Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning and the practice of leadership

It’s heartening that in a leadership course (in the MBA program at a prestigious Catholic university) they’re reaching for relevance, and making a connection to the challenges confronting the Philippines. And the writer is delighted to be a part of the exercise – the niece, working for her MBA, would record an interview with him about leadership.

When the writer started this blog two years ago, it was in response to friends and relatives who had asked what he thought about the economy – and what could be done? Others were prodding him to get involved in education to share his worldview and experience. The writer recently met with our premier business school and they started a discussion on the need to “translate the technical to (the ‘language’ of) practice” – e.g., how organizations drive their businesses to be competitive.

Our business education has currency in its definition of private sector needs. Research efforts and the cases we utilize as key learning tools are contemporaneous – including global ‘best practices’. With Asia today being the engine of the world economy, it is important that we are part of the continuing development of the Asian manager. (Even in Eastern Europe managers are learning leadership and competitiveness – e.g., a doctoral candidate recently, and very proudly, forwarded her now officially published article, earlier critiqued by the writer.)

Back to the writer’s niece: he wanted to highlight the demand on leadership: (a) it must be disciplined and focused on the object or the ‘endpoint’ of the endeavor, (b) be dynamic and pursue execution with confidence and (c) get the team on board and committed to the cause. The simpler the definition of the endpoint the greater is the ability of the leadership to execute with confidence. Clarity facilitates communication and motivation, and engenders the team’s commitment and ownership of the efforts. Leadership, by definition, must inspire but the leadership process is disciplined precisely what Lee Kuan Yew is telling us.

In the case of the Philippines, our ‘endpoint’ as a country is to be a developed economy, with a specific GDP or per capita income as a goal, for instance. But to relate leadership to the group of MBA students, the writer would explain that in the private sector, the ‘endpoint’ is to attain ‘sustainable profitable growth’– and collectively, sustained profitable growth in industry translates to sustained GDP growth. Conversely, sustainability is at risk when businesses don’t drive competitiveness – i.e., under invest in technology, innovation, people, products, markets; and unsustainable economies, starved of investments won’t yield the necessary economic and social benefits people aspire for.

A growing Philippine consumer-products company with healthy margins, penetrating the overseas market must be designed, as its intermediate goal, to deliver >$100 million in revenues – to match the median subsidiary of global players. A local company (and the writer enjoys following news reports about them) appears moving in this direction. And, unsurprisingly, they have the confidence to embark on a major investment to raise their capacity to compete. To be focused and committed to their core business elevates expertise – knowledge, attitude, skills, habit and insights – to higher levels that can be leveraged regionally if not globally; a reality Philippine industry may not appreciate given that our major enterprises are local conglomerates. That is, they are yet to be competitive beyond our borders. We have a handful geared or gearing up to be competitive outside our shores, but we can use more in order to substantially raise the nation’s revenues or GDP. (GE is the best practice model for conglomerates – each of the businesses is a major global player.)

Indeed we’re doing loads to raise our revenues as a nation particularly in SMEs – starting from the Barangay or even at the GK-village level. But despite a market of >90 million Filipinos especially powered by OFW remittances, we’re not generating the revenues to lift the economy above underdeveloped levels. We have to move from livelihood-mode to competitive-mode, not just peddle imported goods and/or make local ones – but learn to create higher value-added products and services; think big – and take advantage of the global economy; and feed and capitalize our creativity. We have to start somewhere, reach for the human spirit and our God-given potentials?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The other side of ‘news’ is ‘execution’

The media could assist Juan de la Cruz develop an outward-, forward-looking and competitive bias? And support the Aquino Administration in its efforts to put us on the ‘straight and narrow’? The other side of ‘news’ is ‘execution’. News reports present events as: ‘Who is doing what, when, where and how’. On the other hand, execution must satisfy the hurdle: ‘Who will do what, when, where and how’. News and execution are two sides of the same coin!

