic objectives of regional growth and development. With this formulation, the IPP created opportunities for employment and livelihood, developed competitive domestic industries for increased productivity and exports, upgraded infrastructure and facilities for agri-industrial growth, and developed tourism facilities and destination clusters.

The President Ramos state visits and foreign missions refreshed ties with old allies and cultivated new friendships while campaigning for investments, developing export markets, promoting tourism, and facilitating the inflow of development aid. During this late 20th century period of global interaction, trade relationships were being reshaped, essentially through the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) of the World Trade Organization, the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The Philippines signified active participation in the dialogue and negotiations, notably affirming Philippine tariff and trade commitments in international law. The President’s view of foreign relations was one of interdependence—cooperation and complementation—during a period of abundant trade opportunities in a world that nevertheless faced growing threats to human and ecological security.

Trade missions led by President Ramos brought attention to the success of comprehensive reforms that facilitated political stability, industrial peace, and a level playing field where individual enterprise could compete and flourish. He crafted “Philippines 2000,” the government’s strategy for achieving newly industrialized status for the Philippines by the turn of the century. He played up the Filipino’s ability to meet the demands of globalization, inviting nations to explore the possibilities inherent in the Philippine’s population of efficient, highly skilled, motivated, and disciplined youth. The trips emphasized the Philippines’ strategic location between East Asia and the Pacific—straddling the sea lanes of the Western Pacific, the West Philippine Sea, and the Indian Ocean—hence at the crossroads of trade and business, and a natural and ideal hub for investments. The diplomatic missions helped produce the Philippines’ noteworthy economic performance during this period, with the inflow of foreign investments and the solidification of economic ties with foreign governments.

President Ramos himself defined the national agenda of renewal in countless events and fora in the Philippines, including the occasions of courtesy calls of foreign dignitaries and trade missions in Malacañang. The diplomatic campaign for development was cascaded to the country’s Foreign Service Corps, shifting their focus to foreign trade and investment to benefit export-oriented development. With Asia-Pacific as the Ramos administration’s foreign relations cornerstone, the administration focused on deepening regional alliances with the member countries of ASEAN and the APEC, renewing relationships and establishing new ones with European countries and North America. The Philippines benefited from the clarity of the administration’s foreign policy directions: enhancing national security, promoting economic diplomacy, protecting overseas Filipino workers and Filipino nationals abroad, and projecting a positive image of the country abroad.

The priority accorded ASEAN and the larger Asia-Pacific region represented the Ramos administration’s due alignment with ASEAN’s move toward greater economic clout in the world, as member-countries started endeavoring to integrate into an economic community by 2015. Within this community-in-progress, the Philippines focused on improving its attractiveness to secure its adequate share of investments into ASEAN, while maximizing opportunities for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. In strengthening regional security, President Ramos proposed initiatives in at least six areas of cooperation: defense cooperation, including more military consultations and technical exchange; training and exercises; economic cooperation, including trade liberalization and increased access to Western markets; technology transfer; regional environmental protection; mechanisms to quell piracy as well as the illicit drug trade; and ways to deal with large scale worker migration.

Regional peace and security issues were rife. ASEAN at that time was pursuing confidence-building measures among the claimant nations to the contested areas of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).86 While long-standing conflicts concerning maritime boundaries and rights escalated tension among Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, bilateral and multilateral arrangements to advance regional security were also on-going, with all options open. It was during this period when, in February 1992, the People’s Republic of China announced its Law on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, claiming the entire South China Sea based on its historical prior claim dating back to the Xia Dynasty, which ruled between the 21st and 16th centuries BCE.87 China has since continued to build on reefs and atolls with the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

During the Ramos presidency and through the decades after, ASEAN’s diplomatic approach to this flashpoint has remained constant and open to dialogue. Peaceful negotiation was encouraged, and adverse turns assiduously avoided. Threats to regional peace and security, any weakening of its defense to external threats, and potential diminishment of trade opportunities have remained ASEAN no-go zones. To address the Philippines’ increasing alarm, ASEAN foreign ministers adopted the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea during the 25th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Manila. A Philippine initiative, the document was designed to mitigate conflict among claimant states and promote goodwill through cooperation in areas of mutual interest. While the conflict would escalate during succeeding Philippine presidencies, the Philippines after Ramos continued to pursue peaceful resolution even in the face of actual aggression by China.

