Thursday, September 29, 2011

The eyes could play tricks

Once we've lost the innocence of youth we call ourselves adults . . . and then create our own world of ‘make-believe’ – that finds us in la-la land, even forgetting that we left the bathroom lights on?

The reason was not simply the crash of the Russian-made Yak-42. It would be senseless to blame the state for a single freak occurrence. It was rather the frequency of such disasters, which have been caused not only by slipshod safety regulations but . . . a rotting fleet of Soviet-era machines whose condition the state has failed to manage . . . If the ruling elite has brought such an era of prosperity, as Putin repeatedly claims, why do Russia's planes keep dropping out of the sky? (Time Magazine, Sept 8th) Says Medvedev: "The value of human life is higher than all others, including the need to support our national manufacturers . . . If they cannot pull it together, we have to buy planes from abroad."

Decades ago friends separately visited Moscow and came back with their favorite stories and souvenirs. And among the souvenirs was a Russian wrist watch that the writer proudly wore. But among the stories was something surprising to Westerners who had been awed by Sputnik: there is no such thing as honest-to-goodness maintenance in their facilities; and the engineers especially were thankful they survived the visit to a refinery, which they thought was a disaster waiting to happen.

Maslow tells us that the human ego is present whether we are rich or poor. One story locals shared with the writer and wife on their first visit to Eastern Europe was the advent of cable TV. They found it so liberating – in their previous life they were limited to black and white and a couple of communist propaganda channels. In fairness, they enjoyed Russian cartoons. The wife wondered why they mostly dressed liked Madonna – when New Yorkers, for example, viewed the Italians as chic. MTV was one of the first Western cable channels they had access to and in no time Madonna was their idol. And window shopping in the city center one day, the wife saw how much hipster jeans were on display. And separately, the writer checked and found out that designer jeans sold for $200 and smart phones for $300. And monthly salary stood at $300 for most people!

A consultant from the West, years ago, ran a couple of programs in one Philippine posh resort and noted that outside his luxurious casita a man with a garden hose was keeping the grass green. And at the end of his visit, he realized that despite the sophistication of the Filipino (or ‘elite prosperity’), we were still an underdeveloped economy – e.g., there are glaring gaps in our ways; and in their aggregate explains our dismal competitiveness rating? The good news is our planes are not dropping out of the sky! Beyond our outdated airport are our gated communities and country clubs. But how does one get from point A to point B? In a world of ‘make-believe’, who cares?

As Maslow explains, one doesn’t have to fully satisfy his basic needs to move up to his ego needs? Poor Nokia, they were sucked into the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ creating cheap cell phones for the China and India markets. While becoming the largest cell phone maker in the process, they paid a heavy price losing the competition against Apple! Why? They failed to compete up the value chain – fundamental if one is to sustain market leadership! Apple (a technology-innovation niche player) went after value leadership and healthy margins – not volume leadership. And with Apple's market value ($350 Billion) now approximating the size of the largest global enterprise, Exxon Mobil, the impact of Apple on the world economy is far greater . . . than to merely be selling affordable goods to the poor?

Is there a virtue or moral in the story? For example: confusing faith with responsibility? Compassion drove us to promote an OFW-driven economy while missing the greater good by neglecting industrialization? The 21st century will impose more challenges which we must confront, not sidestep?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Education is tricky business

To one coming from the private sector, the decline in education in the Philippines comes as no surprise. They face a similar challenge in the US, despite the tons of money they pour into education. Net, it is not only money . . . yet money helps? This blog talks about our economy, emphasizing investment and competitiveness – and clearly they are intertwined with education? And given that we’re economic laggards, we ought not to wonder . . . that we are underinvested in education and competitiveness? Action speaks louder than words? The bottom line: until we lift ourselves up and overcome economic lethargy, education – and the wellbeing of Juan de la Cruz – would continue a downward spiral?

The good news is we appear to have gotten over our love affair with OFW remittances? What we still need to recognize is the imperative of a broader-based economy, not one focused on a few interests? Our parochial instincts continue to get in the way of truly opening our economy to be in sync with the 21st century? Investment must be wedded with competitiveness – and given our economic history, we don’t have the capacity to drive competitiveness to world-class levels? For example, as economic laggards, we’re starved of technology and thus innovation. And absent these elements, our ability to educate and develop talent, by definition, is limited. (For instance, we need more globally competitive Filipino enterprises for our MBA case writers; our top-tier companies are principally domestic businesses.) These limitations are glaring given our inability to develop competitive products – and thus the inability to develop a broader market? (In the early 90’s, GE realized they were US-centric and reinvented themselves to be a global enterprise – which gave them the ability to pursue R&D without a US bias, i.e., they were parochial too.)