Competitiveness is not measured in isolation. We must be able to measure up against the Asian tigers. It didn’t happen overnight. It took decades for us to become cellar-dwellers – and it behooves us to stop the slide, gear-up and lift ourselves up? ‘Entitlements’ aren’t evergreen – we may have granted them to inefficient and uncompetitive local industries because of the kindness of the Filipino heart. But training wheels outlive their usefulness, i.e., nations grow up as demonstrated by our neighbors – and so they would demand it of us too? Our major players have grown bigger and dominant, i.e., locally; while our economy remains skewed, characterized by massive poverty? Other nations went through the experience, but developed faster and so must we, i.e., via investments, technology, innovation – and thus attract talents, and develop competitive products and services that can win in more markets!

The Aquino Administration has rightly focused on investments – in stepping up infrastructure development – and in the strategic and priority industries it has identified could add incremental revenues or GDP of $100 billion. The good news is local industries and foreign interests have expressed support. One way to get Juan de la Cruz in the loop is for news reports to pursue an execution bias: What industries have we prioritized and identified as strategic – having done our homework? Who are we targeting as major investors, both local and foreign? When do we expect them to invest? Where will the investments be directed? How are we attracting them – as good as if not better than others? How – applying lateral thinking – do we ensure successful execution every step of the way?’

News reports can also drill down each of the priority or strategic initiatives, say, energy infrastructure or power and present news like: Who wants to invest in the energy/power sector, e.g., the UK, oil-rich ME? What projects are they looking at – will they deliver our goal of energy sufficiency and competitiveness; are they prioritized to generate the targeted contributions from energy, to the $100 billion in incremental GDP? When are the projects to begin and be completed? Where will the projects be carried out? How will we work with them and proceed with the undertaking? How – applying lateral thinking – do we ensure successful execution every step of the way?’

The ‘straight and narrow’ means being principle-driven and not reliant on the personal? Otherwise it’s just rhetoric? And motherhood statements won’t suffice given our reality – we’re playing catch up, competing for investments and addressing massive poverty. As importantly, transparency is achieved when news reports are presented in a proactive manner. The (FOI) Freedom of Information legislation is ideal. But to get transparency truly functioning, the people through the media will have to be assertive. The FOI by definition is reactive. As (TQM) total quality gurus preach, quality has to be built into the process – i.e., transparency has to be built into the process of news reporting.

OFW remittances were not the magic bullet – there is no magic bullet! What we need is a strong economy – i.e., sustainable, driven by strong fundamentals – and in the 21st century, it means it is producing globally competitive products and/or services. The electronics and BPO industries today may be flying high. And so this is the time for them to invest and ensure we move up the value chain. Pay lip service at their peril – and ours! The Asian tigers are investing heavily on innovation. We can’t afford to do less! Thus, news reports about the strategic initiatives of these industries should likewise be presented as more than news – with a clear-cut execution bias.

We won’t get there overnight, but clearly we won’t get there at all if we don’t pursue industrialization proactively? How? Move beyond our parochial instinct – develop the character, the confidence and the competitive spirit? But then again, given our culture of corruption and/or to preserve the status quo, there are forces that will undercut serious efforts by Juan de la Cruz? Will journalism, the spirit of public service and sense of country save us?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Leadership and hierarchy

Should we equate hierarchy with leadership? Is the Filipino ‘bossing’ how people interpret what is assumed as leadership when it is more an acknowledgement of hierarchy? And hierarchy could be a slippery slope – when it elevates the personal, undercuts principle, and undermines transparency and integrity?

In true Filipino humor, friends hosting balikbayans would intone, “How do you see us, aren’t you jealous of our lifestyle”? “You’re all ‘bossing’ here”, comes the reply. The Filipino rite of passage is best characterized by the acceptance to a higher tier in the hierarchy – a home in a gated-community, membership in a country club or a couple, foreign travels, among others? And with it comes the title, ‘bossing’? It may in fact be an affectation of endearment. And so when people talk about our culture of corruption, some would still hope against hope: “He’s an achiever; I never thought he’d be like them”!