The ASEAN Regional Forum, (ARF) established in 1994 as the only multilateral security dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region conducted at the government level. The ARF operated on preventive diplomacy tenets, facilitating constructive discussion and consultation on political and security matters of common interest, corollary to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. The administration’s work to reinforce productive relationships with the ASEAN member states, with Japan, and with China was carried out vis-à-vis the Philippines’ external security needs. Peaceful co-existence was and remains the essential diplomatic agenda between the Philippines and the countries with which it has common maritime borders. In strengthening this peace within ASEAN, President Ramos effectively sustained the legacy of his father, former Foreign Secretary Narciso R. Ramos, who was one of the five ministers who signed the document that established the ASEAN. The younger Ramos would later become the Philippine representative to the Eminent Person’s Group on the ASEAN Charter after his term as President.

Island Southeast Asian relations were reinforced when Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines established a cross-border free trading area and growth zone. The East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) initiative immediately facilitated trade, tourism, and investments through the free movement of people, goods, and services through the four nations. The Area stimulated growth in remote, isolated provinces in this subregion where trade and investment were scarce, and viable economic opportunities almost nil, particularly in areas of strife and political turmoil. For the Philippines, this strategic alliance demonstrated confidence in the potential of Mindanao for peace and progress, given the opportunities for investments, livelihood and business. BIMP-EAGA realized President Ramos’ ambition to revive historic trade routes in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

In his long-held view, economic ties among the four countries should be solidified on the principle of mutual and common benefit. The new sea transport routes and air links eased the flow of trade and commerce between and among the cities of Davao and Zamboanga, Manado in Indonesia’s north Sulawesi, Sandakan in Malaysia’s Sabah, Kota Kinabalu of Malaysia’s Sarawak, and their interior areas. Mindanao and these heretofore unreached places saw investments in tourism, agriculture, and infrastructure pour in. Opportunities for business and livelihood increased, significantly boosting BIMP economies, and Mindanao transformed into one of the Philippines’ fastest growing island economies. The possibilities offered by open and transparent governance attracted more investments, grants, and development aid, increasing the opportunities for further expansion and diversification. For Mindanao in particular, economic growth meant progress in peace building. In turn, political stability in Southern Philippines created a highly productive contributor to the country’s global competitiveness.

With economic progress came more open and frequent dialogue between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the first of two major fronts fighting to secede from the republic. The soldier-president who engineered détente with secessionist forces in Mindanao did so with a clear understanding of the economic impact of historical injustice. Having commanded police and constabulary forces in the Mindanao theater of war since the 1970s, President Ramos came into the presidency with a grasp of Muslim Mindanao’s demand for the kind of self-determination that allowed for the economic use of natural resources in traditional Muslim lands. He also deeply understood the resources and economic dislocations under contention. The successful signing of the Mindanao Peace Agreement with the MNLF on 2 September 1996—an exceptional achievement earning the Philippines the 1997 UNESCO Peace Award—was a multi-national effort involving Malaysia and several Middle East countries, all of which President Ramos guided amidst palpable economic development.

Philippine membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) dates to its inception in 1989, when twelve Asia-Pacific economies convened an international dialogue at Canberra, Australia. The consensus reached during this ministerial meeting was around the shared objective of working together towards global and regional economic development, and strengthening the economic cooperation within the vast region surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The Philippines’ entry to the APEC presented an opportunity, and reason, for the country to commence transforming itself into a more competitive and attractive economy, especially when earlier efforts on political economic reforms encountered considerable resistance from conservative forces. APEC exercised a strong and liberalizing effect on the Philippine economy, specifically with regard to the necessary respect due to domestic market forces and the regional economy in the Asia Pacific.

It has also been through and within the APEC that the Philippines engaged national and regional economies for mutually beneficial exchanges beyond trade and investments: in the fields of information, science and technology, and health and education. This outcome was in large measure pre-determined, because President Ramos, a leading figure in market reform and the liberalization of trade and investment, helped shape APEC’s agenda. He contributed to the definition of its role as a facilitator of cooperation towards economic progress; and to addressing emerging impediments to sustainable growth. Another item on his agenda was the call to give the private sector a significant role as partners in the APEC’s growth. He proposed the formation of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in every member economy. The ABAC was to offer APEC the private sector’s perspective in the work of improving the climate for free and open trade, including recommendations towards regional economic integration.

