Saturday, August 27, 2011

‘Practice makes perfect’

But nobody’s perfect, so don’t practice.’ Lifted from ‘6 inspirational quotes to live by’ which is circulating in cyberspace. Is it another expression of authentic Filipino humor? We also share most things profound including homilies like this one in the writer’s inbox: “. . . Although Peter could not clearly see Jesus, his voice was enough to encourage Peter to walk on water. Faith is indeed connected to our ability to hear God’s voice . . . People nowadays are so busy and distracted with many things. We are multi-task human beings; we do many things at the same time, but lose our focus in the process . . .”

It is not only in our faith journey where focus is imperative? When the writer first met his Eastern European friends, he was delighted to hear that they were committed to focus on the business. And would not just chase low-hanging fruit! And thus the writer reinforced the point: In today’s globalized and highly competitive world, one could discount focus if they were in a banana republic – where hierarchy and monopoly rule, instead of ‘the rule of law’, characterized by oligarchy on the one hand and massive poverty on the other? General Electric, the US conglomerate, is an exception and is a carryover from America’s ‘pre-modern’ era. In Japan, some popular zaibatsu brands have been overtaken by Korean competition if not acquired by Chinese enterprises. Of course, in Asia, where we’re still evolving into the ‘modern age,’ we have a number of these conglomerates. That is not a problem per se.

But the 21st century successful businesses are those where focused investments – innovation, R&D and market research, for instance – are the driving force. And so in supposedly poor Eastern Europe, the writer’s favorite ice breaker when he’s with a group is: “Raise your hands if you have an iPhone?” And they proudly do! As importantly, they’ve learned that even in a simple business like consumer-packaged goods, they could develop and incorporate higher value-adding characteristics into their products. Under communist-rule they had to contend with products that were ‘not user-friendly,’ tissue paper for one, and thus found liberation. Poor isn’t helplessness?

If ‘practice makes perfect’ . . . but because ‘nobody is perfect’ . . . would we rather not practice? Unfortunately, because we haven’t truly pursued global competitiveness, our worldview has yet to evolve? And sadly, the folks behind our PPP initiatives would only confirm that our restrictive economic statutes are undermining the administration’s efforts to attract foreign investments – an important source of technology, innovation, talent, and product and market access? And beyond these formal restrictions is something more frightening: a confluence of interests? Are we, for instance, still questioning if foreign investments guarantee employment or if it’s a bane to local entrepreneurs? In the meantime, our neighbors continue to attract them? Of course, fierce competition could undo businesses that are unable to stay ahead of the curve. For instance, Pfizer, once among the 3 largest enterprises in the US, and iconic Kodak, both once major global employers, have had rough patches. And they’re not alone!

The reality: Competitiveness is the only genuine economic security especially during hard economic times – not shutting out the critical drivers: of investment, technology and the global market? What we need is to squarely face our shortcomings – e.g., our inability to compete, which starts with poor infrastructure beginning with energy? Unfortunately, local vested interests (as a legislator-columnist writes) are behind the scene campaigning against FDIs – i.e., we would have the same half-a-dozen entities behind every major project? But what technology and/or innovation have they pursued that can travel outside the Philippines? The ideal route for our industry is to emulate global enterprises, those that are committed to aggressively driving competitiveness – by focusing resources accordingly. We have to shed the ‘banana-republic model’ of monopoly power! Handicapping is for amateur golf!

Should we then seek to elevate the probability of positively shifting our destiny as a nation – and not implicitly accept a downward trajectory if not a point of no-return? Or what would be left for us is to ‘walk on water’ – or as a friend would explain: only faith and prayers would save us? What we must pursue then is to lift our (a) investments and (b) competitiveness in a major way – i.e., commit to focus and prioritize and execute?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An open letter to President Aquino

It is a wet Sunday morning in the New York metro area, and countless are reading about President Obama. His popularity has dropped even lower than his unfavorable rating and the feeling is he is a president lost. And it’s a pity because he campaigned under the banner, ‘The audacity of hope.’

