Thursday, April 29, 2010

Race horses don’t wear blinders

Obama took his out when he decided he wouldn’t be a victim; and not surprising he won the biggest job in the world. Have we long ago decided that we’re victims – of foreign domination, politics and oligarchy? And thus not surprising, as Business World reports: “the Philippines will not outperform its neighbors, the World Bank said . . . While East Asia’s developing economies will recover from the global downturn this year . . . The Philippines needs to ramp up investment and boost its competitiveness”.

But that is old news and should not be a surprise? Or did we think that we were on the right economic track (OFW remittances>robust foreign exchange reserves>stable to strong peso . . . yet: underdeveloped>rising poverty>patronizing leadership>oligarchy?) when staring us in the face were neighbors with far greater investments!

How did we miss that – because we’re not like race horses? For instance, poorer Vietnam’s gross investment is at 42.5 % of their GDP against our 14.3% – not surprising given that they have attracted $47.37B in foreign direct investments, more than twice our $22.9B. And thus are more competitive, with exports at $57B v. our $37B. Their poverty rate is already lower at 12.3% to our 32.9%. Ergo: to address poverty, we must be single-mindedly focused on raising investment in order to lift our competitiveness . . . and hence enlarge our economic pie! We can’t afford to be less than laser-like in pursuing such a gigantic task!

We’re a poor country and need foreign investment. But we choose to see otherwise – and unwittingly, are creating an oligarchy? In the history of nations, when the few control an economy, oligarchy is the natural outcome. And so Gorbachev is railing against his country’s blinders – they remain an oligarchy, not a modern, developed economy?

Competitiveness comes from greater and greater investments – i.e., economies of scale, technology, innovation, market leadership. And given that we’ve starved if not cut ourselves from foreign investments we are akin to a disabled ship in the sea of global competition? Thus, the efforts of the foreign chambers to identify 7 key industries that will drive and elevate our economy must be taken seriously by our economic managers and national leadership. Crony capitalism will turn off foreign investors.

What we sorely need is to inject competitiveness in our (economic development) psyche and demonstrate that to foreign investors. For example, we want creative investors – not simply investors who throw money around and play footsies with influence peddlers – and will partner with them because they have a higher propensity to succeed. They have access to cheaper capital because of their track record. That means they are pursuing truly globally competitive businesses; and can demonstrate that their product architecture is designed to deliver higher valued-added products or services – they have a differentiating, competitive edge and thus capture and sustain their target markets. For example: in manufacturing, how will they move up the value chain from semi-conductors? In BPOs, how will they move up from call centers? Etc.

Did the writer just missed it or are our major newspapers aiding and abetting our wearing of blinders? Did their news reports cherry-pick the assessments of the World Bank and the international rating agency about the state of our economy? In fairness, the business periodicals and columnists did not. We don’t want to spread bad news? In the old Eastern Europe, they called that propaganda – or why they still seethe in anger every time they talk about how the old regime added insult to their injury!

It’s high time we be like race horses – and focus on winning the race of our lives, economic prosperity for Filipinos?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Compelling products

Inherited businesses can last beyond 2 generations

In an interconnected world East and West are learning from each other – creativity, dynamism, inquisitiveness, a forward-looking mindset, among others – and the world is the better for it!

Those who were behind the Iron Curtain would concede that their creativity was a function of the scarcity of basic daily needs, and then some – i.e., necessity is the mother of invention! Theirs was no Eden. What would have happened if Adam and Eve were not driven out of Eden? The world would have had billions of Juan Tamads?

Inherited businesses, as conventional wisdom goes in both East and the West, don’t last beyond two generations – because the heirs are not schooled in product development? The products of the inherited business may have been relevant at the time of its founding, but relevance is not perpetual – i.e., the ever changing want of man?

Dried mangoes are representative of our tropical climate, and even our tradition? But products must remain user-friendly, accessible, relevant and becoming – especially food because of our fickle taste buds (or electronic gizmos as Steve Jobs must be preaching his team all the time)? If ice cream requires constant flavor change or mixing and matching of flavors, dried mangoes likewise do? But if mangoes are not as flexible then we need to develop something beyond basic dried mangoes to be relevant. For example: nuts come as basic shelled nuts, as cocktail nuts, or packaged nuts, mixed and matched, etc.; and they have become standard snacks in bars and . . . even mini bars in hotel rooms. In short, we can move up the value chain and elevate dried mangoes from a commodity to a branded product – i.e., a simple product can be driven by innovation if we invest (?) in market and consumer insights, R&D, global distribution and marketing. Innovation is not the monopoly of rocket science!

