- In 1995, she was asked to serve as PEZA’s first Director-General charged with promoting and regulating foreign investments in the country’s economic zones.
- Bucking tremendous pressures and threats, Director-General de Lima single-mindedly pursued a program of reform: she determinedly halved the bloated 1,000-person bureaucracy she had inherited from a system of political patronage.
- During her term, PEZA’s accomplishments have been nothing short of spectacular. The number of PEZA ecozones increased by 2,000%, from the initial 16 she inherited to 343 by 2016; the number of registered enterprises rose from 331 to 3,756; investments reached PhP 3 trillion; and ecozone exports totaled US$ 629 billion.
- In electing Lilia B. de Lima to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes “her unstinting, sustained leadership in building a credible and efficient PEZA, proving that the honest, competent and dedicated work of public servants can, indeed, redound to real economic benefits to millions of Filipinos.”
Burdened by endemic poverty and a weak, corruption-ridden economy, the Philippines took a major shift in the 1990s when it pursued a policy of liberalized, export-led, globally competitive growth. A key component in this shift was the creation the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) to revive the country’s export processing zones, replacing the earlier agency which had failed dismally in boosting export-oriented investments. PEZA was placed under the leadership of a career public servant who, in over twenty-one years, has built the organization into a showcase of successful regulatory reform, a model institution of honest and committed public service, and a key contributor to the nation’s economic growth.
This public servant was Lilia B. de Lima. Born in Iriga City, Camarines Sur province, and raised in a family of public servants, her upbringing instilled in her the imperatives of integrity and the ideals of public service. Trained in law, she pursued a career in government, serving in various senior assignments until in 1995, she was asked to serve as PEZA’s first Director-General charged with promoting and regulating foreign investments in the country’s economic zones. Her first challenge was to regain the trust of investors grown skeptical of the country’s institutional capability and political will to spur economic growth. And her performance was ultimately to be measured by how increased investor trust would be converted into actual gainful employment for Filipinos nationwide.
Bucking tremendous pressures and threats, Director-General de Lima single-mindedly pursued a program of reform: she determinedly halved the bloated 1,000-person bureaucracy she had inherited from a system of political patronage; she developed PEZA’s work culture into one marked by honesty, efficiency and—quite literally—one-stop, nonstop service. Putting the right systems in place and leading by strict and consistent example, she gradually transformed a failed agency into a model of transparent, productive, and customer-friendly efficiency, one that the World Bank has cited for demonstrating “best practices” in ecozone management worldwide.
Under Lilia de Lima’s leadership, PEZA enabled the rise of the Philippines as one of the region’s top investment destinations. Among the radical policies that made this possible were a shift from government-financed to private sector-led ecozone development; streamlined 24/7 PEZA operations to reliably service global locators; investor-friendly regulations, purposeful interagency partnerships, and strengthened relations with local governments in the ecozones. Defying conventional wisdom, she successfully encouraged existing locators to expand operations despite the volatilities of the global economy.
During her term, PEZA’s accomplishments have been nothing short of spectacular. The number of PEZA ecozones increased by 2,000%, from the initial 16 she inherited to 343 by 2016; the number of registered enterprises rose from 331 to 3,756; investments reached PhP 3 trillion; and ecozone exports totaled US$ 629 billion. Also during de Lima’s tenure, PEZA remitted to the national treasury PhP 16.6 billion in corporate income taxes and dividends, and paid off the PhP 4.6 billion debt of its predecessor agency. What is most deeply gratifying to de Lima, who is acutely aware of the urgency of the problem of joblessness, is that PEZA has generated, in direct and indirect employment, some 6.3 million jobs for Filipinos.
In a world where there is rampant cynicism and real pain about how governments function, examples of public servants like de Lima and her PEZA team are especially impressive. And yet, reflecting on her career, she says: “I cannot solve the problems of the world but if in my own little area I can make a difference, then I must make that difference.” For all workers in government, it is a credo to follow.
In electing Lilia B. de Lima to receive the 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes “her unstinting, sustained leadership in building a credible and efficient PEZA, proving that the honest, competent and dedicated work of public servants can, indeed, redound to real economic benefits to millions of Filipinos.”
Vice President of the Philippines Maria Leonor Robredo, former President Fidel V Ramos – sir, if you did not appoint me, I wouldn’t be here – trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, members of the Ramon Magsaysay family, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen.
I thank the Lord for this significant milestone in my life. Thank you most sincerely, Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation, for recognizing my work at the Philippine Economic Zone Authority or PEZA. Truly, this is a blessing to be awarded for work I enjoyed doing. My 21 years at PEZA was a privilege as it was a commitment. It gave me the opportunity to serve my country and help generate employment for our people. Thanks to the investors, who trusted in our capability to ensure that their operations can be set up at the soonest time and at the least cost undertaken with the PEZA hallmark brand of service – “One-stop shop, non-stop shop, no red tape, and no corruption.”
It wasn’t all a walk in the park. We inherited an extremely bloated bureaucracy. Trimming the fat by 60% was a long, torturous, and emotionally-draining process. It was the most bruising experience in my public career. Everything was thrown at me, but we did not waver and we cleaned up. As we strengthened the organization, we also instituted sweeping structural and policy reforms to remain competitive and address the ever-changing investment climate. All these paid off. PEZA gradually transformed into clean and efficient organization with highly-motivated, hardworking professional individuals. And I hope, I hope, they will continue to be so.
Our mantra from day one is absolute honesty and utmost service in all our dealings with our stakeholders. I am proud to have worked with my PEZAns, and with them I shared this award. I must likewise thank the investors – many of them I see here tonight.
The question most often asked is how I survived 4 presidents of different political persuasions and management styles. My answer is simple: Do your job with integrity and professionalism, and the bottomline will show it. It’s the best credential you can have and the only endorsement you will need.
But tonight, we honor the beloved president Ramon Magsaysay, who believed that a high and unwavering sense of morality should pervade all spears of governmental activity. I am reminded of his words of wisdom that remains as relevant today. And he said, and I quote, “I believe the president should set up the example of a big heart, an honest mind, sound instincts, the virtue of healthy and patience, and an abiding love for the common man. Guns alone are not the answer. We must provide hope for young peoples, for better housing, clothing, and food. And if we do, the radicals will wither away.”
Ramon Magsaysay has given us that heartbeat for humanity. What we have all been awarded for is in rhythm with the pulse that gleans towards what is right, what is just, what is good, and what is free to make ours a better world. This singular award, its salience and substance, and the precious memory it stands for, I shall forever treasure.
Maraming salamat po. Mabuhay!