It brings to mind the uncle who retired at Loakan, in Baguio, just outside the PMA. He loves the institution so much that before he retired as Dean of the Cadet Corps, he decided he was going to retire near his beloved academy. He prides in being a common citizen, living on his military pension. He had married an American (now deceased; May she rest in peace!) he met at school in the US; she had her feet on the ground – she was no ‘military queen’. And he was a model to the next generation. And today, whenever he visits Baguio, the writer would treat the uncle at Camp John Hay. He has led a humble life, and age has slowed him down. Decades ago he introduced the nieces and nephews from Manila to Camp John Hay, then a US facility.

The uncle and the writer would not talk about PMA boys who’ve made headlines. The writer would share that when People Power erupted, he was on a flight from Singapore, and the plane turned back after the pilot was advised of gun fires at the airport. And in Singapore he was stranded. (But has the Philippines turned into a banana republic through at least 25 years of insidious corruption, ruled by the personal thus undermining the rule of law?) The uncle follows the straight and narrow and would only make reference to and say one word: ‘politics’. The topic must pain him. He’s not as brutal as the maternal grandfather (who had let his wife raise a Catholic family even when he was not, turned off by the Spanish rule), a CPA, and who would say to the writer, while cursing: “Do whatever you like, but don’t be a politician or a lawyer”. He must have said the same thing to his children, 3 entered the military with one graduating at a US naval institution, and all retired poor, not wealthy; but no politicians and no lawyers. The writer remembers the uncle hosting cadets at home and tutoring them in math, the academy being essentially an engineering school. He wanted them to excel. And to non-cadets like the writer, he would explain the Cadet Honor Code: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

Marcos was amid Upsilonians while Estrada was among Ateneans – both surrounded by acquaintances and/or friends? It’s not the school – it’s the Filipino instinct to personalize and to defer to hierarchy, e.g., asking or being asked to be a ‘sponsor’ at church rites? This blog often talks about the perils of hierarchy – because it connotes power and thus perpetuates parochialism or an inward-directed economy? And as we learned with Marcos, power corrupts! And tolerance of corruption – and its byproducts, inefficiency and mediocre economic performance, among many scourges – explains why our global rankings in competitiveness and economic freedom are pitiable? And we’re the least able to attract (FDIs) foreign direct investments! ‘It’s everyone’s fault except us?’

Given our very low investment levels, foreign investors are giving us a second look. It behooves the Aquino Administration and our economic managers in particular to do their homework and promote the strategic industries proposed by the private sector; and for the rest of us – including legislators, local governments, the public sector in general and major local investors – to ‘think country’ and to reflect it in our actuations? In a globalized economy, stronger and more aggressive countries and enterprises would dominate – and thus we need to equip ourselves before we could give it our best shot? Failure would force us to wall ourselves off from the rest of the world – and label every other nation an imperialist – so they wouldn’t see us slide down the abyss? Are we there yet?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Respect for time and space . . .

It is something we take for granted because we have a big heart that wants to accommodate – more not less? And it extends across . . . many facets of our lives? For instance, the writer was ‘elected and behind’ the clan’s efforts in entrepreneurship. He and the wife pursued and injected loads of competitiveness and discipline into the enterprise – and after disengaging from the venture after 11 years, when the writer was relocated to their headquarters, the undertaking cruised along for 25 years.

It is a story of our instinct to accommodate? Once the writer and the wife were gone, discipline was taken for granted – because it’s not in our DNA? It was only a matter of time before its demise. In our interactions we are expected to compromise and accommodate, i.e., the personal trumping principle? And thus respecting the ‘Filipino way’, the writer opted not to interfere – we hate those ‘arrogant outsiders’ especially when they tell us what to do? And it is a national dilemma?