We have to stop thinking ‘Filipino abilidad’? It is synonymous to sidestepping reality? We need to stare reality in the eye? Until we lift ourselves up economically, we shall remain poverty-stricken? Because it is through a robust economy that we can generate the means to upgrade education – that will impact our competitiveness and our ability to attract investments. Our OFW-driven economy has created a true crisis, brain-drain? Instead of reducing poverty we’ve been afflicted with the ‘Dutch disease’, undermining the greater good? Our trained teachers are either maids or chambermaids – even in places unimaginable, from our conventional view of ‘must-destinations’. But the reality of our dire economy would explain why Filipinos will be anywhere in the world to eke out a living? And to add insult to injury, business interests run schools aimed at expanding our OFW contingent!

How does our economic model really look? We closed our economy thus limiting industry to a few, effectively controlling the economy, while supposedly ‘championing’ patriotism? And local industry sells products at affordable prices meant for local consumption (i.e., uncompetitive), while ‘promoting’ CSR? But for the elite, we have imported products – so everyone’s happy? The Central Bank proudly proclaims that their efforts to raise our forex reserves and fight inflation are spot on. And indeed the system works according to Forbes magazine: a handful of Filipinos are among the world’s wealthiest!

Our economic model was our problem . . . before we had an education problem? An open economy would attract . . . beyond investments, technology, innovation and talent, product and market development? It is not about subscribing to an ism, it is the reality of why our neighbors are prosperous?

It is understandable that we struggle to leave our parochial instincts behind. The writer was raised inside parish walls – where he went to school, played basketball, played softball, and had his first boy-scout camping experience, beyond going to church and being in the boys’ choir. The parish was our life, and in our psyche, it still is? And not surprising, a sister is a nun! And even in the suburbs of New York, the writer’s daughter went to a parochial school!

Cambodia may be in our rearview mirror – for now? In the meantime, Vietnam is leaving us in the dust? It’s the story of Juan de la Cruz? Let’s not blame our educators, but ourselves?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

An adolescent economy

An underdeveloped economy we shall be if we can’t overcome our ‘handicapping system’? It was called ‘import substitution’ before? On the same day we are trumpeting a 10-spot bump in our competitiveness rating, we are again into an inward-looking mode? Our local investors have access to capital but are handicapped by our underdeveloped manufacturing capacity – and thus must be protected? How do we sustain such an effort?

George W. Bush never wanted to let go his training wheels – and got what he wished for, Cheney?

Investment and competitiveness are two sides of the same coin? We shall be unable to truly ramp up our competitiveness rating – and leverage the world beyond ours – if we continue to nurture an adolescent economy? The Western world knew that despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, people would remain hostage to underdevelopment if they weren’t shown how to attract investments and, as importantly, compete. The writer was drawn to an underdog, Eastern Europe, because of the challenge faced by a couple of countries: they wanted to get into the EU and needed to step up to the onslaught of competition from the West. Of course they stumbled; and EU had to withhold infrastructure funds after audits revealed that corruption had reared its ugly head, for example.

The writer’s Eastern European friend is going through his ‘15 minutes of fame’ – responding to why he must be the 2011 Europe’s entrepreneur of the year, among 10 finalists: The fall of communism gave them choices – to paddle their own canoe – and he made the choice to be in the business he pursued. But to succeed was not a matter of choice – it was the values he learned from his parents that gave him the inner strength to be a David in a sea of Goliaths. His mother was critical when in one subject he missed the equivalent of an ‘A’ rating. And with a wide grin, he says: “My younger daughter was very angry at herself when she missed the equivalent of an ‘A’ rating, and so my wife and I tried to console her – but she would not have any of it.”

It was not easy for these people to simply embrace the imperatives of investment and competitiveness. The friend would explain: “I thought I knew what brand management was – which was why I chose to be in the business. Now I know that my knowledge was miniscule. I did not understand the power of margins – it took me 10 years to be able to employ it as a competitive advantage; and I am still learning.”