Productively engaged thus, the Asia-Pacific business community has enjoyed a sense of ownership over the shaping of APEC’s progress. It was encouraged to jumpstart its own initiatives in economic and technical cooperation. The ABAC convinced skeptical transnational business people that free and open trade and investment was a reality in the APEC, and that these would continue to redound to the greater good. The Filipino business community was present and supportive during the Philippines’ chairmanship of the APEC from 1995 to 1996. The private-public partnership that was forged helped set the meeting’s three tasks: prepare the ground for carrying out the agenda of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific; complete the commitment-making phase of setting the vision, goals and agenda; and implement the individual and collective initiatives contained in the 1996 Manila Action Plan for APEC or MAPA 96. This was in effect the roadmap towards liberalization. It facilitated the adoption of measures guiding trade and investment to achieve the goals of free and open trade and investment in the region by 2010–2020.

During the Summit, discussions addressed then-existing structural impediments in the way of national economies trying for sustainable growth, and contributing to, or benefiting from, the region-wide liberalization of trade and investment. Resolving these impediments required a new model of cooperation built on shared information, knowledge, experience and expertise, in addition to transferring resources from the rich to the poor. The private sector clearly had to become partners of governments in nation building, with a shared ethos of collaboration, consensus building, and equality. The member economies and their leaders agreed that through enhanced cooperation, the process of continuous and progressive trade and investment liberalization and facilitation would be fluid.

The Philippines hosted the APEC series of meetings that culminated in the Summit. With Administrative Order No. 160,  President Ramos created the National Organizing Committee (APEC-NOC) as early as 5 December 1994, chaired by the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, with the Secretary of Trade and Industry and the Executive Secretary as co-chairs. The Philippines, exhibiting itself as the host economy—casting its people and potential in a positive light—was to cross a threshold into a mature society in the community of nations. The country indeed showed itself as an ideal trading and investment partner, and a competitive ally of the “tiger” economies in the world’s fastest-growing region. Filipinos were, in general, optimistic during this period of stability. Long festering problems were acknowledged and addressed, and results were beginning to be palpable. President Ramos, a minority president when he won, was enjoying greater popularity, and APEC showed him off as a success.

MAPA 96 proved to be a viable roadmap and did serve as the framework to guide the processes and outcomes of the 1996 APEC Summit. It was a roadmap away from the previous Asia Pacific landscape of frequent economic discord, short-term dislocations, and the marginalization of some sectors that economic integration tended to worsen. Stabilization was essential, as MAPA 96 set out to broaden APEC’s constituency and sustainability over the long term. Beyond the economic interdependence that free and open trade and investment fostered, APEC intended to build, as President Ramos posited, a thriving multicultural community that enjoyed a common culture of collective problem solving. Such a culture was indeed developed in due course and strengthened as the APEC economies deployed the instrument of economic and technical cooperation. Substantial and measurable progress was made in achieving the Summit’s and the Philippines’ goals, not only on the evidence of measures implemented and adopted, but in the expressed openness and enthusiasm for President Ramos’ conceptualization of a relevant and sustainable community of economies.

With one economy in particular, the United States’, Philippines’ own has had a century-long history of co-evolution. Shared democratic values underpinned a previously colonial relationship that matured in time into bilateral conventions in the significant areas of defense and security, trade and investments, health and education, and the environment. Among the deeply rooted American institutions in the Philippines were the US Veterans Administration, established in 1921. Its care for American war veterans in the Philippines preceded formal diplomatic relations upon the declaration of full Philippine independence on 4 July 1946. The one hundred fifty-two acre Manila American Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio is the largest American military cemetery outside the US. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Peace Corps have been in the country from 1961. Close to 300,000 US citizens live in the Philippines, while more than three million Filipino-Americans live in the United States.

