The IPBA annual conference in Manila
The Inter-Pacific Bar Association or IPBA was established in April 1991 in Tokyo as an international organization of business and commercial lawyers who practiced, or had strong influence, in the Asia-Pacific Region. More than 500 lawyers comprised the initial group; this has now grown to over 1300 members in 65 jurisdictions worldwide.
The first IPBA President back in 1991 was Kunio Hamada from Japan. The first Filipino IPBA President was Teodoro “Teddy” Regala in 1996-1997. Teddy is a Founding Partner of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala and Cruz Law Offices or ACCRA, and I do wax sentimental every time Teddy is mentioned because he was the one who hired me to work in ACCRA back in the day -- not an easy boss to work with, but you can be sure that under TDR, as he was called, you will come out a much better lawyer, even better than what you aspired to be when you first entered law school.
The current President for 2018-2019 is my good friend and accomplished lawyer Perry Pe of the Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles Law Offices. The huge success of the Manila IPBA conference was due to a large measure to Atty Pe’s leadership .
One of the main activities of IPBA is its Annual Meeting and Conference, held in different jurisdictions, and this year the Philippines is fortunate to be hosting this principal event, now on its 28th year.
This year’s conference theme was “Fostering Seamless Cooperation in ASEAN and Beyond”. Quite appropriate, really, considering how the upcoming ASEAN integration would necessary impact on the practice of law across jurisdictions. As the blurb went, “the 28th IPBA Annual Meeting and Conference is an avenue to discuss and dissect legal trends, opportunities and challenges brought by ASEAN integration and how it improves the professional and the business landscape in the region.”
The conference was held last March 14-16 at the Shangri-La at the Fort, Bonifacio Global City, though March 13 was a day set for council meetings and the Regala Golf Tournament at Wack-Wack.
Day One of the meeting-conference opened with the first plenary session on “The Philippines is Open for Business”. I had the honor to deliver the speech of our Chairman, Manuel V. Pangilinan or MVP, who was invited as the keynote speaker for the first plenary session.
In his keynote entitled “Beyond Opening the Philippines for Business”, MVP said that the Philippines will continue to be among the best performing economies in the region and will, thus, be a promising destination for investments. However, it seems to be lagging behind its ASEAN neighbors in terms of average FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) inflows.
MVP proposed that the country must “accelerate its engines” and institute reforms that will open the economy further to investments that would speed up inclusive growth, similar to what its ASEAN neighbors had done.
In his speech, MVP said that government must continue to “enable addition and not obstruction” when it comes to policy and regulation by, among others: easing up on foreign ownership restrictions; rationalizing the provision of incentives, as well as pursue options beyond tax holidays, in favor of industries that push for better countryside development; speeding up efforts to improve competitiveness and enhance ease of doing business, complemented with the right kind of support infrastructure through Build, Build, Build; and preserve the sanctity of contracts across administrations.
MVP closed on the point that if all these can be done with the active cooperation of government, the private sector and strategic associations like IPBA, then we can be confident that “enduring partnerships and seamless cooperation can be forged for development.”
The next keynote speech was delivered by Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez who described the Philippines as “Asia’s next economic powerhouse”. Sec. Sonny’s speech entitled “Determined to Grow” complemented and was symmetrical to MVP’s ; where MVP’s keynote outlined the challenges, Sec. Sonny’s speech enumerated actions of government in response to those challenges.
It was highly evident that the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte was making headways in making this country very much open for business, and that he had the people’s approval behind him.
Sec. Sonny said it all in his speech: “I hope today to infect you with that pervasive confidence of our people in our economic future. I hope you will help us spread the word: the Philippines is the best place to invest in.” To this he adds: “Asia is now the center of gravity of the global economy and the Philippines is now a leading engine of that regional growth.”
As always, the self-effacing Sec. Sonny did not mention the fact that he leads the economic team who is at the forefront of all these efforts.
In the engaging, provocative, and highly-stimulating open forum that ensued, ably moderated by Dhinesh Bhaskaran, IPBA Past-President for 2016-2017, Sec. Sonny said, in clear and unequivocal terms, that the Duterte administration supports the growth of business investments in the country; has provided the right infrastructure support through the Build, Build, Build program; has respect for the rule of law; and has respect for the sanctity of contracts. This was well received and applauded by the foreign and local delegates present, business and commercial lawyers themselves.
In the same breath, I also mentioned in the open forum, as a take-away from MVP’s speech, that, more than anything, business looks for predictability in government policies, to allow it to plan well. Business usually abhors surprises .
The plenary session that followed dealt with “The Business of Corporate Counsels.” Of course, we are very much aware that corporate counsels do not only deal with the legal aspect of corporations, but are also involved in every other aspect as well.
No other speaker can best discuss this topic than my good friend, top-notch corporate and commercial lawyer, a colleague at the MVP group, Bar topnotcher, Atty. Ray C. Espinosa, First Pacific Associate Director and PLDT-SMART’s Chief Corporate Services Officer, among the many hats he wears.
Also part of the plenary discussion and equally astute as speaker is another Bar topnotcher, my former colleague both at ACCRA Law and in government during the Estrada Administration, who was considered the youngest Presidential Management Staff head then, Atty. Macel Fernandez – Estavillo, now Senior Vice-President and General Counsel of JG Summit.
Before I close, I wish to greet you all a Happy Easter! Easter brings about new directions, new hope, new ways of moving forward. May the Glory of the Risen Christ continue to fill us with the love and passion to change and to grow.