The writer is a product of globalization thus the reference and interest beyond our borders. The emphasis on ‘globalization’ is intentional because we Filipinos have yet to fully appreciate and embrace this 21st century reality or "given"? As a lifelong observer and participant from the private sector of the ‘world around us,’ he has realized the value of a few fundamental givens. And he traces them to his Filipino upbringing where our faith is a major influence: The Pareto principle (from the Great Commandments), optimizing returns on resources (from the parable of the talents), the power of the human spirit (from the lesson of Eden), not to confuse faith with responsibility (from ‘Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’)

The writer has watched at close range how others not only Americans renewed themselves, while we Filipinos would always be hailed for People Power. And your parents, both, would always be remembered for it. It would take the life of your father for us to stand up for freedom. (Today we have to stand up for freedom – from poverty?) America’s history is bloody, yet modern America has demonstrated a propensity to repair itself – and thus the frustration with President Obama? Or should people own up – i.e., greed created the housing/credit bubble and brought the Great Recession? And until the housing spoils are mopped up, the countless industries touched by housing would remain anemic, and the economy likewise? And why Buffett wants the superrich like him to share, via higher taxes, the pains of the average American, and is asking US legislators to stop coddling them?

Your administration started with a great message of hope too. And we are grateful that you are tackling the scourge of corruption head on. Beyond destroying our moral fiber, corruption undermines efficiency, productivity and thus economic output. And as an underdeveloped economy, we badly need to drive our revenue or GDP. The JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) has developed a simple roadmap that would truly drive economic output – via the strategic industries they have identified would attract $75 billion in investments. And given their multiplier effect should yield incremental GDP of over $100 billion – which should move us closer to a Thailand, with a much better poverty scenario than we currently do. And this is where faith, if you will, can’t be confused with responsibility?

President Obama recently met with a handful of CEOs to discuss how to address the issue of unemployment. It could be a good model for us to adopt? For example, as the leader of the nation, you may likewise want to meet with the JFC to appreciate the vital few initiatives that must be pushed at the highest levels in order to turn the roadmap into an action plan synonymous to success? The writer, coming from the private sector, indeed has a bias for simplicity – a simple roadmap, a set of priority initiatives and the imperatives of execution. President Obama has a political liability in that he has to run for reelection; you have the luxury of retiring from the presidency in a few?

There are a couple of things that would turn the JFC roadmap into a winner for Juan de la Cruz: dramatically lifting investments and competitiveness. And in both cases, we need to prioritize which initiatives must occur ASAP. President Clinton took the bully pulpit while he pushed his (‘It’s the economy, stupid’) mantra with Treasury Secretary Rubin, and doggedly worked with Congress to balance the budget. There will always, always be barriers to execution, which is why a laser-like focus on driving investments and competitiveness is imperative. How could the administration keep the focus? Who in the cabinet could be the taskmaster working with you? A taskmaster is one who has no patience with the ‘ifs and buts’ – because failure is not an option?

Please pardon the unsolicited advice and the simplicity. The private sector is acknowledged as more efficient and effective because it is driven by simplicity – their key to execution. And thus Reagan and Clinton took note. More power to you! And thank you very much for teaching us to abhor corruption!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Keeping up with the Joneses

In the vernacular, as a friend would explain, it means ‘mababaw ang kaligayahan' – i.e., many of our small firms may fail the acid test of ‘sustainable profitable growth’ because our goal in life is to simply outdo the next door neighbor? And so the venture is not treated as a separate and distinct entity – or why Filipinos are well traveled, i.e., once the business starts bringing in the dough traveling to North America or Europe, and shopping for designer goods represents self-actualization? A journalist who interviewed Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was expecting him to be driving some fancy cars, and found what really was driving him: to keep excelling in what he does.