The US military maintained two large bases in Central Luzon for nearly a century: the Naval Station at Subic Bay, Zambales and Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga. With this arrangement, the Philippines’ external defense was implicitly entrusted to the US under a military assistance agreement and a Military Bases Agreement (MBA) that enabled the Philippines to allot the smallest defense investment in ASEAN. However, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 buried Clark Air Base in volcanic ash and forced the permanent withdrawal of the US Air Force, while the US Navy’s pullout in November 1992 followed the Philippine Senate’s rejection of an extension of the MBA for another decade in return for more than USD 2 billion in aid. The withdrawal of the US bases from the Philippines was a historic turning point understood globally as a release of the Philippines from over-extended neocolonial ties with its former overlord.

President Ramos regarded the total withdrawal of US forces from the Philippines as an opportunity for both countries to chart a fresh relationship, commencing with the review of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951 in the context of the post-Cold War period. A redesigned US-Philippine partnership and economic cooperation emerged, to benefit the country and the Asia Pacific region on matters of security and defense. This strategic alliance was anchored on the Ramos administration’s mutually beneficial policy of “trade, not aid.” It buttressed new economic, security, and defense cooperation. A fresh foundation was built for the defense relationship that allowed American support in the form of capacity building of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in natural disasters response, counterterrorism, and upholding the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). Progress on the renewed partnership diminished the residual effects of the US exit. The Visiting Forces Agreement was signed on 10 February 1998, approved by the Philippine Senate in May 1999, and enforced on 1 June 1999. Successfully negotiated, the VFA allowed military cooperation under the MDT.

Philippine-US relations maintained its health with the steady increase in the flow of trade and investments into the Philippine economy. The US continued to be among the Philippines’ top three trading partners and one of its largest foreign investors, while even as the strength of their security relationship was sustained. To President Ramos, continued US presence in the Asia-Pacific region remained a stabilizing force in the balance of regional power, and in mitigating external defense concerns within the region in the medium term. However, he saw the future of regional security to be uncertain and unclear, given profound changes impacting the world.

President Ramos believed that it was incumbent upon the community of nations, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific, to build and deepen relationships towards reinforcing defense and security alliances within the region. He was keen to encourage the commitment to maintain a stable environment that safeguarded peace. The Philippines took the opportunity presented by the gathering of Asia and Europe through the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) to rekindle or establish relations with European nations. ASEM buttressed the waning relations between Asia and Europe by bringing together these two continents to explore and rediscover fresh opportunities for collaboration. A multilateral platform, ASEM was to create an environment for dialogue and cooperation by prioritizing efforts in the three areas of political dialogue, economic cooperation, and social and cultural cooperation. Inaugurated in Bangkok, Thailand in March 1996, the initial ASEM partnership consisted of twenty-five partner states: fifteen EU member states, seven ASEAN member states, plus China, Japan, Korea and the European Commission.

ASEM has since fostered and enhanced interregional cooperation. A sustainable partnership between these two economic and cultural powerhouses—one being the world’s largest single and wealthiest market, the other being the fastest-growing—was expected to shape developments in the 21st century. During the December 1997 Manila Forum convened in preparation for the 1998 Asia-Europe Meeting, President Ramos’ keynote address centered on the nascent character of the partnership, with ASEM still laying the foundations of the alliance by defining a shared vision, setting a common agenda, and engendering mutual confidence and understanding from collaborative efforts. He saw its promise and value: ASEM was crucial in moving more effectively toward a successful multilateral trading system, maintaining world peace, and promoting the common values among the societies. During this meeting, the leading representatives of Asian and European academe and enterprise in attendance were enjoined to provide ideas and formulate recommendations to guide ASEM leaders build this new community.

At a time when both continents had embarked on regional economic integration, peaceful resolution of conflicts and development cooperation was essential. The Manila Forum assisted ASEM in formulating a dynamic framework for development cooperation, one that supported and encouraged efforts at further economic and social reform. ASEM’s key areas and priorities were formulated and adopted during the second Summit in London, United Kingdom in April 1998. ASEM then proceeded to formulate its political and security agenda, and succeeded in holding significant, high level political and informal dialogues. These dialogues focused on several regional and international concerns covering a range of topics including economic, environmental, security, and common rules of conduct to engender and maintain global order. President Ramos saw the importance of the ASEM process throughout these political dialogues, specifically on the rules of conduct where continued dialogue could in time weigh in on the conflict in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

ASEM provided an effective venue, which the Philippines parlayed to bring China into discussions to formulate a code of conduct for rival claimants to the contested territories of the Spratly Islands. The strategic alliance formed with the ASEM partners, and the persistence with which the Philippines pursued efforts to gain headway in arriving at an amicable resolution to the existing conflict, resulted in the establishment of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties on the South China Sea between ASEAN and China on November 2002.