An economy is driven by the products and services the country produces. What products and services have we developed post WW II that are relevant and compelling? The jeepney, shrimps, garments, ‘bangus’, semi-conductors, call centers . . . etc.? How relevant are they to the 21st century? The services that our OFWs produce are not necessarily generating the requisite incremental goods and services to raise the value and competitiveness of our industry – they are input to foreign industry, and they benefit from the value-creation of these efforts. OFW remittances per se don’t generate as much multiplier effect (on our economic output or GDP) as manufacturing and agri-business, for example – because of the latter’s inherent greater input: talent, machinery & equipment, materials, investment, technology and requisite systems and infrastructure.

Product development is not like prospecting for oil where the well could run dry. Product development is prospecting for the “well of spring water” that is perpetual. And it requires a dynamic, inquisitive and forward-looking outlook! Is that what education is about – or “the training of the mind to think”, as Einstein says?

Our marketers can share with industry – and our economic managers – the mechanics of product architecture modeling. Establishing our strategic industries has been an exercise in macroeconomics . . . that must be drilled down to the core of innovation and product development – i.e., it must be teed up to challenge the creative juices of industry; not be a platform for crony capitalism. The efforts of the foreign chambers to identify 7 key industries are a great first step. Can they get everyone focused on how the $75B incremental investment goal will occur!

Entrepreneurs, given their successes, may view product development as more art and thus miss the discipline (science) bit. And investors must recognize that the true test of competitiveness is winning in the regional if not global market. It is Economics 101: economies of scale generate efficiency and productivity, and raise/create the propensity/condition for innovation – the heart of product development . . . that drives a nation’s economy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wrong policy equals inefficiency

It’s about Latin America – but we can learn from them?

According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank, and reported by The Economist on March 25th: “. . . Much of Latin America has performed poorly over the past two generations. The gap in income per head between the region and developed countries has widened since 1960, while many East Asian countries that were poorer have leapfrogged ahead. The root cause has been Latin America’s slow—or even negative—growth in productivity . . .

“Productivity growth—gains in the efficiency with which capital, labor and technology are used in an economy—is the elusive holy grail of economic development. It is true that most Latin American countries have not invested enough, or provided their people with a good enough education (though both these things are improving). But productivity growth means squeezing more output from the same inputs. And Latin America has been particularly bad at this. Why? The short answer is that the typical Latin American firm is a small, inefficient service business and may well be operating in the informal economy. Productivity growth tends to be higher in manufacturing and agriculture than in services. It also tends to be higher in large firms which benefit from economies of scale. And it is much higher in formal businesses, which can invest in innovation . . .”

That must be why Vietnam is embracing a former enemy – i.e., America – because the country’s common good is not about the past but about pursuing the right policy? And so the Americans are now the biggest investors in Vietnam. They must have seen how China did it; China opened its doors and attracted much needed capital from the West. Instead of sulking about the past, the Vietnamese understand that to lift their economy, they need capital! And capital can be from Arabs, Asians, Europeans or whoever – friends and former foes alike. Capital in poor countries is limited no matter how wealthy the few are! And so Vietnam, and China, and the Asian tigers have chosen a policy that is outward-looking, not inward-looking – because it would benefit the common good, not just the few. Something we Filipinos have yet to internalize given our brand of patriotism or nationalism?

For example, the Filipino business community in Vietnam has invited other Filipinos to invest in the country because it has a decidedly more business-friendly environment. An international rating agency has pointed out the weaknesses of our economic fundamentals, e.g., we’re lagging way behind the region in investment especially foreign direct investment; the saving grace, again, being OFW remittances; and yet, as the agency stressed, our presidential candidates have failed to articulate a sensible economic program that would put us on better economic footing. Shouldn’t we be all over them – and our economic managers too?

We mirror much of what Latin America is? There is nothing wrong in promoting small businesses. But the better policy goes further: to seek competitiveness beyond our shores; and as importantly, the right policy is to attract and compete for capital – so that we can invest in bigger and better things that will generate economies of scale and efficiency, and innovation . . . for the common good.