Of course it is convenient to blame government for not providing proactive interventions to our small businesses. Reports Business Mirror, Aug 7th, “. . . The general failure to expand or even just sustain operations can be traced to weak or poorly designed government interventions to increase small entrepreneurs’ knowledge and skills to use technology and financial resources to grow their business . . . Value-adding can be enhanced [if these factors] are present: constant availability of quality raw materials in their required volumes, choice of equipment and machinery, lack of access to training and technical assistance, lack of support services, and reliance on service markets.”

But isn’t what is in our heart and our mind where it all starts? Are our low expectations manifested in our instinct to think small? When the writer and wife met an Eastern European who was speaking from the heart and dreaming big, he promised to help make his dream come true. Fast forward: 'He has been selected as one of the ten Ruban d’Honneur recipients for The RSM International Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the 2011 European Business Awards,' says the email from the sponsors, and his submission is revealing especially given socialist background and born under communist rule. He makes the writer proud: he started from scratch with no clout whatsoever, just a big heart.

It is my dream to develop the Best and Biggest Company out of Eastern Europe. We grew from a small cottage industry producing simple consumer products that became market leaders in all the categories we competed in our home country, taking market shares from 3 of the largest global entities in the industry. Our recent achievements have been in geographical expansion with, again in many cases, market leading positions by categories; and the establishment of three new businesses.

To develop critical mass, we had to explore export opportunities in neighbouring countries. In the local market, we had become strong partners with the trade. Outside the country was another story: it was necessary for us to continue to demonstrate our ability to supply a broader range of products. And as the modern trade (international retail stores) came to the region, we had to raise our focus on healthy-margin products and brands.

Gaining dominance against global behemoths has not been an easy task. There have been many hindrances along the way. A lot of the things that big companies take for granted, we had to learn the hard way. For example: consistent product quality is crucial, margins matter, and distribution and consumer marketing must be in sync and can’t work in isolation. Now we have state-of-the-art factories, R&D and QC labs ensuring total quality. We match the MNCs in financial information infrastructure and even beat them in bottom line profits. We have a solid business model for entering new markets with all key factors of success lined up. And best of all, we have lots of room for growth.

I’m a visionary. I dream of ideas, products and business models that are far beyond what exist. I am always looking for something, for the next step that will generate success. I never stop adapting and changing and this is the style by which I have built the organization. This is what allows us to generate consistent business pace and growth year-on-year over the past 10 years. No matter how big we become, I am preparing the company for what will take it to the next level – be it products, business models, organization, infrastructure or people.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

‘Pinoy kasi’: A mental model

The Tea Party's battle cry, it appears, is simply 'Down with big government' – while the conservatives want to cut entitlements and cut taxes? And the democrats, on the hand, insist on preserving entitlements while raising taxes? Yet all claim that they hold the answer to America’s deficit problems? Of course they can't agree because they're unwittingly pushing conflicting ideologies instead of problem-solving?

The private sector has had its history of responding to opportunities and challenges – of problem-solving. Manufacturing showed the way through the baby-boom era; and as competition within industries intensified marketing developed as a discipline. And even in the Philippines, we saw this occurrence via the local airwaves as marketers helped popularize soap opera as a genre. And as competition deepened even more, the number crunchers then came with their sharp pencils that saw restructuring become part of the private sector’s lexicon, including mergers and acquisitions – to accelerate growth, buy brands and technology.

With competition continuing to escalate, more tools had to be developed: computerization, productivity and quality among others, and later even newer generations of these tools. These developments spilled beyond national boundaries and spurred globalization, with its own set of challenges – both to developed and emerging economies . . . And competition in a globalized economy imposes a greater demand for innovation. Nokia developed low-priced cell phones that captured large markets like India and China, and thus held global market leadership. Yet, Nokia is in more trouble than it ever imagined! While the pricier Apple has become the largest tech company if not yet the most valuable global enterprise, if indeed it would overtake Exxon-Mobil as anticipated.