Expanding the circle of progress, FEDEX Asia Hub One opening at Subic Bay Freeport, Zambales, 30 April 1995.
The President’s personal involvement as self-styled “salesman in chief” resulted to an annual average increase of USD 1.45 B in foreign direct investments.
Ramos family archives

Filipino-American community welcomes the President and First Lady during a US State Visit, November 1993.
President Ramos’ foreign travels always included a gathering of Filipino communities where he would be met with throngs of Filipinos eager to listen and exchange views with him; these moments were events the President valued the most.
Ramos family archives

The Philippines, front and center of the global community.
President Ramos strengthened bilateral relations with every friendly country and fulfilledPhilippine commitments to the ASEAN, APEC, and the United Nations while he engaged with ASEAN partners in moderating and calming the regional security environment and supported the continued presence of the United States in Asia-Pacific as a force for stabilizing the regional power balance.
Ramos family archives

The President meets with potential foreign investors.
The Statesman Salesman, in his foreign travels, made sure that he met with foreign business groups whom he invited to invest in the fastest growing economy in Asia - Asia’s Tiger Cub.
Ramos family archives

During the Philippine hosting of the APEC Summit and Economic Leaders Meeting, Subic, Zambales,
25 September 1996.
The Asia- Pacific was the Ramos administration’s foreign relations cornerstone, and focused on deepening regional alliances to enhance security, promote economic diplomacy, protect overseas Filipino workers and Filipino nationals abroad, and project a positive image of the country abroad.
Ramos family archives

Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (BIMP) created the East ASEAN Growth Area, one of the milestone achievements of President Ramos;
BIMP-EAGA increased opportunities for business and livelihood particularly in Mindanao, transforming it into one of the Philippines’ fastest growing island economies and cleared the path towards peace building.
Ramos family archives

Tourism, Driver for Growth

“Today I repeat my pledge to you, as your President, that I will remain our country’s number one salesman. I will marshal our resources at hand to hasten the expansion of tourism in all directions. You can rely on me to shout the message that the Philippines is back in business at the gateway of Asia-Pacific—at the mainstream of global tourism—and that there it intends to stay for keeps this time around.    

The Ramos Administration will back your efforts in the private sector to the hilt. We will favorably consider providing additional incentives to attract larger investments in tourism facilities where these are called for.    

And where our marketing activities prove inadequate, together we will find ways and means to enhance them. In sum, we will do everything our neighbors are doing—and more—to boost tourism. We have what it takes, and the time is now.”    

President Fidel V. Ramos
Address during the 21st Anniversary of the Department of Tourism and 1994 Kalakbay Awards
27 September 1994

On the premise that the tourism industry could be a progressive and powerful engine for growth and development, President Ramos guided the formulation of a new country roadmap for this industry. The strategy concentrated attention on equipping the government bureaucracy for effective management. He elevated the concept of multi-sectoral stakeholding in partnership with government as fundamental to innovation; and, in turn, to guarantee competitiveness. Thus, the roadmap significantly included the private sector as a dominant actor. It also pioneered international tourism promotions for the Philippines through investment campaigns to build tourism infrastructure and business ventures; and reforms providing incentives to investors. In particular, President Ramos continued efforts to upgrade transportation systems. He pushed his legislative agenda to allow for direct foreign investments, the protection of ancestral lands, the amendment of the Public Transport Services Act, the reform of shipping and aviation policies, and the transformation of the government bureaucracy into agencies of marked excellence. He kept faith in the Filipino host as a people who excelled in quality of service and whose hospitable nature was well known.

The Ramos administration asserted the greater viability of tourism developed within a working constitutional democracy. The Cabinet understood political stability and economic liberalization as essential to building the Philippines’ international reputation, and designed bureaucratic reform accordingly. This assertion was to prove itself with the increased momentum of political and economic growth during the Ramos presidency. The Chief of State described himself as his country’s “number one salesman” during his state visits and foreign travels, as he invited investors and tourists to the Philippines by laying out the conceptual structure enabling his administration’s economic progress. He touted a tourism industry blueprint that offered opportunities for participation in what was then described as a sunrise industry. A bandwagon effect became palpable in due time, as private and public sectors collaborated on projects and co-created a shift in attitude from mutual distrust to good faith relationships.

