President Benigno S. Aquino III’s Speech at the opening ceremony of the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation Manila branch
Shangri-la Hotel, Makati City
11 January 2016
This opening ceremony has been quite some time in the making—stretching even farther back before September 2015, when the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) Manila Branch opened its doors in Makati. We are finally here to commemorate the beginning of SMBC’s official operations as a bank in the Philippines. Today, you can provide your clients with a complete menu of onshore corporate banking services: From deposits, to foreign currency trading, and even to trade financing. If I may speak frankly: I would offer my regrets for the extremely long delay; but seeing that I was not a public official in those long ago days, perhaps you will let it slide.

This ceremony represents the beginning of a new chapter of SMBC’s ties with the Philippines, one that cements your position in our local banking industry. Back in December of 2013, during my visit to Japan, it was SMBC who put forward the suggestion to liberalize the Philippine banking industry. This was completely in line with our administration’s philosophy, and barely seven months later, in July 2014, our government passed Republic Act 10641. For this, we likewise owe our gratitude to the Senate, under Senate President Franklin Drilon, and to our Congress, under Speaker Sonny Belmonte, for the very speedy passage of this particular measure. We were extremely pleased to see that SMBC remained first in line in the application process, and now possesses the distinction of being the first foreign bank approved for a Philippine operating license under this new law.

These are all milestones we achieved together; these are all milestones that show the depth of SMBC’s confidence in the Philippines. This is something for which we are extremely grateful: that, whether in 1995 or the present, you saw the vast potential of the Philippines—and you chose to take action and to partner with us in realizing the very same.

It is true that, compared to our neighbors in ASEAN, we have some catching up to do in terms of foreign direct investments, likely due to the unstable political and economic atmosphere prior to our administration. The good news is that the Philippines has gained much momentum in the past five years, thanks, in large part, to partners like SMBC and, indeed, the country of Japan.

Trade and investment between our two countries is already high: in 2014, Japan was our country’s top trading partner, with trade volume at around $19.15 billion. Japan was likewise the top source of IPA-approved foreign investments in the same year. We can see concrete evidence of this in the sheer number of Japanese firms that have established themselves in our country.

Companies like Toyota and Tsuneishi already have productive relationships with the Filipino people, in endeavors from automobile manufacturing to shipbuilding. Another example is the International Wiring Systems Philippines (IWSP), a wiring harness company based in my home province of Tarlac, working under the Sumitomo Group. IWSP found themselves competing with firms based abroad, who benefited from working under the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) Agreement. Despite being at a severe disadvantage, they still edged out their competition and won lucrative contracts from three big car manufacturers in the United States.

That was then; today, the Philippines has a much more friendly environment. Take for instance, the growth evident in the retail sector. Brands that were once found only in Japan have become staples in the Filipino household—like Uniqlo, which has grown extremely popular for offering affordable, yet high-quality clothing. During my visit to Japan last June, I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Tadashi Yanai, the chairman of Fast Retailing Co., which is the group that runs Uniqlo and many other businesses. Right now, they have established 27 out of an initial target of 200 stores in the Philippines. That meeting left me with the distinct impression that they possessed a rather healthy impatience to accelerate their expansion and put up the 173 remaining Uniqlo branches in the soonest possible time.

They aren’t the only ones who seem extremely eager to expand in the Philippines. Last October, a 500-man delegation from Japan attended the 17th Asia-Pacific Retailers Conference and Exhibition (APRCE) here in Manila—the largest foreign delegation to attend the APRCE. Interest in investing in our country seems to be at an all-time high—and we intend to keep it that way.

SMBC’s operations in the Philippines will create even more opportunities for all of us. You already have a well-established reputation in Japan; some of your clients may already be eyeing our country for their expansion plans. Your presence here is a factor that encourages them to hasten their investments in the Philippines, because, in you they already have a partner who knows the terrain, and who knows what they need.

Indeed: SMBC’s vote of confidence has an impressive multiplier effect. Just think about the number of companies who will channel millions—if not billions—of pesos through you, in order to lease or purchase facilities, procure equipment, and provide employment to thousands of Filipinos. Five other banks have already been approved under RA 10641, and while we are hopeful to see more set up shop here—creating stronger linkages to other countries, we will never forget that it was SMBC who, in a sense, began everything.

That, I believe, is the best thing about our gathering today: not only does it serve as the official welcome of SMBC to the Philippines, it also heralds the beginning of an era for the Philippines: one in which we are ready to face head-on the challenges of competing, innovating, and thriving on a global scale.

Of course, there are only a few months remaining in my term, which means that I will be witnessing most of this, including your future successes, as a private citizen—and as early as now, I am sure there will be many more successes to come. You would not have come here if you had not predicted the same for yourselves—if you did not see that the Philippines is a country in which you can thrive.

My country has only begun to realize its potential, and exciting times lie ahead. I know my countrymen, and I know that they will do everything in their power to ensure that we make the most of the opportunities that the years will bring—that we can all synchronize our efforts to ensure a future of sustained and inclusive progress for the Philippines.

Thank you, and good day.