And so the world has seen how progress has evolved? How did we in the Philippines respond to this changing world? By sheer inertia alone, we would not imagine that we'd be isolated from this reality? Even the Chinese and the Soviets accepted reality – and motivated the writer to make Eastern Europe a second home (though as a student his curiosity about socialism was limited to browsing Mao’s Red Book.) To our credit, we are hungry for knowledge – for example, we are among the first to always tap contemporary business and management thinking, i.e., seminars like education are a big business in the Philippines! But knowledge can’t stay in the head – it must come down to the heart and then to the gut before it becomes second nature, if it is to renew ‘Pinoy kasi’?

What does 'Pinoy kasi' mean? If it means parochial and hierarchical then we have our work cut out for us? And we have an even bigger challenge if we fold-in populism and faith – because they would reinforce parochialism and our hierarchical structure . . . in a world that is moving at warp speed? Ergo: we would remain out-of-sync? If our industry continues to invoke slivers of 'Pinoy kasi' instead of leveraging foreign investments and trade, for instance, then we shall indeed be frozen in time? We can’t speak from both sides of our mouth re foreign trade – but is it our comfort zone, a throwback to our ideals of hierarchy manifested by monopoly trade, for instance? And if in industry hierarchy plays a role, all the more in the public sector – where transparency is easier to elude, if not a given?

If we don't leverage state-of-the-art technology in our efforts to raise competitiveness whether in agriculture or industry, we shall remain of the past, with the past and for the past? If we see the route to innovation and competitiveness going via fabricating local machinery, for example, because of cost considerations, we would simply be recycling import substitution – something economist John Nye pointed out as folly? As Nokia learned the hard way, it is the dynamic of technology, innovation, talent, product and the global market – i.e., margins – that is key in global competition. We no longer can value local fabrication because of cost alone, like the writer’s Eastern Europeans learned – i.e., we can’t stick with the jeepney as our model for 21st century technology? We’re playing catch up and ought to accelerate the learning curve, not start from square-one – by seeking partnerships with technology leaders instead of going it alone, as China demonstrated? Our instinct can’t always be to look inward?

Friday, August 12, 2011

The human spirit gone astray

Humans can call upon the human spirit, raise their ‘pain threshold’ and accomplish super-human feats! But when vested interests are able to mask reality, the human spirit goes astray? Washington clearly could not raise its pain threshold given the compromise they struck on the debt ceiling. It’s not rocket science that reducing entitlements – i.e., Medicare and Social Security – and raising revenues – i.e., taxes – were required to drastically cut US deficits. Washington needed to step up to the plate: make the tough call, i.e., take the savings where they must and step up spending where it made sense to fuel the economy. The private sector does it all the time – and thus calling upon the human spirit becomes second nature! Put another way, innovation and competitiveness are learned by doing. And Pacquiao knows it better than most – while politician Harry Reid who befriended him missed the doing piece!

Politicians have very little capacity for pain – because the pain, especially when shared by voters, would be disastrous to a politician’s electability. And which explains why only half, if not less, of American voters exercise their right to vote. In the meantime, over 15% of Americans get by only because of food stamps. It’s a catch 22: Americans remain in denial unable to accept that cherished entitlements are no longer affordable – while unwittingly keeping the economy anemic for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly, S&P lowered the US debt rating! In the meantime, the Democrats believe that the object of the opposition is to make Obama a one-term president. The bad news is with Europe also in economic limbo, the global economy will remain feeble – and most likely bedevil also the next US administration, even if it’s Republican. China, as the next largest economy, thus needs to play a global leadership role but they’re new in the game – and they have their own concerns, i.e., how to spread wealth more equitably especially with inflation rearing its ugly head, and as they rely on the local economy to take up the slack from a weak global demand. Not surprising, US legislators are calling for a halt in aid to China – i.e., China today is still a US-aid recipient.

Asia remains the silver lining but unlike Europe with long-established institutions, Asia is characterized by sub-optimization – i.e., its culture of ‘relationship first’ (as opposed to the ideals of meritocracy) undermines the strengthening of institutions. We are well aware of this phenomenon and which is why President Aquino remains steadfast against the ‘wang-wang’ culture? Yet nation-building demands more!