Business and financial prospects in tourism in the international community expanded with new partnerships in trade and industry. Growth in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) was marked, and the same could be said for enterprises exploring natural resources with the commitments to environmental protection. Foreign investments in transportation and communications projects, and in infrastructure development increased significantly. The positive response to the President’s call was reflected in the statistics on visitor arrivals88 and investments through the years of his tenure. The tourism industry grew annually at 15.2% from 1992 to 1997. In 1992, international visitor arrivals saw an increase of 21.2%, hitting more than a million tourists for the first time. The upward trend was sustained throughout the Ramos presidency. More than two million visitors came in 1997, principally from Asia, but also significantly from North America and Europe. From 1992 to 1997, 10,130,923 tourists came to visit.

These tourism statistics paralleled those form the Board of Investments, which recorded a total of PHP 657,602,840 of approved investments under the Ramos administration’s Omnibus Investments Code. These figures represented an aggregate of domestic and foreign investments, to which Asia, North America, and Europe contributed more than a third of the total. They also represented significant contributions to manufacturing, which received the largest investment amount; contributions also poured into infrastructure, public utilities, financing, insurance, real estate, individual and business services, wholesale and retail, tourism, mining, transport, storage, and communications. The successful implementation of policy reforms facilitated this five-fold increase in investments from 1993 at more than PHP 33,941,368 to 1994 at PHP 162,290,138, tapering off for two succeeding years at PHP 121,714,740 in 1995 and PHP 115,357,873 in 1996, and then rebounding in 1997 at PHP 195,565,992.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was an expanded community for Philippine tourism growth. ASEAN prioritized this industry with the establishment of the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in 1981, in the decade prior to the Ramos presidency. Through the ATF, the governments of ASEAN shared information and ideas with the private sector. Under President Ramos, participants arrived at a consensus about the trajectory of industry growth during the annual meetings when partnerships were forged. These partnerships yielded constructive, practical solutions to issues caused by, or that hindered, industry development. The promotion of ASEAN as a single tourism destination was among the pivotal directions adopted at this time, and the region started to offer complementarity and diversity of attractions, activities, and culture. These developments built on the Manila Declaration in 1987, which encouraged more intra-ASEAN travel. Tourism proved to be a viable mechanism for improved regional quality of life, peace, and prosperity. The Ministerial Understanding on ASEAN Cooperation in Tourism, signed in January 1998 in Cebu, followed by the Hanoi Plan of Action adopted in December 1998, established ASEAN as a world class tourism hub offering services, facilities, and attractions at elevated standards.

The Philippine Tourism Master Plan (TMP) 1992–2010 designed under the Ramos administration set a course towards realizing the full potential of tourism, which was understood as possible within a comprehensive national development thrust articulated in the Philippine Agenda 21. The circa 1991 Plan was updated several times after further consultation and research involving multi-sectoral meetings conducted in-country and within ASEAN. During these meetings, tourism development policy was directed specifically towards maximizing the industry’s contributions to national goals, and to be consistent with the Philippines’ commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Within this policy environment, the Philippines’ Department of Tourism crafted the TMP in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program and the World Tourism Forum. The 20-year blueprint was adopted as Proclamation No. 188, signed by President Ramos on 3 June 1993. The TMP invited the partnership of the private sector, and encouraged them to harmonize their objectives and activities with the country’s official tourism roadmap.

The TMP framework was cascaded to local government units and tourism councils for the formulation of regional, provincial, city, and municipal tourism master plans. It was this policy-driven involvement of regional and local governments that produced viable collaborations with multiple stakeholders, not only in plan formulation, but also in monitoring, particularly in the Philippines’ underserved areas. Together with government alliances with civil society organizations, the resulting public-private partnerships proved invaluable in achieving measurable improvements in the industry facilities and services. And due to the regular evaluation and stakeholder consultations, conducted to identify gaps and find ways to increase efficiency, and hence draw out the particularities of local experiences and the impact of international developments, the TMP blueprint was made self-corrective.