They once proudly thought that local engineers could cobble together local parts and fabricate a production line. Today, with 4 different businesses and marketing in over 20 countries, their manufacturing facilities are state-of-the-art; and those proud moments are now just memories – but fond memories. They have chosen to move on, and forward. Like an MNC, they have optimized their portfolio (of products and countries) which, on balance, gives them robust annual growth, overriding the economic cycles of the different countries. (It is something we don’t appreciate: we have yet to optimize our export-product portfolio via higher valued-added, competitive products. For example, our electronics exports, i.e., semiconductors, are not competitive finished products and thus dependent on the growth – but dragged down by declines – of the broader industry. Our neighbors would only be thrilled that we can readily find excuses not to be in competition with them? Yet our folks taught us to guard against ‘Juan Tamad’ – e.g., we ought to rank ahead most other countries in competitiveness?)

Our neighbors did not wish for a Dick Cheney . . . and simply let their training wheels go? The writer is amazed reading about China – how much confidence they’ve gained over the years. And hopefully they would share the spoils with us, following the visit of President Aquino. The writer spent years doing business in China: Folks from the West had to hold their hands and showed them the ropes. If there was one thing they never demonstrated, it was being parochial. They were hard bargainers but understood what a ‘win-win’ negotiation was about; and thus were able to draw as much investments from the West, which they put to good use – raising the bar, and raising their competitiveness to world-class levels.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Investment and competitiveness

The good news is we’re getting more and more into the issue of investment and competitiveness. The bad news is the RH bill continues to divide? Moral theologians (e.g., liberation theology) and legal luminaries (e.g., pluralism is embedded in our faith) are arguing for? Even priests would preach responsible parenthood? The writer remembers attending a retreat while in (parochial) grade school talking about ‘beget and educate.’ And even in the Vatican there are the pro and the anti-Vatican II camps – not exactly anti, but not exactly pro either? And one argument goes: Faith is personal, i.e., Christ is about having a personal relationship; and that relativism is inherently present in a personal relationship or in one’s conscience? And that sinners are in fact welcome to the fold – and to the horror of the scribes, embraced by Christ? Yet above the fray, church authorities are obligated to define the bounds of morality? But that is not the point of this blog!

The blog is about our economy – and especially our inherent inability to focus on investment and competitiveness. It is more concerned about confusing faith with responsibility. For instance, we debate about another person’s inability to make both ends meet – and then expect him or her to be bound by the church’s definition of morality, i.e., we are our brother’s keeper? And the perspective is not surprising given our faith, of being evangelists?

It is a debate that won’t find closure – whether the RH bill is passed or not? But do we really seek closure? Or are we about ‘kuro-kuro’? Unsurprisingly, we talk about investment and competitiveness yet we remain underinvested and uncompetitive?

Our ‘paki’ system reinforces our comfort zone, hierarchy? Whether we’re a tier above or below, ‘paki’ can always work in our favor? Either way we’re entitled to the spoils of a ‘handicapping system’ – i.e., we’re either subsidized or we’re privileged? While we claim to be behind meritocracy, in reality we see it as the lack if not the absence of compassion? In one word, it is ‘awa’ or ‘kawawa’?

Foreign investments must be founded on meritocracy, but given our parochial, hierarchical instincts, we assume that foreigners are a tier below and must pay the price – and thus the process of corruption gets a nourishing start? Do those behind aborted major projects – e.g., NAIA 3, NBN-ZTE, Ro-Ro ports, etc. – even feel they are in the wrong? As revealed in WikiLeaks, we simply disdain foreign investments?

In our value hierarchy, investment and competitiveness are not prominent? The good news is the Aquino administration continues to seek foreign investments and the China visit would hopefully give new life to the seemingly floundering PPP initiative?

The business community is rightly sounding impatient – we can’t seem to get our act together? We easily get distracted – or there is always a brighter idea that we would want to pursue? To have a national agenda is foreign to us? But a culture of impunity is par for the course? Those who view themselves higher in the hierarchy simply flout the rule of law – elements in the military, the police, the judiciary, the legislature and politicians across the spectrum continue to dig our grave deeper; and embarrass their peers?

But we are all evangelists? The wife is pleasantly surprised that the cleaning lady in the heart of Eastern Europe, once communist-ruled, is an evangelist. She’s playing the professionally cut CD, featuring the lady and her husband, singing evangelists, from their church.

We have our faith, and the responsibility, to be committed to a national agenda, and indeed be our brother’s keeper?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Activity trap

We’re experts at looking busy doing nothing!” An Eastern European friend commented as he pointed the writer to a fairly large crew alongside a country road, and this was a few years back. The writer smiled as he recalled an incident decades ago in Manila. Rather sheepishly, a young American engineer (in the company’s management development program, getting his ticket punched in a developing country) shares with the writer: “There must be a more efficient way to do this job . . . I had a work order done and this morning I see a crew of at least a dozen with picks and shovels.”

