Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The common good: from the mundane to the extraordinary

We never tire of writing about traffic in Metro Manila. “Been stuck in traffic lately (?),” read a recent column. But then again, what else is new given that our woes indeed run the gamut? One friend narrated the distress of a sister who was bumped off a flight to the US – and it was a confirmed business-class seat in a local airline. The reason given: the seats (there were two of them) were defective. But the “tsismis” that went around was they had to give way to a party higher up in PHL hierarchy. And another friend shared with my wife a similar story about the same airline: that the lavatory wasn't working. But of course, the friend felt that the Pinoy crew members were delightful during the flight to make up for the inconvenience.

We're a Third-World country so it's not unusual to hear, “ganyan talaga” – the sigh of resignation. But aren't the Makati Business District (MBD) and Bonifacio Global City (BGC) our response to Singapore or Hong Kong? And family members showed us how that works. It was just before 5 PM and from Legazpi Village we drove to BGC and in no time we were at Aura, the new SM mall (and their parking facility is better than those in many major city centers of the world.) How did it work when driving between MBD and BGC along McKinley is a nightmare? It was the same trick from 30 years ago – my car had the stickers to get us through (to the delight of Ronnie) the villages and also the military camps. Are we guaranteeing foreign investors the same privileges? And as a pilot-friend would explain then, “that's why we're in the business of flying the beautiful people of Manila by chopper to the helipad atop The Pen from wherever and back.” Indeed, rank has its privileges!

And which explains why we weren't really trained in problem-solving and the common good – we could always pull rank? Asked Cito Beltran, The Philippine Star, 17th Feb 2014: “Elitists or plain incompetent?” Why did they not plan for Skyway Stage 3? Driving from Tagaytay, an in-law who was at the wheel chose to take Daang Hari; and since we were making a right on Commerce Avenue, we did not have to get to the corner of Alabang-Zapote Road – where it's hellish. How can a major intersection be without a traffic light – or traffic cops or even traffic aides? “Ganyan talaga!” We have set the bar so low that anarchy is a way of life? Yet MMDA boasted that MM is to be the model 21st century metropolis? Who will do what, when, where and how? 

If the development around Commerce Avenue and in MBD and BGC is our best shot to move PHL to the 21st century, do we still need the World Bank or the ADB or whoever else to tell us that we're not globally competitive? These are private initiatives supposedly more professional and more attuned to global developments than government – yet we would instinctively cede to oligopoly while unwittingly surrendering competitiveness to our neighbors? “If democracy has not been deeply rooted in our soil, it is because it has often been hijacked by a small but powerful cabal of political and economic elite.” [CJ Puno: Ours not yet a full democracy, Domini M. Torrevillas, From the stands, The Philippine Star, 20th Feb 2014.] And as the priest at a mass my wife and I attended stressed in his homily, Juan de la Cruz must “totally surrender” his life to the Creator (instead?) if we are to be one with Him [in the pursuit of the common good . . . and nation-building.] And where is our aversion to “cuentas claras” – and bias for “crab mentality” – coming from? As the priest explained, a no is a no and a yes is a yes; how come we associate that with the West as opposed to our faith?

How can industry, say, utilities like phone, internet or power, among others, get away with unacceptable service? Can we ever say enough is enough and mean it? We don't want to be the poster boy of incompetence or influence peddling or corruption or greed or all the above – if we aspire to be the next Asian tiger? I am in Singapore as I write. Not that long ago these people would seek the West and tap the latter’s wealth and technology; today, they would simply blow me away. And which is why with my Eastern European friends, we chose Singapore as our first Asian office in order to pick their brains – and piggyback on the competitive advantage inherent in their ecosystem.

“Ganyan talaga!” It also refers to the odd-even days and I would smile when I first heard we did it to ease Metro Manila traffic, because even before MM Athens already experienced the fallacy – “you just buy a second car!” And which is why to prepare for the Olympics, Athens erected their Metro system; and lo and behold, commuting in Athens is world-class. 

We were told that many expatriates prefer Rockwell; they are separate and apart from the madding crowd yet self-sufficient. From their condos they walk through the basement and into the Power Plant mall, where it’s not as dense as Greenbelt. But those living around Greenbelt would protest: “we don’t like to go to Rockwell because driving that short distance would raise your blood pressure.” And to that the Rockwell crowd would say, “Ditto – we don’t like going to Greenbelt . . . And at Rockwell we have Chef Jessie; and at Greenbelt what do you have?” “Have you tried Milky Way and the other restaurants in the same building like Cirkulo or the Japanese or the Thai?” But they would be in agreement where and when their next holiday will be. Who cares about problem-solving – and the common good? Rank has its privileges? And those from Alabang (and they swear that it is less polluted than Makati) could always get a pied-à-terre either at Greenbelt or Rockwell.

The bottom line: we continue to perpetuate our instinct, of being an island unto ourselves – the total, complete and absolute disregard of the common good? Put another way, it blinds us to the imperatives of an ecosystem that can bring about development and turn us into a competitive economy. For example, Singapore or Hong Kong or Switzerland is competitive because “the system” works. It is no different from an orchestra – beyond connecting the dots . . . they make beautiful music together . . . that is pleasing – and in the case of nations, predictable.

In the meantime we would continue to live with our infrastructure woes and power outages and/or outrageous rates . . . and our pathetic investment rate, etc., etc.? “Ganyan talaga!” Poor Juan de la Cruz – to whom the common good is a myth – he could only watch in awe (or resentment?) as the elite class makes MM their nirvana?

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