Monday, December 2, 2013

ASEAN integration and the "64.1 percent . . ."

That is, “of the economists and businessmen in the country believe that the Philippines is not ready for the ASEAN economic integration.” [Manila Times, 25th Nov 2013, Tough times face Aquino in final half of his term - de Ocampo] I've spent most of the last eleven years in Europe – and lived through the economic integration of the EU. And it was eleven years ago almost to the day when my wife and I landed at the Sofia airport and welcomed by the first snowfall of the season. And I am again at the Sofia airport, having just pulled out my iPad while waiting for the first leg of my journey back to New York to be home for Thanksgiving. But what a difference! The old Communist-era terminal building is history, replaced by a totally new, modern airport. [Consider: NAIA 3 was planned well before. We take it for granted yet it is a microcosm of the history of our continued inability to pull the nation together and grow and develop?]

Bulgaria is one of the most corrupt countries (ranks no. 75; sadly, PHL is even worse at 105 in the 2012 index) in this part of the world; yet infrastructure projects do get done, like the airport – but not only. [And precisely why when I first arrived, I spelled out the condition of my presence that was not negotiable; and that is, transparency. It was what I represented as part of the efforts of the West (c/o USAID) to bring the values of free enterprise (as opposed to the twin evils of political patronage and oligopoly – that even Pope Francis has condemned as “corrupt and savage”) to an ex-socialist state.] Sofia recently opened two world-class subway lines; and a third is in the works with a station stop right at the airport. And in the bottleneck-intersections of the capital, roundabouts (that are also overpasses) have been built and at least two more are planned. A 400-kilometer highway to the Black Sea has cut travel time to three hours and the construction of the highway to Greece is frenzied. To be sure, these projects were part of the EU infrastructure program and an element of the accession process into the EU.

But still on corruption: The middle-class, joined by the student population, has kept the pressure – via a daily protest rally – on the government to fix corruption and oligarchy. Like in other ex-Soviet satellites, commissars given their access to power for decades took advantage of the “system change” to turn themselves into the oligarchy. The good news is with the oversight role played by the EU, private enterprise is thriving. Still, Bulgaria needs a more robust industrial base although Western companies leveraging their relatively low-cost environment are investing. (Their stock of foreign direct investment stands at $52.99 B; sadly, PHL has less with $30.38 B. And Singapore has $454.9 B., if we Pinoys want to benchmark.) These Western companies learned that low-labor cost is a short-term phenomenon from the garment industry – that migrated to Asia. And so they are of late moving into light industry. Two MNCs, a British and a German, recently invested in the same small town of 80,000 where my friends are from. The big tech companies are also coming. Early on, there was a surge of Western investment in property development, which unfortunately turned into a bubble. And as typical in non-industrial countries, retail is a growing enterprise and attracting greater competition.

Such a development template is not new; it has happened in other parts of the world including the ASEAN region. And not surprisingly, three of our neighbors dominate regional trade. Why? Our parochial worldview while expressed as nationalism in truth values rank in PHL hierarchy, preeminent in our value system? Clearly, this parochial bias sets PHL apart. Instead of embracing foreign investment and technology, we shut them out. Ergo: We were bound to suffer the perfect storm of underdevelopment – as we likewise neglected the development of basic infrastructure while making-do with OFW remittances and BPOs and bypassing industrialization, in the mistaken belief that we could attain economic development through the service and retail sectors while protecting the few and perpetuating our cacique culture.

“We are an island unto ourselves!” And not surprisingly, over 100 years ago, Rizal dreaded that we were backward and anti-progress. Where is community? It starts with family like charity but doesn't end there; and it goes all the way to the community of nations – as in the world being behind us following typhoon Yolanda. And to drive home the point Rizal created Padre Damaso; and today, no less than Pope Francis called the latter a narcissist afflicted with leprosy! And he was not kinder to “the corrupt and the savage.” They give to the church, and even pray and fast but “steal” from the country and the poor. “I beg The Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society.” [Pope Francis]

No comments:

Post a Comment