The writer has talked about being proactive. And it also means being forward-looking? Being outward-looking? Being peace-loving? And growing up – not blaming others but revisiting our policy? It’s not about them; it’s about us? It is about taking personal responsibility – the lesson of Eden?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The power of creative thinking

v. Taking the path of least resistance

Two very successful entrepreneurs share with the writer their problem-solving instincts. Though continents apart, they have a common perspective; one is Filipino and the other an Eastern European. Both learned the ropes while recognizing that the environment was not exactly friendly to them. And so sensing an oncoming obstacle meant avoiding it beforehand, while pushing forward to reach one’s goal.

On the other hand, a very successful business person from the West talks about putting on one’s thinking cap. But are they really different? Or do these two perspectives in fact converge?

In the West they recognize that there are different thinking caps (we’re familiar with one of them: playing devil’s advocate). And thus they develop a range of options, not through one and the same prism, but after putting on each of the different thinking caps. (Of course, greed can be overriding as we saw in the implosion of the global financial system. Yet, they can be equally aggressive in addressing a problem.)

The bottom line: neither means taking the path of least resistance as we know it – because in both cases, reaching one’s goal is the object. Taking the path of least resistance risks sub-optimizing, or even missing one’s goal entirely?

From the very beginning we chose to take the path of least resistance? For example, scores have written about the folly of import substitution. But at the time it was the thing to do – to take the path of least resistance, being a young country that needed to be nursed along.

Unfortunately, we have stuck to the same instinct – avoiding hard decisions? We did not have an established manufacturing industry; and so we took the path of least resistance, and opted instead to field millions of OFWs globally . . . for decades! The bottom line: we have avoided taking hard decisions – like stepping up to the competitive plate? Thus it is no surprise where we stand in competitiveness?

We wanted to develop agriculture yet as the Vietnamese are demonstrating, developing agriculture requires taking hard decisions – moving from small-scale to high-technology and integrating biotechnology. (Today they’re poorer than us – tomorrow?) We wanted to upgrade infrastructure yet we’re now looking at Clark – good for the future – but still, we did not want to take the hard decisions on NAIA; thus not surprising the EU slapped our airlines with a ban, undermining our tourism industry? We wanted to step up power generation yet did not take the hard decisions to ensure implementation of our energy program?

What about our major industries, say, San Miguel or PLDT? Are they geared to raise our competitiveness as a nation? Or are they similarly taking the path of least resistance, i.e., be dominant in local businesses like infrastructure? (How can we award bids to failed bidders, for example?) Of course we need infrastructure, but precisely because they’re inward-looking, they’re not geared to compete globally? (Or why Gorbachev is critical of Russia – they remain an oligarchy, not a modern, developed economy?)

(Our competitiveness ranking and economic freedom index are not great (an understatement!), especially our corruption rating. A study at the University of British Columbia (Fair Play: the origins of selflessness; The Economist, May 18th) may give us some clue: “People living in communities that lack market integration [or market infrastructure] display relatively little concern with fairness or with punishing unfairness in transactions” . . . . And that “the development of [global] trade and the rise of organized religion” play a role in fairness.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The power of the mindset

Opting to be proactive

It sounds we’re bullish again about exports, especially in electronics. And the BPO industry appears confident, that it’s moving up the value chain. The global recession is now behind us?

The writer has spent 7 years in Eastern Europe – beyond his commitment to US AID/IESC – because of his fascination: how people have understood the power of the mindset! How can people embrace a positive mindset, be proactive and truly competitive? It’s not easy. It’s a great lesson in being human, with warts and all; no one claiming to be ‘holier than thou’ – but simply being stout-hearted men and women – yet they have helped spread integrity in business practices across the region.

Beyond celebrating rebounding exports, it is important for our electronics industry to gear and move up the value chain? And for the BPO industry to generate greater revenue from higher value-added services than from call centers – where margins are thin, and why India has moved up the value chain? But we’re humans, with warts and all – we can’t turn on a dime?

Yet we can learn the power of the mindset: to be proactive, not reactive? And be ahead of the curve?

After Eastern Europe had parted the Iron Curtain, they were fashion-followers, influenced by Madonna’s music videos aired incessantly on MTV – one of the first Western cable channels they had access to. And as fashion houses saw their eagerness to be chic, Eastern Europe became a favorite test-market site – and transformed them from Madonna wannabes to fashion trendsetters. And as they got into the EU, they became more curious of the outside world, especially as the world of travel opened up too.