Multiple government agency support was made available to this strategy. While the Department of Tourism was the principal agency that coordinated and monitored the TMP execution, the involvement of the Departments of Budget and Management, Transportation and Communication, Public Works and Highways, Environment and Natural Resources, Interior and Local Government, and the Board of Investments was assured by policy dictum. Moreover, the Philippine Tourism Highway Program was dovetailed to the TMP to produce an integrating mechanism that guaranteed the viability of tourist destinations through safe, easy, and affordable access. The Program created a road network linking the country’s tourism areas to the national highway system, northwards from Manila to Laoag City via the Cagayan Valley Region, and southwards from Manila to Mindanao via the Bicol and Eastern Visayas regions. Overall travel experience for tourists improved, which, in turn, enlivened traveler-oriented micro and small enterprises. The development and preservation of tourist sites also gained momentum.

The program’s scope encompassed inter-island routes and corresponding vessels, such as the catamaran service called Supercat that began operating during this time. Included were port construction such as the major international and inter-island node in Batangas City; increased flight frequencies and routes served by new airline companies; and improvements on the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminals II and III. A Presidential Task Force headed by the Tourism Secretary guided the implementation of the TMP together with a range of line agencies such as the National Historical Institute, the National Power Corporation, and the National Youth Commission. Private sector representatives from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Philippine Travel Agencies Association, and the Philippine Tour Operators Association completed the Task Force. It worked with the regional tourism councils to identify road and tourism area coverage throughout the country. The scope of the work the Task Force oversaw included the enhancement of existing tourism attractions, tourism-science-technology centers, war monuments, rest areas and view decks, commercial hubs for local products identified as potential export winners, and residences that offered homestay facilities.

Power, transportation and telecommunication facilities, and peace and order provisions were set in place to be mutually supportive. While the Department of Tourism led all tourism-related projects, the Task Force ascertained that all activities and programs remained consistent with the national action strategy for sustainable development (Philippine Agenda 21). Standards and procedures regulated the construction of structures and markers in ways that preserved the historical significance of relevant sites, protected their aesthetic values, and guaranteed scenic views for the traveler. The outcome of this consistency and alignment was evident in the immediate term. Livelihood, employment, and environmental preservation and sustainability showed considerable improvement. The abstraction of policy and the physical infrastructure worked well with the bureaucratic and person-to-person work that went into mobilizing local government units, the private sector, business, and non-government organizations.

President Ramos assumed office in 1992, during a period when the serious degradation of the country’s environment was incontrovertible. It was also self-evident that this state of affairs was owed to unbridled exploitation for immediate economic gains. Recognizing the long-term implications of this environmental decay on the economy and national life as a whole, President Ramos enacted policy to ensure that economic agenda were not pursued at the expense of the nation’s environment. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development—UNCED, popularly known as the Earth Summit or the Rio Summit—held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992, provided the impetus for the Ramos administration to formulate and adopt sustainable development policies and initiatives as the country’s development policy framework. It centered the national development agenda on environment and ecological considerations and integrated the strategies into Philippine Agenda 21.

During the Rio Summit, Agenda 21 was adopted by UN member states in response to global development issues, embodied in a program of action for sustainable development across the globe. The objectives were ambitious: to improve the living standards of the marginalized, manage and protect ecosystems, and to provide for prosperity for all. But hopes were high, given a 20-year lead time. The Summit was a platform for convergence of the public sector, where 178 member state governments defined levels of cooperation and collaboration in practical approaches to sustainable development policies and actions. Agenda 21 eventually included multi-sectoral stakeholders and non-government organizations in discussions and exchanges of ideas and information regarding innovative solutions and interventions. A non-binding action plan, Agenda 21 encouraged governments to formulate and implement their respective Agenda 21 at the national and local levels.

Following his government’s commitments to agreements made during the Earth Summit, President Ramos created the Philippine Council for Sustainable Development. This body integrated these commitments with the national strategy and its concomitant plans and programs. Headed by the National Economic Development Authority, the PCSD was among the first national sustainable development councils created in the world after the Rio Summit. President Ramos, typically responsive to global cooperation, himself presided over the meetings of the PCSD. Its 1996 report, covering most of his watch, assessed the Philippines’ progress with the Agenda 21 commitments, and offered significant insight and ways of improving the momentum.