We talk about the role of education and of the church – but what to do? For example, we set lofty goals – ‘technocratic, moralistic’ and beyond – that must satisfy and address every conceivable aspect of the Filipino life? And as an ex-NEDA chief tells us, we’ve had consistency – accommodating more, not less – in our economic plans and programs over decades; they weren’t bad yet they didn’t deliver? Bottom line: we have to recognize how successful human endeavors are pursued, e.g., by the Asian tigers? Is the writer’s family example a microcosm of many of our undertakings – for profit or otherwise? Does our complex mindset set us up for even more daunting challenges – inefficiency and corruption, among others – and thus our global rankings in competitiveness and economic freedom are pitiful? And so poverty remains massive – which in and of itself takes our focus away from pursuing what is actionable and realistic?

Practically everywhere one looks, density is palpable – because we seek to accommodate? And it could be a fruit stand or a tire shop or a premier property development. We aggressively claim our right over every square inch of land or soil? Ignoring time and space is a slippery slope – it will only be a matter of time? From a concerned Filipino, RT@ninaterol: “We need better (and properly implemented) land use, zoning, building code, better urban planning”.

Urban living could have a positive impact on the environment when time and space is respected. Contemporary thinkers (e.g., Steven Johnson) and environmentalists have concluded that properly designed and efficiently functioning urban centers generate less greenhouse gases. As importantly, they are conducive to human collaboration that creates leading edge ideas. For example, it was in the jazz bars in Manhattan where Japanese sound engineers challenged themselves to develop the surround-sound technology. Even in the number of inventions and patents, the urban centers – where many premier institutions are domiciled, and where people could readily congregate and collaborate – produce more innovative ideas. And given this reality, Manhattan has started attracting Silicon Valley startups and venture capitalists despite its high-cost-of-living.

Environmentalists have compared the per capita impact on the environment of urban versus suburban living in the New York metro area, and concluded that suburban living takes a lot on the environment. For instance, the sprawling manicured lawns in the suburbs – that could use chemicals in abundance – are more punishing on the environment than the high-rises of Manhattan, on a per capita land use. Yet Manhattan is not necessarily the model in urban design.

If we are to address the density of population centers in the Philippines, we must first learn respect for time and space? Makati and Fort Bonifacio should be our showcases but if premier developers don’t demonstrate such respect – and a bias for efficiency and productivity, our ability to be globally competitive would remain in doubt? Global competitiveness continues to accelerate at warp speed – we can’t keep going through cycles of missteps, including inefficiency and corruption scandals among scores, which can ensure our slide down the abyss? We don’t want to be our own worst enemy – which is what sustainability is about?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

We’re getting the wake-up call . . .

The welcome news is that people now seem willing to question assumptions that we’ve held dearly for so long – and are we also developing a new hypothesis? The writer breaks into a grin when couples argue that being self-critical of the country wins enemies not friends. Yet, lately, there is a growing sense of self-criticism. It takes maturity to look at our balance sheet, take a seriously look at our liabilities beyond our assets and figure out what our net worth is – and take action to elevate our standard of living.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? A respected journalist speaking to a group in the private sector says that our culture of corruption has become so insidious we can’t figure out which comes first. The bottom line: the courage to arrest corruption has to come from each of us; and saying ‘no’ and taking that courageous first step is crucial.

The wheel-of-fortune keeps turning. Those at the bottom of the fortune wheel seek to destroy? And those at the top seek to dominate? We can’t claim patriotism absent sense of country, when we are committed to the personal (including President Aquino) that trumps principle? It’s too much to ask because we’ve lost the sense of synergy, of equilibrium and of the greater good for the greater number? Marketers know that the marketing mix – product, price, placement, promotion and people – seeks synergy; manufacturers know that the factors of production – men, machine, materials, money and method – seek synergy; and globally competitive economies know that the imperatives of competitiveness – investment, technology, innovation, talent, product and market – seek synergy.