Indeed relationships (beyond their role in human existence) are at the core of human endeavors – which the writer experienced first-hand covering the region for a decade, i.e., his being Asian opened doors. But there is a line that cannot be crossed especially when the personal means turning one’s back to principle. For instance, delivering bad news is always a discomfort but that is why there is such a thing as leadership. Unfortunately, the desire to be liked could undo leadership. Why can’t we get basic initiatives right even when much has been embarrassingly reported about our failings in governance and competitiveness, for instance? And the manifestations are for all to see – e.g., it’s the 21st century and our infrastructure remains underdeveloped, for example? And to add insult to injury, corruption throws us farther back – e.g., how many more major infrastructure projects do we have to abort before we realize why foreign investors aren’t coming?

We would not be accepting of the string of 'loose ends' before us if it would stereo-type us as one exotic Pacific archipelago – and thus would seek closure instead? But does the comfort that comes with our hierarchical structure give the impulse that the way forward is through Christian charity instead of economic development? Unwittingly, it is reinforcing of an economy that is skewed to benefit a few? For so long as our economy is driven by OFW remittances, industries would be rewarded (even handsomely, according to Forbes) for responding to their consumption needs? And that would undermine (a.k.a. 'Dutch disease') our capacity as a nation to gear up and advance in technology, innovation and competitiveness – thus the prospect of rising poverty – especially as the global competitive hurdle is raised even higher by harder economic times?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The budget: Talking the talk

It appears the DBM secretary is hitting all the requisite operative words in describing the budget: rapid, inclusive and sustained economic development, and focused and cohesive. Indeed the administration must articulate 'its reason for being'. And President Aquino seems single-minded in ‘cultivating the soil’ that is the Philippines – that until we own up to our ‘bad attitudes’, which he spoke about with our community of psychiatrists, we can't expect to grow and prosper.

The fundamental role of a nation is to raise its standard of living via the pursuit of sound economic interventions. Watching our local news is a most depressing experience as they present our reality – our failure to value human dignity! It is thus encouraging when the president's team is able to present something coherent and focused like the budget – which can be game-changing if executed with conviction? We can't pat ourselves on the back with 'make do' initiatives – when they don't fix the fundamentals of the economy: from infrastructure to strategic industries to competitiveness to economic surplus. Thus it is understandable that dole outs are criticized by many – especially if they are unsustainable and take resources away from initiatives that have a far greater impact, or if they don’t deliver the assumed positives. Translation: we don’t want to unwittingly embrace an economy that is lopsided – i.e., for the benefit of a few with a great number ordained to a lifetime of poverty.

It is critical that we appreciate the focus and the coherence in the administration's agenda. On the other hand, we can't applaud the theatrics of the 'big boys' – e.g., the ventures they're wrestling about will not yield the quantum leap necessary to pull the country out of the abyss. They won't raise our technological capacity or our competitiveness. Surely they expect to grow their revenues and that would still be welcomed, but not necessarily praiseworthy – in the name of nation-building. What will elevate our economic output is raising revenues especially in industries where we're laggards. For example, the 12 major dollar-earning industries the Agriculture department identified must indeed be a focus. But the administration must provide concrete plans and take the necessary steps to make them happen – and when?

Just like in any economic or business activity, a robust product portfolio is key in order to optimize yield – for instance, it appears electronics exports are slowing? Thus, we need new high-performing industries in our portfolio. And likewise we need the electronics and BPO communities, for example, to be truly committed to developing higher value-added competitive products. It is noteworthy that the budget provides for infrastructure projects to make strategic tourist destinations accessible – a must given the beauty of the Philippines. Focus and coherence are imperative so we don't get distracted while the administration goes full speed ahead. There will always be the low-hanging fruit that is tempting. Or why developing countries create monopolies cum conglomerates – instead of technologically-driven and globally competitive enterprises. And there is that one initiative where the administration must exercise greater leadership: addressing our energy issue. What must we undertake to ensure sufficiency at competitive costs? Who, when, where and how will we do it? What is the role of renewable energy over time? In short, if we want the administration's budget to be focused and coherent, we must want an energy initiative that is similarly focused and coherent. We need to execute – walk the talk!