It’s a stretch to say that they have become truly proactive; they have not. But the writer can talk about how a particular group has understood the power of the mindset . . . and a business model, if you will!

“Ours is a simple business: we make things and sell things – that are compelling, i.e., high value-added. It’s highly competitive but don’t imagine it as complex . . . ‘We are getting market acceptance but need your help how to get to the next level – to be profitable’ . . . Stop thinking that pricing is the only way to go – don’t narrow your playing field. Remember, you got out of a business because despite your low prices you were not getting market acceptance. Ergo: pricing is not the ‘be all and the end all’. It is compelling products that are the key. They are products that people will buy because they have high value-added. Which of the products you’re currently selling are compelling? We will only market those that are; and discontinue those that aren’t. We will bulk up the portfolio – develop more compelling products – in order to generate sufficient scale. That means you have to stop being reactive . . . Simply because you’ve got them, you don’t win selling products that don’t generate healthy margins – it’s a waste of scarce capital and time . . . and competition from nowhere can kill you. You have to be proactive: develop and sell only products that are compelling. Don’t start with the wrong foot, start with the right foot! Keep it simple!”

It took 7 years for them to internalize the dynamic – not surprising (?) for people who came out of the Iron Curtain – but are today a respected regional player, no longer a Western wannabe. Managers from Western global behemoths, once menacing competitors, now work for them! Everybody loves a winner!

Instead of just complaining about the unfairness of the [Western] world, we can be stout-hearted too – step up to the plate, and stick it to them (pardon the French)?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Capitalism and democracy: no cake walks

Whenever the writer is flying to Eastern Europe, given the language barrier, he would ask for English periodicals – and the flight attendant would typically hand him a pile. Two articles recently attracted his attention: (a) What went right (in Eastern Europe’s economies) and (b) How democracy dies.

The Economist says: “If Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece want a lesson in how to take hard decisions, they should look eastward . . . The cuts in spending and increases in taxes and the retirement age that some ex-communist countries have imposed over the past year were much more savage than anything that Greece or Spain have so far contemplated . . .”

And Newsweek asserts: “A global decline in political freedom is partly the fault of the middle class . . . Many of the same middle-class men and women who once helped push dictators out of power are now seeing just how difficult it can be to establish democracy, and are pining for the days of autocracy . . . the public in many countries, who became disgusted that these democrats seemed no more committed to the common good than their authoritarian predecessors . . .”

We’re not alone in our reluctance to take hard decisions; and we’re not alone either in being disgusted with the country’s leadership.

Given the last several years – working and traveling around Europe – the writer appreciates the perspective of The Economist: countries may not be predisposed to take hard decisions. It’s worth noting that the countries referenced are favorite tourist destinations, i.e., Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. Being welcoming and cordial doesn’t come together with the instinct to take hard decisions?

Ex-communist countries, on the other hand, could “impose much more savage spending cuts and increases in taxes.” While the old system provided them with basic necessities it also conditioned them to accept a lot of restrictions – e.g., limited choices of if not outright ban on a number of things. In short, spending cuts and tax increases could be more palatable to them. And given the global recession, such “flexibility” was precisely what “the doctors ordered”? To be sure, The Economist recognizes that “ex-communist Europe still has to grapple with its share of problems: an ageing workforce, bossy officials and poor infrastructure . . . To catch up on the what the region missed when it was behind the Iron Curtain remains a mighty task.”

In any case, Newsweek makes an interesting point: capitalism and democracy have taken a beating because of: (a) the war on terror post 9/11 starting with the US invasion of Iraq; and the subsequent difficulty of establishing democracy in the country, (b) the global recession following the collapse of the global financial system owing to greed and irresponsibility in the West and (c) failure of democratically elected leaders in many countries, e.g., Thaksin in Thailand, and Estrada in the Philippines.

Capitalism and democracy are no cake walks – but people and countries could make the choice and be committed to the common good. Indeed, the way to righteousness – the common good – is straight and narrow? As even Gorbachev recognizes in his self-criticism of Russia?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rebooting our economy

Inertia is a given and hence we can’t expect ourselves to turn on a dime and stare at a clean slate. But a clean slate is what we need in order to chart a new, progressive course. Job one: figure out how to raise our GDP per person – it’s our true north but let’s not get ahead of ourselves! A clean slate means we’re not hostage to old assumptions – because we now know where we stand, as an economy and as a global competitor.

