Zamboanga’s New Samaritans

As community problems balloon, local businessmen show willingness to take on greater social responsibility.

Zamboanga City – LOCAL business leaders have reasserted their role in social responsibility by embracing and practicing the new idea of social equity investments.

This was gist of the message of one director of the Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. as the organization inducted its new set of officers for the year 2008 to 2010 last January 4 at the Grand Astoria Hotel.

“We have a rapidly increasing population that needs jobs and livelihood to support their families. And to survive a highly competitive and globalized environment, we have to be creative and imaginative, alert, sensitive to changes. We must not only re-act to changes, but we must learn to make change instead,” Atty. Arsenio L. Gonzalez, Jr., one of the board of directors and an old-timer member of the chamber, said.

Atty. Gonzalez said the local business sector should go beyond the practice of the corporate social responsibility and invest more on how to uplift the lives of the common people.

“We should strengthen our linkages with other groups in the society,” he said, adding that businessmen should not only involve themselves in shelling out donations or grants to the underprivileged members of society but should play a proactive role and commitment to help uplift the state of society for the good and benefit of all.

The chamber’s membership also grew this year by more than 65 new members, according to Severino M. Landingin, executive director of the business chamber.

In his president’s report, outgoing Chamber president Atty. Jose C. Batausa underscored the group’s achievement in the last years in bringing support activities to some poor sectors in the city and in the Zamboanga Peninsula to make them economic self-reliant.

Batausa noted that the chamber aims to achieve an equitable distribution of wealth in the communities by providing opportunities for all citizens to reach their full potential.

Among the projects was livelihood assistance to about 150 out-of-school youths in the impoverished town of Dinas in Zamboanga del Sur. The program was in partnership with the Mindanao Business Council (MBC) under its Assistance for the Comprehensive Educational Development of Mindanao. The beneficiaries were trained in different fields of expertise such as seaweed production, small engine repair, and crab fattening. Aside from that they were also taught entrepreneurship development.

In the small and medium scale levels, the chamber assisted hundreds of local food and non-food processors on product development. The P1-million program, dubbed as Promoting Regional Opportunities for Enterprise and Livelihood Development or PROPEL, was taken from the priority development assistance fund of Senator Francis N. Pangilinan.

In the anti-corruption movement, the chamber participated in Asia Foundation’s Transparent Accountable Governance (TAG) program.

“We have become an active player most notable perhaps in legislative work where our presence in the City Council public hearings have allowed the business sectors’ concern and side to be heard,” Batausa said, referring to the chamber’s participation in the bids and awards committees of many government agencies and the crafting of the Zamboanga City’s Investment Code.

Batausa said one of the biggest achievements the chamber was the hosting of the 2006’s 15th Mindanao Business Congress, which was described as the “best-organized with highest attendance” among the business confabs in the southern Philippines.

The business congress added P250,000 to the chamber’s coffer, raising the group’s savings to more than P1.3-million.

To address the continued appreciation of peso, which has financially bled some local exporters, the chamber together with the Industrial Group of Zamboanga are poised to implement the cargo pooling for local shippers in a bid to reduce shipping costs.

During the turnover rites, newly-elected Chamber president James Cesar L. Makasiar vowed to bring the business sector to a more enlightened role in the development of communities, particularly in poverty alleviation.

“Don’t expect miracles from us,” he said referring to the new officers, “however, “with the wisdom of the board of directors, we will continue to bring honor, respect, rationality, and integrity to the Chamber and as well in the entire city,” he said in his short acceptance speech.

Mayor Celso L. Lobregat, who was one of the guests of honor, also announced the creation of the Investment and Incentive Board of the city. The board’s major role is to set the barometers in giving incentives to potential investors who are eyeing to set up its business in the city.

Elena Uy Haw, the new Philippine Chamber of Commerce’s vice-president for Mindanao, emphasized the responsibility of business to return what is due to the community since it is the community and society’s natural environment that pays the real cost of business.

She said part of her new thrust is to continue the PROPEL program and to enhance southern Philippines’ more than 30 chambers of commerce management skills, which she said the Japanese government is willing to fund.

Haw reiterated that business social responsibility involves and affects everyone, from decision-makers in the boardroom to middle management, to the rank-and-file. But more importantly, it impacts on the lives of the indigent and the lives of generations to come.

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