Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The two subsets that is PHL

Twenty years ago the writer would confidentially and dearly share with his Indian friends that the Chinese were going to leave them in the dust. ‘Have you considered that you could be too smart for your own good? The Chinese are about . . . aggressively looking forward to the future, and you don’t want to be about . . . aggressively invoking the past?’ It was not the time for the Indians to engage in ego-trips – i.e., their challenge was problem-solving and execution, and investments and competitiveness!

These were sophisticated people at home in their own enclave, e.g., like a secluded section of a luxury hotel – not accessible to outsiders, not even hotel guests. One was visiting New York and on his itinerary was a dinner in a Michelin-rated French restaurant; and more importantly, to see a daughter at Harvard. The Indians are inherently smart and their facility with numbers is as good if not better than the Chinese or Eastern Europeans. What the world calls Arabic numbers is from them – and thus their expertise in numerology. Likewise they have Gandhi, their faith, their higher education, among others – and so it is not surprising that they have so much pride about their heritage and their past? And the West respect their talents – thus numerous regional technology and R&D facilities have been built in India.

Yet, poverty was so visual that every time the writer arrived in India he had to put things in perspective. Globalization came right up their alley . . . owing to their IT capability and then some, allowing them to partake of its spoils. Still, there are two subsets that is India, not unlike the Philippines?

When our monetary authorities talk about our financial and economic stability, we need to put things in perspective? And that is, that there are two subsets that is PHL? On the one hand we’re comfortable sitting in 50 boards (given our cacique structure) shaming Jack Welch? Yet on the other, overseas employment and, more recently, BPOs are our major sources of employment; and as importantly, drive the economy. And they have alleviated the housing issue – thus, property development has been booming; and of course, industries tied to it. And as we’re making good our commitments to the international community, we’ve opened the local market to imported goods. The net effect: OFW remittances remain our economic engine – i.e., the local economy is far greater than our export revenues! Yet, we’ve now recognized that neither or even in combination – OFWs and BPOs – would make for a strong industrial base? Our biggest export, electronics, is still an input to the broader industry – i.e., we’re not into competitive finished products? And so the Aquino administration is beginning to entertain doubts about our once promising export targets?

The bottom line: even the engine that makes one of our economic subsets tick will not lift us from underdevelopment? And so long as we’re comfortable in our hierarchical structure, we’d remain predisposed to accepting a sad reality? Our real challenge is problem-solving and execution, and investments and competitiveness? But we have no track record in successfully dealing with them? The evidence: a white elephant that is NAIA 3? Or not having electricity? Or not having access roads to our biggest revenue-generating tourist attractions? And we talk about tourism being a natural strength, yet the one airline to and from Europe are unhappy because our taxes are not competitive against our neighbors? But we need to raise our tax receipts? This kind of internal conflict is common in many developing countries – i.e., being too close to the trees misses the forest?

We like ‘holistic’ – like ‘inclusion and compassion’? Eliminating the restrictive economic provisions in our Constitution may be holistic and ideal – that we must pursue, indeed! But isn’t getting a world-class airport far simpler, yet we haven’t done it? From a strategic standpoint the JFC’s ‘Arangkada’ proposal should satisfy our standard of holistic? But we must get the basic things right, first and foremost – before we sow confusion and be back to square-one? We can learn to walk before we run – e.g., raise our efficiency- and productivity-consciousness, critical to get us on the path to competitiveness, especially as the global economy remains anemic?

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