Sunday, March 18, 2012

Back to reality

The writer's reentry to reality – after having dodged a big piece of winter while in the Philippines – came sooner than he wanted. Because while filed in the back of his mind is that Mar Roxas is on top of the renovation of NAIA 1, the reality of the here-and-now hit him. How could we have tolerated this terminal building all this time? Thankfully a smiling immigration officer politely inquired if the writer enjoyed his holiday. It really is more fun in the Philippines. And it would be 42 degrees (F) when he gets home in Connecticut.

The writer typically cuts his Philippine homecoming sooner than he likes because he wants his tax organizer done and with the accountants before they are overwhelmed by everybody else's. But he had to put the stuff aside to read an email from the daughter: "Palawan was beautiful. Really stunning. I don't even care that the facilities [outside the resort] were substandard. [In reference to friends' comments who had gone earlier.] It will keep the place inaccessible and unspoiled. It still feels very natural. It's the anti-Boracay. If this were Italy or France, it would already be overrun and crowded like Capri and St. Tropez. Palawan is still paradise."

And over dinner with American and Filipino friends the writer googles 'club paradise palawan' and proudly showed photos of the island resort, after reading out the daughter's email. Immediately some pulled out their calendars and penciled in plans to visit Palawan. And one intoned: "We love the country but let's be honest, if the Mexicans can have civilized facilities, why can't we"? (The tendency to be resigned if not fatalistic given our many challenges should be overcome by the human spirit which is not defeatist? And it has been demonstrated by a war-torn Vietnam, former Soviet satellites that had emerged from the "dark ages" and even China – and why there is a Chinatown in practically every country?)

Was the reality of our tourism efforts effectively summarized by this dinner group? We will attract tourists but there is always a ‘but’ when it comes to the Philippines? As the wife would reflect, it is our "medya-medya" (or half-baked) mentality. We can’t seem to commit 100% on most things. There is always something missing or short – because to compromise [or ‘palusot’] seems second nature and/or because of compassion we're spreading ourselves too thin. And at the end of the day we have very little to show. While, unfortunately, creating gaps and loopholes that breed corruption? Because we struggle to focus and prioritize, our ability to execute is then put at risk. 'Defeatist, unfocused, can’t execute'? We don’t want that to be the definition of the Philippine brand?

And then the group asked the writer how much progress the country really is making. But even before he could respond, someone jumped in: “You know, we are caught in this vicious cycle and so we are simply reacting to what is in front of us. What we need to attain is a virtuous cycle.” And the writer would explain: Unfortunately, we will be a nation of haves and have-nots for the simple reason that we won't truly be an open economy – one characterized by competition and that means investors from wherever would bet on us (like they do in Singapore or Hong Kong) and throw in capital that buys technology and innovation. Why? We never “had it so good,” and as behavioral economists have quantified and figured out, loss-aversion overpowers potential gains.

And more precisely, human nature will not want the apple cart disturbed, especially when the spoils are coming the way of the powerful few. It's the sad consequence of our parochial and shortsighted worldview. And since the public sector is not characterized by transparency, it is not surprising that a lawmaker (re bank secrecy thus setting ourselves up to be punished by the community of nations) would claim: "We're protecting ourselves – and throwing the book or version of a pathetic ‘rule of law’ – and not some foreign interests”! Totally forgetting that even the secretive Swiss banks had to bow to Germany’s tax-evasion scandal in the spirit of truth; that we owe it to the future to create a better Philippines, one synonymous to transparency, for the next generation and beyond!

[The writer wishes to thank CJ Artemio Panganiban for educating us non-lawyers re the Corona impeachment trial.]

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