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14th Caraga Business Conference: No Politics, Purely Business

This year's 14th Caraga Business Conference held last November 28, 2008 at Hotel Tavern Surigao, Surigao City was a success notwithstanding the absence of the host governor, Hon. Robert Ace Barbers and mayor, Hon. Alfonso S. Casurra, who were both on official business in Manila.

BIR Director Braves Caraga Businessmen

In a full-packed convention hall of this upscale hotel in Surigao City, Atty. Marcelinda Yap, Caraga BIR Regional Director appeared cheerful and admirably collected throughout the conference hosted by the Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industry, recipient of PCCI's 2008 Most Outstanding Chamber in Mindanao award, and attended by the dynamic mix of trade and industry leaders, young and old, from the region and elsewhere in the country.

Aiming to resolve standing disagreements, key businessmen-attendees from the five provinces of Caraga unanimously chose to invite the Caraga BIR regional executives to the conference. The much publicized conflict between Northern Mindanao BIR Director Mustafa Gandarosa and the Cagayan de Oro businessmen preceded the Caraga conference.

Atty. Marcellina Yap, who assumed office last September of this year, led the Caraga BIR delegates. Flustered at the opening of her speech, she soon overcame nervousness and recovered her timbre as she proceeded to eloquently present her office's past performances and current programs. Yap said that while the BIR remains to be the most maligned agency in government, it still continues to diligently collect taxes for the national coffers. Yap added that for Caraga she has full control over her people and their actions, and encouraged everyone to report any malfeasance in office directly to her.

The businessmen stood up to the challenge and reaffirmed their vigilance against official misconduct of the BIR representatives by the first question asked in the open forum. This came from a businesswoman based in Tandag City who exposed a bribery attempt from one of the local revenue district officers. The succeeding questions were kinder and focused more on the BIR's audit schedules and revenue targets for several cities in Caraga. The volley of ideas proved very enlightening and unifying as it was evident that the parties came to dialogue and not to argue.

Johann Jake Miranda, Conference Chairman and President of Surigao Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was credited for getting the BIR executives and their staff to attend the affair. Miranda did not fail to commend the regional director for honoring the Chamber's invitation noting that there were previous instances in other parts of the country where the BIR executives were invited and no one came.

Miranda also emphasized to the audience the importance of dialogue and seeing one another face to face was the first step in opening lines of communication between government offices and the business community in the Caraga region.

Philex Mining Keynotes Conference in Surigao

The conference also featured a keynote speech from Dr. Walter Brown, Chairman of Philex Mining Corporation, who spoke about socially-responsible mining. Dr. Brown lamented the fact that certain mining companies in the past chose to forget their responsibilities to surrounding communities and that this has contributed to the negative image of mining in the country. Dr. Brown added that Philex Mining Corporation remains to be committed to responsible mining. Philex has an ongoing full-scale feasibility project in Boyongan, Surigao del Norte, not far from Surigao City.

Resolutions Get Fast-Tracked to PCCI

At the end of the conference Miranda together with Mr. Juanito Mendoza, PCCI Regional Governor for Caraga formally turned over resolutions to Ms. Elena Haw, Vice President of PCCI for Mindanao and Mr. Crisanto Frianeza, PCCI Secretary General. Noteworthy resolutions were the Caraga businessmen's request for Bangko Sentral to establish an regional office in Caraga to be based in Butuan City, a prayer to proclaim Caraga as a retiree-friendly region towards ultimately opening a partnership with the Philippine Retirement Authority, and creating a regional convention and visitors bureau under the auspices of the Caraga Regional Tourism Council.

Businessmen Visit Dinagat Island

The next day, participants boarded a Philippine Navy gunboat, BRP Felix Apolinario (PG395) under the command of Cdr. Rommel Anthony Reyes, and visited nearby Dinagat Island province for a tour of San Jose, its municipal capital. Governor Jade Ecleo-Villaroman and her tourism officials welcomed the delegation and accepted the challenge to host the Caraga Business Conference in 2011. Gov. Villaroman also introduced the tourism potentials and investment opportunities of the newly-created province.

350 Delegates Pack Convention Hall

Although regional in scope and compacted to a one-day affair, the conference was able to gather more than 350 official participants with delegates from as far as Dipolog and Pagadian cities. Growth with Equity in Mindanao, a co-sponsor of the event, also sent a delegation from Cagayan de Oro. The convention hall remained packed all throughout the day as the organizers maintained a high level of interest from the audience with short speeches and efficient programming. Another interesting presentation was made by Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce president Alberto Bercasio who introduced the Naga Citizen ID which is now being fully implemented there.

Miranda enthused that there was a large number of business students from four major educational institutions in the region. He further commended the students for taking a proactive stand in learning, taking it upon themselves to participate and listen attentively to the resource persons.

Miranda added, "While remaining to be one of the poorest regions in the Philippines, Caraga has the greatest potential for economic success. We have vast natural resources in agriculture, logging, mining and fisheries primed for development. A business-friendly atmosphere and peaceful political climate in the region will help Caraga withstand the impending economic crisis in 2009 and still manage to attract large-scale investments now and in the near future." (SCCI)

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