What is the outcome that we want – and is mandatory? We want a clear-cut program that will drive economic output in the identified strategic industries that will be sustained by a robust, competitive product portfolio and an efficient infrastructure system. The administration's reason for being must be so articulated, monitored and communicated for Juan de la Cruz to be on board. We must not be distracted by favorite if not politically expedient pet projects or vested interests – while millions of Filipinos end up paying the price because of failure to execute . . . and thus a failed economy! How could we even watch local news that vividly bring to the comforts of our living rooms the widespread hunger . . . in the country . . . we claim we care about – or do we really?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Pinoy ‘basta’ and ‘bahala na’

The wife is talking about her projects and wonders if there’s a common thread in how we, Filipinos, interact? The problem with a tenant-farmer remains while her favorite farming family continues to progress: they were able to buy and own their farmland, send the children to school, and only those who chose to be farmers did. For several years the wife has been working out a scheme for the farmers to own their farms – encouraging the rest to follow the lead of her favorite family. But the saga continues, i.e., with those who would simply say, ‘basta’ and ‘bahala na!’ She’s been tempted to give the small inheritance away but worried about unintended consequences.

The writer and wife are winding down their month-long homecoming – which they always look forward to, cherished moments with friends and relations . . . With the latter ever so keen to hear what the view is from the outside – which is why the writer started this blog in the first place. And to move beyond the blogosphere, he sat down with an educator, two groups doing business outside the Philippines and one local entrepreneur – who is now gearing up to venture overseas. And the writer committed to support their pursuit of competitiveness. But a friend couldn’t help: “Why do you think our entrepreneurs, big and small, are not predisposed to compete beyond our shores? Are we simply too comfortable where we are given our hierarchical structure? Why would we welcome foreign direct investments then when they would only disturb the apple cart? Is it our sad reality?”

Is Juan de la Cruz predisposed to change? Is ‘basta’ (or ‘I insist’) – whether we verbalize it or not – in our subconscious? And then we simply tuck it away with ‘bahala na’ (or ‘que sera, sera’). And are we driven by the ‘Pinoy heart’ which finds comfort in the grey area – as opposed to closure – and thus abhor ‘quentas claras?’

The Germans are taking a wait-and-see attitude about our PPP given the NAIA 3 fiasco, among others. And the writer wonders how much we’re missing, opportunity-wise? In Eastern Europe and other emerging economies, Germany, the strongest economy in Europe to come out of the Great Recession, is plenty busy investing and supporting emerging economies!

Do we see quentas claras as impersonal and insensitive that we end up with lots of loose ends? A friend chimes in: “A European diplomat wanted to know if indeed we’re the happiest people on earth; and told him how much we took on the teachings of the friars. And fundamental is the unbending faith and belief and hope in the future. Why do we smile despite growing poverty? Because we have something to cling to, a security blanket, that of hope?

“Go to the smallest town or listen to our televangelists . . . you hear an abiding faith and hope – that the future is to look forward to.” And another friend adds: “And so people even believe they would be granted their dream US visa – not necessarily tomorrow, but someday. And you know, it’s like nurturing a lucky lotto number – you don’t want to give it up because you don’t want to miss the jackpot by a hair. Are we in reality perpetuating poverty – because of ‘bahala na’?”

They were said in jest . . . but are they really far from the truth? And the wife shares: “I try to get my chores done when I am in town. My batting average is not perfect, and I probably step on toes. But I have good news to bring back to the States: The livelihood manager of our GK community returned to our group a portion of the seed money that we provided; and the even better news is they now have a larger working capital that would sustain the venture for the foreseeable future. We continue to work with them to ensure the venture’s sustainability. And it’s a delight to see how the community has evolved from once aspiring to have a roof over their heads, to generating incremental income for the families.”