It is encouraging that San Miguel is tapping two other entities to partner with them in pursuing their interest in infrastructure. It would be ideal if they bring not just capital but as importantly, technology and innovation and talent into the mix. San Miguel must seek to elevate the playing field to the level of global competitiveness – it goes beyond the buzzword ‘globalization’. ’To those much is given much is expected’ – i.e., our major players have to take the country to the next level. To say their strength is limited to the local market is to undersell their efforts. In a globalized world, their reason for being can’t be to simply dominate the local economy. Of course nations go through periods or eras like ‘robber barons’ in their time dominating America’s economic life. And why the Rockefellers’ Standard Oil had to be subjected to antitrust. The economy – global or local – can’t be skewed one way or the other. Nature is God-given and the sun can’t shine only on wealthy and/or robust economies thus the world is talking climate change and sustainability.

Those at the bottom of the barrel can’t be committed to crab mentality – or why some friends believe we’re in fact a banana republic, i.e., the personal rules. Those in the media and in politics can’t abdicate their roles – to ensure civilian authority is above the military. It’s a big responsibility that is easily subverted by a culture of corruption. Those in the church or in education or even in business can’t simply preach and/or espouse Corporal Works of Mercy. When the pie is too small, that is like promoting la-la land. Charity can’t be the opium of the poor.

Charity efforts must seek relevance and sustainability. Industry through the PBSP wanting to raise charity money to Ps5 billion is a great example – yet we have to be focused on enlarging the pie. And thankfully the Aquino Administration is seriously reconciling the economic roadmap from the private sector with its agenda – to raise our GDP by an incremental $100 billion. That will only bring us to the level of Thailand’s economy and still way below Singapore’s – but indeed a promising intermediate goal.

The Aquino Administration appears committed to doing the right thing. But does it go against our grain – of inclusion? Successful human endeavors are single-minded. It is what Lee Kuan Yew means when he says we need discipline, not democracy? The devil is in the details – but we have to move beyond intellectual discourse. Our endpoint is to be a developed economy in order to raise our standard of living. What is the endpoint for the energy industry or mining or agribusiness or whatever we’ve identified as strategic industries? Defining the endpoint in crystal clear terms and being single-minded would help simplify the complex Filipino mindset? And would make us seek synergy – the greater good for the greater number?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

‘Dutch disease’ redux

Starting with the end in view’ is how enterprises become global competitors – and Apple is one and why it's not surprising that they beat the competition with products relevant to 21st century lifestyle. What is the end view for our auto industry? We want to be more than local assemblers? What specifically – what elements will define that end view? What model is inspiring us? What timelines will it entail? What is a realistic intermediate goal? And then the message to Toyota ought to be: is their proposal moving us up and closer to that end goal? We don't need another ‘'Dutch disease' – or to embrace stop-gap measures, like we do with OFW remittances and subsidies?

It appears the Aquino Administration is engaging the auto industry to participate and support its new strategic initiatives. Unfortunately, Toyota appears unprepared to meet the program's investment and employment-generation requirements? What about bringing in higher value-added technology? And so do we simply allow them to meet the investment requirements under the old program, indeed a more modest investment? Foreign investment does not require us to beg – it demands integrity and propriety from both sides, a win-win proposition!

And the Chinese could inspire us: China demonstrated lateral thinking in their efforts to attract foreign investments. They would demand equity participation in manufacturing-based investments and specify local and export hurdles, for instance. But given their limited capital resources in the beginning, they allowed the creation – and 100% ownership – of holding companies by foreigners to encourage greater investments; and they brought into the country needed technology, R&D and manufacturing capability – and more!

The sad thing about poverty is it undermines the human spirit – the apex of human nature: ‘man is the true measure of himself’; ‘he is limited only by his imagination’. And poor as we are, has poverty in fact taken its toll – thus we struggle to call upon our human spirit? The US and Singapore – way above most countries in terms of per capita income – are both creations of the human spirit, and inherently imperfect? They're not natives to their lands and don't have the richness of Western European history and its glorious and proud past, for instance. Belgian friends have asked: is it the past which they don't have that makes them more forward-looking?

