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Guidote talks plain Manila about Philippines debt

"I like my job because it has shock value," says Corazon Guidote, who in January assumed the newly created post of adviser on investor relations under Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

"I like my job because it has shock value," says Corazon Guidote, who in January assumed the newly created post of adviser on investor relations under Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Now Guidote crisscrosses the country educating administration officials, mayors and provincial governors on the dire state of the Philippines' finances.

Her mission? To help officials understand the need for and long-term benefits of such painful measures as tax increases and higher electricity prices, she explains. "The objective is for the whole government to move as one unit in support of the president's reform program, the foremost objectives of which are to put the fiscal house in order, restructure and reform the power and financial sectors and increase investment and exports."

Guidote reports that her audiences are "surprised when they learn that we are rated a single B with Moody's -- the same level as Vietnam. In terms of revenue to GDP, we're the lowest in Asia; in debt to GDP we're the highest in Asia and perhaps the world. When they see those numbers, it's shocking, stunning and so compelling."

The 44-year-old Guidote sees her work as a way to "bridge the knowledge gap" between government officials and the outside world, particularly credit rating agencies such as Moody's, which in February slashed the Philippines' credit rating two notches, to B1, four rungs below investment grade, citing concerns about a buildup in government and external debt.

Getting parochial-minded local officials to understand the magnitude of the fiscal problem is a massive job, says Guidote, who formerly served as investor relations chief at Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and as COO at ABN Amro Philippines. Full cooperation will be key, she says: "Not just one person can lift a lazy elephant. And even if you lift it, you've got to make sure it stays up, so it requires vigilance as well."

If the job demands heavy lifting, few people are more qualified: As of 2004, Guidote had won eight gold medals in the Powerlifting Association of the Philippines' national competitions.