Do we want an economy that is inward-looking, and thus lag the region in investment? Do we want OFW remittances to drive our economy, and thus miss the imperative of developing and marketing competitive products – e.g., we need an incremental $100 billion, against the global economy it’s miniscule; the issue against exports does not apply to a small fry like us although even Obama wants to double US exports to $2 trillion? Do we want to be everything to everybody and thus miss to prioritize – confine our infrastructure and strategic industries to underdevelopment? Do we want to be simply fighting fire, and thus render us inefficient, ineffective and open to corruption – e.g., importing grains, installing generators, etc.? Do we want to keep taking the path of least resistance, and thus inhibit us from being a great nation?

In the private sector – particularly global enterprises – inertia is overcome by supervision. For instance, global companies operating in the Philippines report to a regional management. This ensures that: (a) while focused locally, (b) they keep an eye on the true north, and (c) that the comfort-zone phenomenon does not set in – which can make them less able to compete.

In the Philippines, we are a standalone entity. In contrast, in the EU, member countries are under the EU’s supervision. This is to ensure that EU standards are adhered to. For example, one of their priority initiatives is the creation of a physical network or highway system. The object is to link every member country, and ensure accessibility to the broader EU market – a fundamental rationale for the creation of the EU. And as a new member gains accession, they tap into the infrastructure funds of the union. Unfortunately, human condition makes generously funded projects open to corruption. And so the EU exercises supervision over its member-countries to make the initiative transparent.

We need to self-police ourselves in the absence of an EU-like structure. For instance, if we prioritize and step up infrastructure development, government must be committed to transparency. The writer has talked about prioritizing three (3) fundamental economic imperatives: (a) basic infrastructure of water, food, power, etc.; (b) strategic industries to drive and enlarge the size of our GDP, and (c) addressing the enablers of/barriers to: competitiveness, corruption and economic freedom.

On the 3rd point, it appears (from a Manila Times article) that “ . . . six key government agencies have been silently reforming themselves, improving the way they have been doing their assigned tasks, and thereby contributing to meeting the MDG (Millennium Development Goals). They are all undertaking the Performance Governance System (PGS), a local adaptation of the Balanced Scorecard applied to the public sector, to track their performance against a set of goals. They will make their performance commitments public on March 25, 2010 at the Public Governance Forum jointly convened by the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), the National Competitiveness Council and the Development Academy of the Philippines.

“Apolitical government people in the administration and the civil service in these six government agencies are silently working on urgent governance reforms that could no longer wait for the next Filipino president to be sworn into office . . .”

This is great news and a great model. And it is heartening that people and institutions appear dogged in their efforts. More power to them!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The economy and the gift of blessedness

When the writer’s family was winding down their annual winter sojourn in the Philippines – to catch up with family and friends – they packed the inspiration of their Lenten retreat with precious souvenirs from home. Thanks to a family friend who’s taken it upon herself to put them through this periodic stirring experience.

How to reconcile the spiritual and the secular? The foreign investor’s view of the country’s economic performance and potential is mixed at best: while short-term investors participate in our stock market, our foreign direct investments, on the other hand, are below regional norms. We ourselves poked those (irresponsible and greedy) American bankers for celebrating their trillion dollar balance sheets; but being blind to the toxic assets they kept in CDOs, CDSs, etc. – and thus went belly up, because their net worth was effectively negative? (Some even cooked the books to no avail!)

Yet, every time the writer is in the country, he would sense the power of the Filipino’s spirituality. And it is probably why the Filipino keeps a happy disposition – truly a gift.

The country’s economic malaise is finally being perceived more objectively – as a presidential adviser admits to our failure to arrest poverty? And if we assume that the conspiracy theorists are wrong – that we’re not being setup and conditioned to accept a failed election? To be sure, change is never easy – to a person and more so to a country? That’s why Born Again Christians truly attribute their conversion experience to a higher being?

As the Bishop stressed during the retreat, the gift of blessedness must bear fruit. Its absence comes from our rejection of the gift. And there is blame to go around in spades – from government to industry to education to the Church, and of course, Juan de la Cruz, himself? Shrinks will say we need to psyche ourselves up given the enormity of the challenges we face – but we need to go beyond that . . . and step up to the plate? Adam and Eve tried pinning their misstep on Satan but the verdict was: “Out” – take personal responsibility!