Fast forward: The writer is having his morning coffee in a café in the heart of Eastern Europe, and sees a couple of heavy equipment on the narrow street. “There is a leak in the water main, I think, which I called about,” says the café owner. And that evening, the street was back in shape, with the affected portion repaved. These people remain critical of inefficiencies they see around them. It’s not the absence of patriotism; a number of them have decided the West was not for them, and returned home. They’re not meant for the cut-and-dried culture of North America, as they would explain, but they still believe they deserve something better.

We similarly may not be cut for the ways of the West but we do deserve something better? Yet, unwittingly we opt for the lowest common denominator? Simply put, we would rather accommodate and accept things that undermine the common good? There is corruption and there is corruption? But we can’t build a modern airport and supply energy at competitive costs – so fundamental to a nation’s economic life? Unsurprisingly, our investment levels and economic output are pitiful compared to our neighbors? There are winners and there are losers – and it hurts but we haven’t behaved like winners? And it’s a shame for people proud as we are?

We don’t want to justify our failings by the failings of others or we’re bound to sink deeper into the abyss? We don’t want a world that has ‘shrunk’, and characterized by sub-optimization? We don’t want to be left with very little choice – to simply move pieces on the board, caught in an activity trap that cannot lift us to the next level? We’ve been pursuing countless initiatives for decades but kept a blind eye – because of an inward-looking bias – on what truly drives an economy? The writer often talks about his Eastern European friends: while born and raised as socialists under communist rule, they have embraced the simple truth about the free market – i.e., investment and competitiveness! Yet they have something in common with us: when faced with an issue, they instinctively sidestep reality. And so they had to learn about the greater good and the challenge of leadership: ‘taking the team from where they are to where they have never been before’ – step-up to the challenge, exercise leadership and seize ‘the teachable moment’!

We understand what winners are like – like the Ateneo basketball team that swept the first round of the UAAP? Clearly they don’t seek the lowest common denominator? Nor do winners simply throw darts? Do we think, for instance, that the military can generate incremental resources and pursue its upgrade-program by making better use of military golf courses? Or that one warship will give us military muscle? It’s like the cellar-dwelling team recruiting an outstanding Fil-Am player – and Ateneo won’t even skip a beat?

Without investments there is no economic activity – but the bigger they are the bigger the activity; and the more competitive they are the greater the revenues and the margins they generate, and thus wealth? Why are we poor? Our investment levels and economic output are pitiable especially given our population? The administration has now realized that pursuing PPP is no cakewalk especially given how the world views us – i.e., WikiLeaks effectively have announced that we’re no place to do business? And given the string of issues we have with the Brits, the Germans, the Belgians, the French, the Japanese, foreign airlines, etc., etc., perception could become reality?

One columnist asks: “Do we really want foreign investments?” Put another way: we don’t want to be experts at looking busy doing nothing? Yet instinctively we do because the status quo gives us a feeling of equilibrium, for the short-term?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sense of urgency

‘Mr. Bloomberg appears to be recovering from a difficult winter, when other polls found his approval ratings to be even lower in the wake of the city’s lackluster response to a blizzard in late December . . .,’ reports the NY Times, Aug 26th.

When Hurricane Irene threatened the New York metro area, and given how Bloomberg was pilloried for failing to demonstrate a sense of urgency last winter, it was fascinating how all along the East Coast people – not just public servants – geared up. And this was especially so after folks from California thought how naïve Easterners, especially New Yorkers, were when they rushed outside as ‘an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 rumbled through Washington DC’ (and sent tremors through the region) in the afternoon on Aug 23rd. The good news: none of the glass windows from Manhattan’s skyscrapers shattered, which could have injured any of the countless people who thought they were seeking refuge out in the open. And with Hurricane Irene, even the property management of the writer’s community sent out emails spelling the ABCs of hurricane prep: “. . . Don't forget to bring in anything that can be blown away. It's expected to be a category 1 when it crosses the (Long Island) sound. Winds of at least 74 mph sustained with higher gusts. 40 mph winds could topple trees so power outages are a good possibility statewide.” And the writer and wife skipped a beat since they’re overseas.