There is a world beyond ‘basta’ and ‘bahala na?’ And while Christian charity is a must, driving the economy aggressively is our greater challenge – for the common good?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The common good . . .

It is undermined in societies infused in hierarchy and parochialism, and characterized by oligarchy – as experienced by many developing countries. Unsurprisingly, the phenomenon has been examined and incorporated into a body of knowledge by economists – e.g., Dani Rodrik of Harvard University, and cited by Dennis Botman, IMF resident representative for the Philippines.

. . . Greater trust could lead to improved governance,” writes Dennis Botman, Business World, Jul 12th, “ . . . by creating greater accountability and less political polarization and stimulating reform momentum by reducing catering to vested interests . . . Trust is associated with less corruption . . . Countries with high levels of trust have grown faster in recent decades than other comparable countries . . . The standard trust indicator that is used is the proportion of a population that answers yes to the question: “In general, do you think that most people can be trusted, or can’t you be too careful?”

In the Philippines the vast majority suggests that one “can’t be too careful” (93%) compared to the average of the 84 advanced, emerging, and developing countries surveyed of 70% being less trustworthy . . . More equal societies have greater social trust and that these are mutually reinforcing . . . Equality promotes the vision of a shared fate, where others are part of your “moral community.” In contrast, in an unequal world, people will be reluctant to take risks in dealing with people who might be different from themselves. They will press for closed markets and work within their own sub cultures-and will tolerate corruption . . . Thankfully, reducing inequality and strengthening education are key pillars of President Aquino’s social contract with the Filipino people, which augers well for rebuilding social trust and economic growth in the period ahead.”

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is the ‘seƱora’ the cause of the ‘majordoma’s’ (or the driver’s) egregious behavior or is it the other way around? With friends – from the expat community – enjoying the breezy veranda in the country club (in one of our gated communities), the writer and wife hear an earful. “Corruption seems to appear at every level: from non-seniors presenting senior-citizen cards to filing suits heard by ‘friendly judges’ to holding vital machinery at the Customs until the palm is greased, among others. And so inefficiency (and poor customer service) even in high-profile, technology-based businesses is to be expected.” Separately, over lunch in Fort Bonifacio, the writer is told: “Since the time of Marcos, we seem to have elevated ‘dummy capitalism’ to an art form!” [And Ernesto M. Maceda writes, PhilStar, Jul 19th, “Yes, it can be accurately claimed that the whole government was plundered,” enumerating 13 instances of alleged plunder.]

Sensing an opportunity to get back to the sumptuous meal, the writer tells the restaurant owner that the ‘pork sinigang’ is to die for! And he promises to come again, and is told they would open another outlet in one of Makati’s desirable residential complexes. And in these circles, poverty is invisible? Decades ago, the writer then based in Manila, had his eyes opened by visiting friends: “Nation-building is an uphill battle when poverty is invisible – and when people are able to shut out the inefficiencies creeping into a life of supposed luxury.”

Does the ‘common good’ appear, but rather vaguely, in our horizon? And it brings to mind the writer’s Eastern European friends: “We’ve lived through so much frustration that we’d simply accept things as they come – like fate!” And it leaves a bad taste in the mouth as visitors and investors, especially – who swear to their love of the Philippines – watch the horrors inherent in our ‘uncompetitive business environment’. And so we wonder why despite our best efforts – e.g., GK, ‘Go Negosyo’, CITEM, BPO’s, etc. – we remain economic laggards?

The writer is with an educator and they’re discussing a graduate course re human behavior in organization: If major enterprises, say, 200 of the country’s top 1,000 corporations, can take the lead and follow the example of MAP – in monitoring President Aquino’s fight against corruption – while driving integrity and competitiveness within their respective organizations, we should be able to make some baby steps in search of the common good?