Friday, August 9, 2013

Cobwebs in our head . . .

That is not an original. But I haven’t sought permission so I'd just say, it's from a respected Filipino educator and technocrat. Transparency, or the lack of it, is at the root of our underdevelopment, because without transparency, clarity of purpose isn't foremost and shared? And as my wife would say it, “we like it gray” – that lends itself to compromises if not corruption, inaction, underdevelopment and poverty? Yet we're proud because we see it as “Pinoy abilidad”? It is likewise inherent in our value and respect for hierarchy, because transparency is short on sensitivity – thus equates to “suplado," like straightforward foreigners?

Consider how my Eastern European friends reacted after visiting China: “Must we really partner with a Chinese group to build a factory in China? Can we not do it by ourselves?” Compare that to: “The US is by far the most business-friendly market we’ve visited. The trade is open and unrestricted . . . and we will only be limited by our imaginations.” It is transparency, not cost, that is top of mind! There are two principles that they’ve internalized: (a) “Transparency” and (b) “Keep it simple”. And people we’ve hired from MNCs marvel at what they are discovering. “No wonder you beat us in our biggest business in this market.” That was from a person that had jumped ship, the world’s largest consumer products company – and so a few of them have joined us. They’ve realized that there is no regional and/or a head office in the US to come to and beg for action. We strive that everything we do is indeed transparent and simple – from the businesses we are in, to the products in our portfolio (and they are meant to be world-beaters), to how business plans and budgets are put together, to how they are executed. And the bottom line: everyone knows “what’s in it for me!” And what typically could be a circuitous if not confusing chain could be traced back to clarity of purpose.

In a war between China and the US where would you be, I asked my Eastern European friends? And I added: Because in the Philippines we are debating whether we should allow the US to have forces on the ground. And they showed me the following clipped article: “Bulgaria has asked the United States to place a permanent military force in the country aimed at strengthening security in the region . . . Bulgarian Defense Minister Anu Anguelov has discussed the opening of a US military base . . . with officials of the Pentagon . . . US troops have been present in Bulgaria for over six years under a Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the both states . . . Under the arrangement, Americans are allowed to train their troops at four Bulgarian bases, which remain under Sofia’s command and under the Bulgarian flag.

And they would explain: No country is perfect. But China is a communist rule. When there is no transparency like we had to suffer for decades, the common good is taken for granted. George Bush was not loved by Europeans and Barack Obama is not perfect either. But we would bet on transparency more than anything else. [Translation: bullies (and size given laws of physics makes a bully) will always be bullies – better the bully that is transparent than one who is not? Or we Pinoys can build our own armed forces and stare these bullies in the eye? Even Germany has learned from the Brits who lobbied the Americans to be an ally to counter the aggression of Germany – and so today the Germans are allied with the Americans, and are host to the US Air Forces headquarters in Europe, at Ramstein Air Base? The EU would rather focus on getting their union more robust and have effectively abdicated defense spending to the US. I am a US taxpayer and don’t cherish that. But that’s what hegemony is about? Or does Juan de la Cruz have a self-esteem problem?]

Life is complicated enough and “Pinoy abilidad” – i.e., cognitive dissonance – explains our confused, if not damaged, culture? And so indeed we want “a government run like hell by Filipinos”? In the meantime oligarchy is thriving in spades? And because of our brand of hierarchy, we have yet to embrace transparency? Should we learn a lesson from a tragic Korean experience? “[D]espite changes, including improved safety records, Korea's aviation sector remains rooted in a national character that's largely about preserving hierarchy—and asking few questions . . . The Korean culture has two features—respect for seniority and age, and quite an authoritarian style” . . . You put those two together, and you may get more one-way communication—and not a lot of it upward . . ." [Korean Culture May Offer Clues in Asiana Crash, CNBC, 9th Jul 2013]

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