“Rains, floods and the ensuing traffic jams, it turns out, are the great equalizer,” writes Juan Miguel Luz, associate dean, Center for Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management, Aug 19th, Philippine Daily Inquirer. (And we could add ‘nature’s wrath’ – as a great equalizer?) “Climate change will be particularly critical for the Greater Metro Manila Area because the metropolis is built on an alluvial, deltaic plain at sea level. The Philippine Imperative on Climate Change predicts that over 60 percent of the metropolis would be submerged permanently if global warming raised the sea level even by only three feet. “This is not a fearless forecast,” says Neric Acosta of PICC, “it is a reality check we must confront today.”

However we perceive climate change, the point of the article goes beyond as it concludes: “. . . Metro Manila will not only be the unlivable megacity it has become, it will destroy value for the entire country in the process.”

Is the author a prophet of doom?

What should all of this be telling us? One, the problems of a megacity goes beyond LGU jurisdictions. Two, the problems transcend short LGU terms of office (three years with two possible reelections) and presidential administrations (six years, no reelection). Three, the problems go way beyond project responses. We need to seriously re-engineer Metro Manila’s infrastructure and living/work arrangements. We need structural reform with four essential elements: Political power and authority to call the 17 cities to task when necessary; professional and technical expertise in urban planning and land-use management to plan for the entire region; financial and material resources to manage shared services effectively; and, long-term infrastructure investment funds.”

Do we have what it takes to respond to a dramatic challenge like this one? Is the sense of urgency second-nature to us? Have we been unwittingly caught in the ‘activity trap’ figuring out how a tiny pie would suffice for close to 100 million Filipinos? No wonder President Ramos talked about enlarging the pie? In the private sector, that means firing the sales manager, the marketing manager and the CEO in that order if they could not enlarge the pie. Why? Because the team could have missed the fundamentals of investment, competitiveness, revenue and margin, the dynamics of which generate sustainable profitable growth? For a nation, their absence equates to poverty? Unfortunately, until we’ve lived through the many twists and turns of the dynamics of these elements, thinking outside the box doesn’t come instinctively. Working with Eastern Europeans for 8 years, the writer has realized that the story never goes stale! Why? Education as people know it is linear?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

‘Medieval European feudalism’

You would think this is 21st century Europe, but the down trade is still reminiscent of medieval European feudalism. And so the modern trade accounts for 80% of our business. My goal is to bring that down to 60%, and eventually 50%, and that means I have to invest in the down trade and make my products accessible to those feudal villages.” The writer is reviewing the newest business of his Eastern European friends – and very impressed with the 360-degree approach to marketing, including the power of the concept behind the product – which jumps out from the communication materials, and even when benchmarked against other categories of products. As importantly, the assessment is confirmed by those outside the organization, and consumers that were grabbed by the campaign.

But ‘feudal’ resurfaced when the discussions moved to the market conditions obtaining in the different countries. Some countries in the region are still run by lords! And it is especially true of those outside the EU and not subject to EU oversight. (Of course, not even EU could preempt the supposedly more sophisticated PIIGS from shooting themselves in the foot.) That said, just like China, despite being bedeviled by human-rights issues, Western businesses continue to chase their potentials. (Their average income, for example, makes them more attractive than the Philippines.) And clearly, being once communist-run, these countries could use 21st century ‘goodies’. Unfortunately, many people have been burned like Western Europeans who thought they found an alternative investment to the Spanish or Portuguese seaside, when their cherished second home by the Black Sea declined in value just like everywhere else.

For Philippine businesses, Asia or even the ASEAN region would be a good market and thus don’t have to follow the lead of global enterprises – who have but saturated the world and thus emerging economies irrespective of location are ‘must-target markets’. And the key in venturing into emerging markets is the wherewithal of a business to handle the ‘curve balls’. Yet in one country the change has been positive: The Prime Minister cleaned the police force by ridding the Interior Department of all political appointees. And to ensure efficient tax collection every ‘point-of-sale’ had to be online; and when a Russian oil company failed to comply with their gas pumps, he shut the company down. And at the Customs, he simplified the process: documents are simply submitted and in 4 days are back via courier – no room to negotiate ‘expediting fees’; people queuing with documents in hand only hear one word, ‘next’. And learning from the malfeasance of the prior administration when road-building funds were withheld by the EU, he would announce the precise timeline of a project which everyone thought was a joke – until they saw work going on 24/7. “We thought it was a dream, not in this country did we ever see people do work 24/7.”