We need to admit to more missteps – because to bear fruit we must first properly cultivate the soil and sow the right seed? We can’t confess the sins of our neighbors; or in secular parlance, we can’t keep pointing the blame on our parents or colonizers or enemies? For example, the Vietnamese have embraced the Americans and are today their biggest investors!

But precisely because the gift of blessedness is not man-made, it is not characterized by man’s impatience – or secular assessments coming from the writer or whoever. And the Bishop has a great example: a well respected priest is asked by seminarians if he struggles keeping the seal of confession; and his ready response: my sins are worse than theirs and yet I know I am forgiven, and so are they; and so I forgive and forget.

We may have bungled the last 60 odds years but we know we have been forgiven – notwithstanding the conspiracy theorists, our culture of corruption and whatever else ails us? And as the writer’s family travels on to other parts of the world, he is confident that one day we would be seeking and bearing the fruit of our blessedness. For example, a Manila Times article reads: “The great news is that . . . reforms in . . . six important government agencies have been going on . . .”

And the words of the Bishop will always ring true: Meekness is not laziness. It is not lack of backbone. It is not just tolerance. It is not false gentleness. Mourning is grieving for others – to hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness, for their sake.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Prioritize or perish?

It appears we are beginning to put reality on the table – when a presidential adviser admits to our inability to arrest poverty. We may be inching forward to objectivity? It is not only poverty that we need to confront. The greater the complexity of the undertaking the greater is the need to prioritize and focus. It’s counterintuitive – that’s what large and complex enterprises learn all the time! For instance, we must prioritize in order to provide Juan de la Cruz the basics of water, food and power. We must prioritize our strategic industries in order to invest at the right levels and get the bang for the buck. We must prioritize our efforts to truly address our rankings in competitiveness and corruption and economic freedom.

Beyond objectivity, we must establish clarity of purpose – as opposed to falling on our instinct of inclusion. Dispersing our efforts reduces our ability to overcome major challenges. For instance, our GDP per person is miniscule – and thus, the only option for us is to prioritize and focus. (We instinctively come up with a laundry list of initiatives yet over several decades they weren’t done – i.e., we missed the true north or the genius of the (GC) Greatest Commandments!)

If the ultimate in man’s quest, salvation, is attained via the simple GC, how can man’s lesser endeavors demand more? In world-class enterprises they incessantly drill two things to attain sustainability or economies of scale: (a) in a new venture, the object is critical mass; and once it is reached, (b) the object becomes dominance. Both demand discipline and a forward-looking mindset. To achieve critical mass the focus is on margins; and to attain dominance, the focus is leadership. From follower one must become a leader. A leader is always two steps ahead, and comes up with compelling products with healthy margins. Ergo: you satisfy one (a) and you satisfy the other (b) and vice-versa.

Having just spent several weeks in the country, the writer wondered if we have forgotten that even the Creator focused on one thing at a time, instead of using his magic wand and cramming the work of ‘seven days into one’? Everyone wants to get ahead or a piece of the action – and given our culture of inclusion (just say the magic word, ‘paki’), we struggle to prioritize? The developed parts of the world point to respect for time and space as facilitating their ability to prioritize and focus. And poorer Vietnam is showing us the way to accelerate agriculture development (they’re going hi-tech and we’re still talking small scale?) by shifting from follower to leader, for instance; and our neighbors have shown us how to be economic tigers.

Many years ago the writer visited Papua New Guinea on business. There were tales of tribal conflicts he had heard but the very first village he visited gave him a sense of how civilization was advancing. He was introduced to the village chieftain and sat next to him as school children proudly demonstrated their culture through dance and music. And after the show the writer’s group distributed product samples. The people were in their best behavior, patiently waiting for their turn.

If these village people could queue and patiently wait for their turn, they probably wouldn’t engage in tribal conflicts, having learned to respect time and space? This was running in the writer’s mind – because the hotel where he stayed was fenced and well secured though over cocktails and dinner community personalities were naturally warm and friendly. As the writer traveled to different parts of the world, it would occur to him how much people have learned to respect time and space. And the more they did, the more progressive they were.

At a Lenten retreat the writer received a little prayer card and on the back was written “12 little things Filipinos can do to help the country”. The first reads: “Follow traffic rules. Follow the law.” It’s probably a call that it’s time to focus on the basics and our strategic industries, and respect time and space?