This blog often talks about Eastern Europeans – many of them, arguably, didn't have much of the human spirit despite the euphoria post the fall of the Berlin Wall? Decades of restrictive communist rule narrowed and shortened their view of the world and of life and their future? The writer would spend plenty of time to encourage his Eastern European friends to look ahead – because if they were to be equipped to compete against Western world-beaters, they needed lots of the human spirit.

How can we, Filipinos, call upon the human spirit? Because of our bias to be ‘inclusive’ as opposed to ‘being single-minded’, do we unwittingly pursue marginalized efforts that encourage compromises – the heart of our weakness that is corruption? Thus respect for time and space that engenders efficiency and productivity is taken for granted, if you will? The parking facility in a premium property development is one example. Regrettably, our way of life does not discipline us to be globally competitive? And until we do, the reality that ‘competitive and disciplined’ are two sides of the same coin won't appear to us as such?

And so cause-oriented groups are promoting a small-scale approach to Philippine agribusiness? Even ex-socialist Eastern Europe has learned the reality of sustainability. Sunflower growers, for example, have developed large-scale mechanized farms geared to attain competitive levels of efficiency and productivity. Their wine industry is still relatively small, but optimally sized vineyards have sprouted mirroring California's wine region. And working with Western interests, they have raised the quality of their wines. Efficiency, productivity and competitiveness are stirring their agribusiness efforts. But human as they are, they're not exempt from the temptations of the low-lying fruit!

There is no perfect model, no perfect country and no perfect people. And unless we unleash our most superior weapons – the human spirit – we won’t prove equal to the task!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Taking us back to square-one . . .

It appears President Aquino is beginning to feel the heat? And is he learning the power of the bully pulpit? “We’re stepping on toes, but we will do what is right!” Whatever it is, it bodes well for his leadership if indeed his radar screen picks up ‘heat-seeking guided missiles’ that can undermine his agenda; and likewise if he masters the bully pulpit!

The Aquino Administration’s ‘progress chart’ can’t be as smooth as a linear regression chart – there will be ups and downs. And which is why it’s best for him to leverage the bully pulpit: communicate the mechanics of how progress should be tracked – i.e., proactively command the nation’s agenda. For example, the economic managers know that the PPP-project initiatives won’t generate the desired investment levels overnight. But the administration must pull the Filipinos together – legislators and local officials as well as the public and private sectors and work for the greater good of the greater number. It is important for the economic managers to edify Juan de la Cruz; and for President Aquino to take the bully pulpit.

Even if specific administration initiatives take off as planned, the desired benefits would only come after the requisite timelines and learning experience are satisfied – probably not to the satisfaction of impatient critics. Thus the mantra for the economic managers is to be proactive: to keepprioritizing and assessing progress and results as well as the mix and dynamics of initiatives and programs, and calibrating them accordingly’, akin to portfolio management – while staying focused on ‘who we are’. We are an underdeveloped economy and must aggressively push to satisfy the elements of a developed nation – with a quantum leap in investments for badly needed infrastructure and strategic industries; that will give us competitive advantage in technology, products and markets, and thus benefit from a globalized economy like the Asian tigers. “Unfortunately, ours is a culture where personal trumps principle”, says a friend. But like it or not, undermining our well being as a people means digging a deeper grave – to accommodate this generation and beyond!

The writer and the wife were discussing the imperative of being focused and its dynamics as it applies to leadership – and sharing parallel examples from MNCs marketing to 200 countries, thus not a cakewalk – after another round of socials cum ‘Philippine economy analytics’ with friends.

President Aquino also needs to address the political dimension of the administration’s challenge. If indeed he is committed to do the right thing, he must stay on top of the military – by embracing a transparent leadership style. For instance, he could meet with the leadership of the military and get them on board – and support his agenda and the fight against corruption. And he can get the media and Juan de la Cruz in the loop short of televising his meetings. And he can then move through the military hierarchy and across the different branches and down to the young, idealist cadets at the PMA.