Being confined and dealing with local issues could mean lesser stress for Philippine enterprises. But it is a double-edged sword: it can discourage Philippine companies from venturing outside the country? And it would be unfortunate? We won’t move up the learning curve – and accumulate wealth and gain the means to be ourselves foreign investors – if we remain inward-looking? Sadly, the Filipino mindset has yet to evolve – i.e., we’re still about ‘thinking global but acting local’? The problem with that is when ‘acting local’ means tamping down or limiting our worldview and turning it into a parochial bias? Simply put, we really don’t want to “run the country like hell” – i.e., that’s great sound bite but translates to turning back the clock, reminiscent of medieval European feudalism?

There are people whose heritage, while characterized by feudalism and socialism-communism, are consciously marching forward with time – like the writer’s Eastern European friends! He would still break into a grin whenever they remind him they’ve become capitalists. The imperative of investments, for instance, has become second nature – because they’ve realized that no one could define the future for them! And since they’re still learning the ropes, they could not let their guard down! Unsurprisingly, a business unit while presenting their updated 3-year plan exuded so much confidence that was not lost to the writer!

The world is moving ahead, with or without us? And to be left by the train means more, not less, poverty? But, of course, for the few, it would be heavenly – which was how Catherine the Great saw it?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Faith and responsibility

A committed-Christian friend with an advocacy to lift the poor was the least the writer expected to be critical of the typical Sunday homily. “Sometimes I feel like walking out because we are giving credence to ‘religion being the opium of the poor!” And another adds: “I wish it would, but Christian charity as we know it won’t suffice!” These friends are perhaps vindicated by the legislators who traveled to Mexico and saw firsthand how dole-outs don’t work: a program meant for 5 years has gone 17 and counting? Not even in the US – where the Catholic Church is the largest charitable institution (e.g., soup kitchens, orphanages, etc., etc.) outside the government; and where charitable-giving (of over $300 billion a year) has been institutionalized via tax breaks. Beyond the homeless (that folks behind “Food on wheels” reach out to) one example that would stick in people’s mind (and unsurprisingly, conservatives while pro-life and anti-abortion espouse the ideology of small government) is the three generations of a welfare family in the Northeast: ‘they’ve lived the American dream’ (captured in photos) without the corresponding responsibility of ‘a fair day’s work . . . for a fair day’s pay.’ Indeed, faith and responsibility could be a mouthful?

Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Given where we are across the global measures of human dignity – from governance to the gap between rich and poor – our challenge is to take the extra mile and push economic development? For instance, beyond the unresolved NAIA 3 is the unresolved downgrade of our airport, as well as the North Rail project, the Ro-Ro ports deal and worst, the highest-cost yet our unreliable energy supply? How much incremental economic output would we have generated if critical infrastructure projects have been on stream – and why corruption matters; and so does a sense of urgency, and a bias for efficiency and productivity? It is not whether the glass is half-full or half-empty? It is about attracting not driving foreign investments away? That’s the one side of our equation. And the other is: The same half-a-dozen entities continue to dominate our economy. And then we wonder: “Oh, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider?” And would blame all and sundry? Should we instead own up? Our neighbors are no less patriotic than we are and are subject to the same 21st century reality, including self-serving ODAs from friendly nations?

It matters that our neighbors are outdistancing us because their economic fundamentals are stronger – i.e., robust investment levels have elevated their global competitive instincts? The sad part is no one says they’re smarter – and some of us even dare say we’re smarter? What we need is to overcome an inward-looking bias, our 'jeepney culture', for example? The jeepney represents pride and compassion? Pride in our creativity while providing livelihood to countless? Did we not give more clerical jobs thus livelihood to countless in the old days – when an assistant would pound her Underwood to draft our correspondence, until we were satisfied with the edits? And why the phenomenon of ‘the-assistant-to-the-assistant’ came into being? Now we understand what optimization is as opposed to sub-optimization?

It's nice to remain isolated in paradise, and keep to our definition of the world order – i.e., parochial and hierarchical? But the human spirit is not meant to be limited, but to soar – given our image and likeness? Yet being the only Christian nation in the region doesn’t mean being holier-than-thou?

It will take time before we could be competitive? And while we remain less than committed to competitiveness the Philippine economy shall remain lopsided in favor of a few – because we have unwittingly gone to bed with them . . . effectively restricting competition, and thus investment, technology and the global market? Or is it in fact self-inflicted? Reports Business World, Aug 22nd: “Innovative ideas . . . that could boost productivity and competitiveness are underutilized by entrepreneurs in this city, a study completed last month showed.”

Proud as we are of our faith, we can’t confuse faith with responsibility?