The concept of ecotourism was introduced during the 1992 National Tourism Congress.89 It was defined in the Joint Memorandum Circular No. 98-02 between the tourism and environment departments as a low-impact, environmentally-sound, and community-participatory tourism strategy that is nurturant of a given natural environment. Ecotourism emphasized conservation of biophysical and cultural diversity; it promoted an understanding of and education on the relevant environment; and it yielded socioeconomic benefit to the concerned community. Ecotourism sought a balance between tourism development and ecological conservation, while uplifting the condition of the local people. This conservation strategy again brought together the government, the private sector, local communities, and tourists. Their collaboration secured both the industry's competitiveness and sustainable development. Among the pilot land-based areas identified for ecotourism initiatives were the Calauit Game Preserve Project in Palawan, the restoration and preservation of the Ifugao Rice Terraces (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao.

Securing coastal and marine wealth is crucial for the Philippines as an archipelagic nation. Its extensive coastlines and inland bodies of water provide sustenance and income for a majority of the country’s population. The adoption of a National Marine Policy in 1994 expanded conservation and mitigation activities to encompass coastal and marine resources management, following the work of Filipino scientists. The policy defined maritime security as “a state in which the country’s marine assets, maritime practices, territorial integrity, and coastal peace and order are protected, conserved, preserved and enhanced.” The policy environment addressed maritime issues such as the extent of the national territory, the protection of marine economy and technology, and maritime security. While the protection of marine resources comprised one of its components, it acknowledged the need to focus on saving and arresting the continued depletion of the country’s marine and coastal resources, e.g., mangrove areas dwindling from 400,000 hectares to 170,000 hectares, and coral reefs with only five percent remaining in excellent condition. This situation illustrated the interconnectedness of tourism development and ecological conservation, where partnerships among national agencies, the private sector, and local communities were instrumental in ensuring sustained, effective action towards sustainable development. Exemplifying this desired partnership was the Bantay Dagat Movement, which was composed of a corps of volunteers trained to protect the country’s marine resources. These volunteers—a product of people empowerment in practice—were deputized to guard against individuals and activities that harmed the seas and coastal waters.

The Banaue Rice Terraces, also known as the Ifugao Rice Terraces, the world's eighth wonder and World Heritage Site declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

President Ramos, by executive decree, created the Ifugao Terraces Commission to formulate short and long-term plans and address certain policy, planning and implementation issues for the restoration and preservation of this World Heritage Site.
Photo credit:

Bantay Dagat, a partnership among national agencies, the private sector and local communities 
for ecological conservation.
The movement was composed of a corps of volunteers trained and deputized to protect the country’s marine resources
and to guard against individuals and activities
that harm the seas and coastal waters. 
Photo credit:

President Ramos in his regular
provincial sorties, inspecting project sites.
The hands-on President developed a project monitoring system that allowed for simultaneous real time updates on several ongoing projects of the government,
but he nevertheless traveled to these projects
for briefings and consultations with
local government officials and the communities.
Ramos family archives

President Ramos inaugurates
a major road project.
The soldier-engineer’s foresight of building roads and bridges connected remote villages to towns and major cities so farmers and small businesses are able to promote and sell their fresh and manufactured produce.
Ramos family archives

86 The name South China Sea appears in all modern maps of the sea surrounded by the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, and Vietnam. That name never meant Chinese possession of this body of water. With the Chinese announcement of historical ownership, and the subsequent win of the Philippines contesting this claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Philippine government decided to rename it the West Philippine Sea.
87 In January 1996, the incursion of three Chinese naval vessels resulted in a battle with a Philippine Navy gunboat in the Mischief Reef, an atoll within the Philippines’ UNCLOS-guaranteed Exclusive Economic Zone, together with the rest of the Spratly Islands. This was the first time China engaged in military confrontation with the Philippines, straining China-Philippine relations. By mid-year, a non-binding code of conduct was signed by the two countries towards a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute and the promotion of confidence-building measures.
88 Source of comparative statistics on visitor arrivals:
89 Tourism Congress is a private sector consultative body composed of representatives of tourism enterprises in the Philippines and former Department of Tourism Secretaries. The Congress assists the government in the development and implementation of Tourism policies.