If President Aquino is taking on the GOCCs to demonstrate resolve in his campaign against corruption, for example, he should similarly take on the leaderships of government agencies and subject them to transparency and the bully pulpit. But he has to prioritize. And if he is able to do that, then he can move on to the media and the judiciary – assuming Lee Kuan Yew is right, that corruption in the country is endemic and the media and the judiciary have roles to play. And as President Aquino says, the challenge is daunting because he is ‘stepping on their rice bowls’.

The Philippines is worth dying for” ought not to be uttered in the same context again? What we need as a people is to grow up: crab mentality – by those who feel they’ve become pariahs – and domination – by those regarded as ‘Brahmins’ and perpetuated by our restrictive investment climate – have kept us an impoverished nation?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What’s happening to the country?

Thankfully, the business community and the Aquino Administration are showing us how to focus – pursuing investments to drive identified strategic industries and lift our economy? The challenges are daunting – because practically every sector of society is suspect? For example, can we deal with a government or police or military branch that is not corrupt? Can we use the scanty national budget (or even the local) judiciously or will big chunks leak out because of corruption and inefficiency? Can the lack if not absence of alignment between national and local agendas undercut efforts to aggressively raise revenues (or GDP) and our standard of living?

And are we unwittingly engendering a perfect storm – because our soft, forgiving culture (or brand of patriotism?) wants to protect uncompetitive industries, undermine our competitive sense and spirit, and discourage foreign investments? “Our inward-looking bias has put us out of the game”, laments one. It seems that conversations with friends (over sumptuous meals in trademark Filipino hospitality) veer to the negative whenever the writer and the wife are in Manila. They probably represent many Filipino households: well-traveled, with kids in or who attended schools overseas; and given our affable nature, find the quality of life at home better than living abroad (especially with the coterie of domestic help to boot and the chauffeurs who can teach patience while in traffic); and they have their advocacies, including ‘adopting poor families’ in a manner both material and spiritual.

Yet, they have endless stories to share about how much the country is in decline. They rattle off hard news and ‘real news’ – and punctuating them with boisterous Filipino laughter makes the horrific stories palatable? What is sad is the sense that every sector if not fiber of society has become suspect? How did we get to this? Did Marcos teach us that crime does pay? Is the Filipino culture too soft and forgiving that we simply abdicate if not add fuel to the fire?

We set our expectations rather low and collectively as a people we’ve established a pretty low bar? It could be as simple as accepting stale products from our favorite supermarkets. Regretfully, global competition demands global standards – and we’re competing against Asian tigers, and emerging global players? For example, can our major industries compete head-to-head against their counterparts in the region – like Siemens (European) benchmarking against GE (US)? And why the writer talks about his Eastern European friends – they’ve gone beyond their regional peers to compete against Western global behemoths. Well aware that they’re still learning the ropes re free enterprise, they are pushing themselves to the hilt, to override the learning curve.

What’s happening to the country: is our establishment a representation of irrelevance, wedded to a marginalized economy that is decades old? “As the Dominican theologian Francisco de Vitoria taught, we all have needs and desires and the talent to satisfy them. In the process, we plan the way to live, and develop human society”, says José S. Arcilla S.J. in his Jan 23rd column in Business World. “The Greeks, who laid the foundation of much of our culture, did not teach "history," as we understand the term today. But they always looked back to the past, to the great exploits of their predecessors.” [ibid]

Is our national pride misplaced or is it the mindset of our establishment that is misplaced? Consider the following: “Currently, the United States ranks lowest among the world's largest manufacturing nations in the ratio of domestically produced goods sold overseas, or export intensity. We must set as our highest economic priority not just increasing our exports, as the president has pledged, but also making the United States the world's leading exporter in the 21st century.” That’s the CEO of GE – confronting the failings in export-manufacturing of the world’s largest economy! Translation: we’ve become the least not the greatest, but we must strive to be the best.

We need to squarely face our own missteps? We can’t put up another façade: our corruption index is pitiful but we care for the poor even if they’re growing in number, and we’re ‘holier than thou’? The writer remembers growing up when the contemporary joke was that we, Filipinos, were ‘OA’ – are we still overacting?