Saturday, December 24, 2011

Connecting the dots

Two articles on a Sunday morning would remind us about the failure to connect the dots that was blamed for 9/11: (1) Filipino culture, Manila Bulletin; and (2) Manny V. Pangilinan pins down Roberto Ongpin, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4th Dec.

It appears National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose and Sen. Edgardo Angara are connecting the dots – that the common denominator to our woes is our culture, or not exactly? “One generation has come and passed, yet we are still beleaguered by many of these same problems. Underlying all these is our troubling lack of a sense of identity and nationalism,” writes Sen. Angara.

The article about Ongpin confirms the obvious that all the parties involved in the alleged “insider trading” are in the board of the subject company. But reading the article, it is obvious too that Pangilinan has been distanced from the controversy even when the three-way transaction would respond to his pursuit of ownership control? Are at least three elements of our culture, again, obvious? Its informality makes it laughable for David [of DBP] to utter that the subject transaction was arm’s length; Pangilinan deserves deference because he occupies a higher tier in our hierarchy; and that crony capitalism is our “equivalent” of motherhood and apple pie?

The story of Pangilinan has made him a celebrity, the well-known secret, starting with his representation of foreign interests. And having been installed at the highest levels in our hierarchy, we have accepted his genesis like compassionate Christians must; and of course, the investments that his group undertakes are good for the economy. And in fairness we recognize his talents. Yet it fuels our credibility problem with foreign investors: crony capitalism is alive and well! Add that to our restrictive ownership rules, foreign investors won’t touch us with a ten-foot pole. Net, despite the expanding empires of our tycoons, our investment levels remain shabby – and we are missing out on 21st century technology and innovation, thus undermining our competitiveness! Industry needs the platform of technology and innovation if they are to develop the instinct and the confidence to invest in and pursue talent, product and market development – that are critical to a nation’s competitiveness.

But we’re Christians, says Ateneo? [With due respect.] Or is it simply that hierarchy and parochialism are indeed second-nature to us? Plagiarism even in a premier educational institution could be forgiven – and it was not him, it was a lowly speechwriter! Is it another element of our culture, the absence of accountability, which brings us full circle to how high we value hierarchy especially within our own backyard? It is indeed unfortunate but not surprising that the rankings of our educational institutions against the rest of the world are on a downward trend. And it mirrors our economy, governance and competitiveness; the net of which is nagging poverty in the midst of oligarchy!

What about Ongpin? I am simply a smart businessman? And David? I made money for my bank? And they represent our movers and shakers? Should we start dissecting authenticity as it relates to our instincts or why we struggle with the rule of law and why we tolerate delayed justice – which in fact is no justice? Or should we step up political maturity demanded by a democratic system?

Is our soft culture – which values deference – at the core of our wretchedness? And which explains why a Marcos could last 20 years, only to be followed by one, if not two more? But beyond our shores it doesn't cut, thus while hardworking Filipino women hold their heads up high, many have been stopped at foreign borders – profiled as coming from a backward, oligarchic and corrupt nation? And how do we muster the motivation to engage in broader issues when our comfort zone is parochial, if not narrow? Unsurprisingly we are the ‘silent group,’ whether in the majority or minority, at home and abroad?

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