There is a bright prospect that after 18 years, an economic-boosting program launched through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) by the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001-2010) to provide much-needed stimulus to the economic growth of towns, cities, provinces and regions of the country is on the way to being institutionalized by the present 19th Congress.
This can be gleaned from recent developments in both the Senate and the House of Representatives with regard to the "One Town, One Product" (OTOP) Philippines strategy which was conceived to be a vital cog in the promotion of micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) nationwide.
Mrs. Arroyo, an economist who has been vice president, senator, Department of Social Welfare and Development secretary, and DTI undersecretary before succeeding President Joseph Estrada in Malacañang, implemented the program in 2004 to improve the country's economy after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.
I happened to be the executive editor of the Presidential News Desk (PND) in Malacañang when the OTOP program was begun by the PGMA administration in 2004. It came on the heels of another program designed to boost domestic tourism in the different regions of the country. We were instructed by then Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye to give the implementation of the program maximum coverage.
Earlier, PGMA put in place through an executive order another flagship strategy called "Holiday Economics" under which the observance of certain holidays in the country's calendar were moved to other dates, either in the same or the following week, to provide Filipino workers with extended rest days to spend with their families.
For instance, in the event that a holiday falls on a Wednesday, its observance is moved to Monday of that week to give workers three straight holidays from Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Another way is to move the holiday to Friday, thus giving the people the opportunity to enjoy three days off from Friday until Sunday. If a holiday falls on a Sunday, it will be observed on the following Monday.
In any case, the Office of the President has to issue an official proclamation on the resetting of such holidays.
The primary reason for the holiday economics is that the extra holidays would be spent by well-off families in other places away from home, giving the residents of the places they visit an opportunity to have a bigger share of the amount the visitors spend.
The strategy was hailed by local government officials for spotlighting the tourist attractions of their localities, prompting the 13th Congress under Senate President Manuel B. Villar Jr. and House Speaker Jose C. de Venecia Jr. to institutionalize it on July 24, 2007 as Republic Act 9492.
However, after PGMA left Malacañang on June 30, 2010, President Benigno S. Aquino III modified the law, saying, "There are important holidays whose celebration should not be moved to other dates so the people would not forget their significance."
Meanwhile, the DTI has continued implementing the OTOP strategy even after PGMA's term on June 30, 2010 and she has since been replaced by Presidents Aquino (2010-2016), Rodrigo R., Duterte (2016-2022) and now Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (2022-2028).
There have been significant developments in the present 19th Congress and the previous one with regard to the institutionalization of the OTOP program.
In the Senate, Senator Christopher Lawrence Go recently filed a bill seeking to make the DTI's “One Town, One Product” (OTOP) program an official part of the country's economic system, saying that it will help boost recovery and promote innovation among micro, small and medium enterprises.
The senator stressed that it is the duty of the government to “provide protection and recognize the profound and undeniable contributions of MSMEs in nation building, continuing national economic growth, and the realization of our economic objectives.”
Go’s measure also seeks to assist and capacitate MSMEs in developing new, innovative and more complex products and services through significant improvement in the areas of quality, product development, design, packaging, standards compliance, marketability, production capability, brand development, sustainability, and securing licenses, product registration and other market authorization, among others.
The report of the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship of the 18th Congress was adopted in the bill, he said.
While the DTI will serve as the lead agency of the program, an OTOP Management Committee will be created to be designated by the DTI secretary which shall have the main responsibility of directing the implementation of the proposed law.
The Department of Tourism, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Philippine Ports Authority, Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board, and other similar agencies are also tasked to support the construction and allocation of spaces for the establishment of OTOP Philippines hubs.
In the House of Representatives, the Philippine News Agency (PNA) has reported that House Bill 9350 seeking to institutionalize the "One Town, One Product" (OTOP) Philippines program to promote inclusive and sustainable economic development has hurdled final reading approval.
"It mandates the DTI to provide a package of assistance for MSMEs to help them develop innovative and more complex products with significant improvement in the areas of quality, product development, design, packaging, compliance with standards, marketability, production capability, and brand development," PNA reporter Filane Cervantes wrote, quoting Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Joseph Cabatbat, the author of the bill.
Cabatbat noted that since its implementation in 2004, the OTOP program has proven its ability to aid and develop the MSMEs capability to generate jobs, increase domestic sales and exports, and equip the business skills of entrepreneurs while showcasing Filipino culture, tradition and creativity.
The institutionalization of the program is expected to be easier and faster in the present Congress as House Speaker Martin Romualdez has said that under the revised House rules and policies, bills passed on third and final reading by the chamber no longer need to be refiled.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.