Thursday, April 4, 2013

Coming around

We hopefully are finally coming around to bite the bullet. There will always be an excuse especially when change and political will are called for. But when widespread poverty has become synonymous to PHL and, sadly, we are already being benchmarked against rogue nations, do we really have a choice? Didn't we in fact want to move the country forward many times before and the rest of the world even applauded us for 'people power'?

We are supposedly smart people – and a US legislator acknowledged that much when he reminded other legislators that if it were otherwise, we could not have produced a Rizal, and paved the way to our independence – yet we've found ourselves lost in the forest . . . because the common good wouldn't define us? How to explain our lopsided economy? Our thought leaders seem to be recognizing that OFW remittances and consumption and even gambling aren't the building blocks of a competitive and sustainable economy demanded by the 21st century? Common sense tells us that investment and technology are fundamental to a competitive and sustainable economic activity. And we don't have them in spades. So what to do? We don't like rules and so we would rather thrive in the exceptions? And so instead of firmly establishing PHL as an open economy, we opted to be a contortionist – accommodating a slew of exceptions? And not surprisingly the Philippine Constitution is one of the more complex ones when compared to those of our neighbors?

Yet the rule of law seems to desert us. And it can be a simple work rule. As one columnist said we don't even man the PAL international arrival area with enough customs officers – yet we tell visitors "It's more fun in the Philippines"! Can we say we truly have traffic rules, for example? We don't like rules, we thrive in chaos? And not surprisingly efficiency and productivity are not associated with PHL? Bureaucracy is? Corruption is? There are critical parameters that we must satisfy. Our end goal – and there is no two ways about it – is to be a developed nation. We have "to lift all boats" and not be satisfied with charity works. Charity was never meant to drive an economy. It’s again the exception, not the rule – or our instinct to compromise because of our "paki" culture? And at the very least we must be committed to the rule of law. Simply, developed or advanced nations share one thing in common and that is the rule of law.

Likewise advanced nations are characterized by investment and technology manifested in their world-class infrastructure as well as leadership in innovation and people development and thus their global market reach and influence. If we are to bite the bullet we must then recognize our limitations – and they are profound. And that means we must learn to thrive not in the exceptions but in the rules demanded of advanced nations – not rogue nations. For example, we must renounce the cacique culture and oligopoly and instead embrace an open economy in order to bring the world to us: starting with investment and technology. Like a broken record, but it's worth repeating, it is about the "parable of the talents."

We need advanced nations to be in bed with us; specifically, to commit investment and technology as we craft our energy blueprint, for instance, as well as the requisite infrastructure for an archipelago like ours. And, as importantly, to develop the supply chain of a select few strategic industries like agribusiness, e.g., coconut and fisheries, or the seven (7) strategic industries offered by the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers). They are crucial in our industrialization efforts.

It is encouraging that our thought leaders are talking about the imperatives of focus and execution. Indeed they are critical if we are to move forward as an economy, as a nation. And Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, may be an inspiration: "Our strategy was to do more of what had worked in the past. But we were not pushing ourselves to do things better or differently. We were not innovating in lasting ways . . . It was as if we were running a race but no longer knew what we were running for . . . Starbucks was on the verge of a defining test that we would fail if we did not look in the mirror, acknowledge our blemishes, and undertake transformative, even disruptive, change.” [Onward, Rodale, 2011, p.35]

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