Friday, March 28, 2014

Self-inflicted wounds?

We absolutely don’t want a repeat in a bigger playing field – that of Asean? “When most of East Asia emerged from colonial rule after World War II, the Philippines was considered one of the new countries with the greatest potential for development. Sadly, things didn’t turn out that way. As much of the rest of East Asia zoomed ahead on its economic miracle, the Philippines got left behind . . . Now, though, the Philippines has become one of the region’s best performers . . . There are, of course, risks that . . . countries [like PHL] will falter, if politics or corruption gets in the way.” [Forget the BRICs; Meet the PINEs,Michael Schuman, Time Magazine, 13th Mar 2014]

It is all about economic development. And the bigger playing field only makes it more challenging? If we couldn’t hack it in our own backyard, how do we do it beyond? What did we do wrong? To be sure, we have our strengths but when every other Filipino is hungry it is simply because ours is an underdeveloped economy? Development presupposes maturity and being able to ask ourselves what we did wrong will stand us in better stead. But shouldn't we look at the positives – and they would go something like: (a) our OFW remittances continue to be strong; (b) our BPO revenue growth rate is explosive; (c) we have 10 billionaires amongst the world’s richest; (d) we are the only Catholic nation in this part of the world; (e) we just dominated the world’s beauty contests . . . and we can all add to the list that makes us look “pogi?”

“It’s late now . . . the country’s high power cost, high minimum wages, outdated machinery and equipment, and the number of holidays are hampering the industry’s competitiveness . . . We are not prepared [for integration]. We have to be up-to-date in our machines . . . Data from the World Trade Organization said Indonesia is the largest garments exporter at $4.5 billion, followed by Vietnam ($4.1 billion), Thailand ($3.5 billion), and Malaysia ($1.8 billion). The Philippines, on the other hand, was lagging at $170 million.” [Garments roadmap in the work, Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag, Business World, 17th Mar 2014]

“The domestic furniture industry is at a crossroads as far as the Asean 2015 economic integration is concerned . . . We have lots of disadvantages . . . Furniture import is at zero tariff already, but when the integration happens more products will enter the market and that will drive down prices . . . [T]he industry is beset with serious disadvantages. One major issue is the total log ban in the country, which deprived furniture manufacturers access to quality wood at affordable prices.” [Furniture industry at a crossroads, Bernie Magkilat, Manila Bulletin16th Mar 2014]

“The three most visible ASEAN banks are Maybank of Malaysia, Bangkok Bank and DBS Singapore . . . [T]he country’s top three banks BDO Unibank, Metrobank and Bank of the Philippine Islands combined have capital worth $80 billion, the size of Bangkok Bank alone. Maybank’s capital is $162 billion and DBS has $317 billion, more than the Philippines’ entire banking capital of $220 billion . . . While the Philippines has done a lot in financial sector liberalization, the other ASEAN economies have opened up more. For example, Indonesia allows 99 percent foreign equity participation although foreign bank branches are limited to just 11. Both Singapore and Malaysia have no limits to foreign equity . . .” [PH’s financial integration and commitments, Lee C. Chipongian, Manila Bulletin, 16th Mar 2014]

“IN ITS penultimate stage, the P-Noy administration has to pass numerous legislative bills that the President and his Cabinet have endorsed . . . Also in the context of continuity, it is in the interest of the current administration to institutionalize matuwid na daan (the straight path) through the legislation of open data and freedom of information . . . Another binding constraint, which is now felt, is the inadequate power supply.” [Protecting electricity consumers, Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III, Yellow Pad, Business World, 16th Mar 2014]

“For his part, BPI Economist Nicholas Antonio Mapa said that infrastructure and manufacturing in different parts of the country are needed as the services sector can only employ as many call center agents and salespersons while the scope for job creation in manufacturing and agriculture is so much more potent . . . Thus, we exhort the government to institute investments in true cost-saving infrastructure and investment projects that will enhance these sectors of the economy . . .” [HSBC cuts PH growth forecast on poor infrastructure, Kristyn Nika M. Lazo, The Manila Times, 12th Mar 2014]

“Imagine what impact $33 billion in FDIs will have on the Philippine economy. That will definitely lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of jobs. And with the creation of jobs comes higher tax payments.” [The Thais must be very intelligent, The Manila Times, 16th Mar 2014]

What then should the national conversation be about? “PNoy: No ‘ampaw’ should succeed me.” [Manila Standard Today, Joyce Pangco Pañares, Rio N. Araja and Maricel V. Cruz, 14th Mar 2014] PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Thursday said his successor should not be an “ampaw” politician who is only full of hot air . . . Do you know the food called ampaw? It tastes good but it is only filled with air . . .”

Should “ampaw” then be the national conversation?

“There was so much to be plundered . . . that solid institutions . . . and the rule of law seemed a waste of time.” That's Roger Cohen of The New York Times writing about Argentina, “Cry for me, Argentina,” 27th Feb 2014.” Isn't Ps 10-B [or is the true picture much worse?] not much to plunder via PHL's pork barrel system, yet for decades we've had “an energy crisis”? What about basic infrastructure and strategic and competitive industries? Ergo: poverty haunts us despite GDP growth rates over the recent past that were second only to China amongst our neighbors – and we are in shock? Try ampaw?

Erecting a structure (whether a house or a building or an enterprise or an economy or a nation) as architects and builders have shown demands a solid foundation or the requisite building blocks – as in concrete terms – especially when we are an underdeveloped economy with so much unpredictable elements. For example, without energy and basic infrastructure like roads and airports, and strategic and competitive industries that like dynamos ignite economic activity – that are then pulled together and rendered into a perspective like that of a dream house as an architect does it – how do we expect Juan de la Cruz to relate to that structure? All he knows is that for decades he has remained poor and impoverished. It smacks of the lack if not the absence of leadership – but not the ones eyeing the presidency?

Have we ever wondered that we couldn't prioritize – be unanimous and put a couple of building blocks to bed yet we all have our favorite initiatives – reflective of crab mentality, i.e., we go to court for our energy and airport woes? In the West they call it spinning wheels – a lot of bravado yet everything stays in place. In PHL we call it “ampaw” – and the reality is we're a failed state?

And so beyond Napoles – and the ever widening pork-barrel scam – how much have we recovered from the Marcos loot, we made an ex-president that was charged with plunder mayor of one of Asia's once premier cities while another ex-president is in hospital arrest for being like her predecessors? What's happening to the country, sighed the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez? “Argentina is a child among nations that never grew up. Responsibility is not its thing. Why should it be? There was so much to be plundered.” [Ibid.]

100 million Pinoys shouldn't be surprised – by ampaw or by poverty? Yet we appeared stunned when our playing field has always been skewed to perpetuate a cacique culture – with a little help from media? [Even the RAM boys knew how media was a platform to winning the psych war versus the Marcos regime – i.e., the heart and mind of Juan de la Cruz – and so the fight for the government TV channel was paramount.] And, not surprisingly, oligopoly and political dynasties – with political patronage being the common denominator – have lorded it over Juan de la Cruz? So what else is new? Ours are self-inflicted wounds? And when we elect the next set of leaders we’d be deeper down the abyss?

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