Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Borrowing Petron's plant – an afterthought?

What does it have in common with DAP, OFWs and BPOs? Sadly, they are different hues yet fall under the umbrella of “Pinoy abilidad”? News item: DOE borrows Petron's plant to ease shortage in summer 2015. “The Department of Energy will borrow the 100-megawatt diesel plant of Petron Corp. to bridge supply requirement during the summer months next year.” [Madelaine B. Miraflor, Manila Bulletin, 3rd Sept 2014]

What would Francis do? Francis got rid of the leadership of the Vatican Bank and reconstituted the Curia. But we Pinoys like to keep shooting ourselves in the foot? Petron belongs to the few that dominate PHL economy. But of course we like to be in bed with the few as opposed to the many? Granted we have legitimate enterprises, yet we know political patronage is behind our oligarchic economy? If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck?

If common sense is in fact rare, what about creativity, which Steve Jobs defined as “connecting the dots”? If we'd pause for a moment and lock-up Pinoy abilidad and start to problem-solve and connect the dots, we would finally begin to prioritize and commit to infrastructure development, for instance? Yet since the 1970s our investment on infrastructure has been on a decline; of course we got ourselves more billionaires, a reality in an oligarchic economy, and we wonder why we don't have inclusive growth? “The country’s spending on roads, bridges, ports, airports, as well as machines and equipment has generally been declining since the 1970s, and is now well below that of its peers . . . The Philippines spends 30-50 percent less in infrastructure, health and education compared to its fast-growing neighbors . . .” [Infra projects fail to attract institutional investors, Chino Leyco, Manila Bulletin, 28th Aug 2014.]

Still, every administration would brag about the kilometers upon kilometers of roads they'd built, and the annual GDP growth rates we registered. High school kids know that when your base number is low, any incremental will by definition look big – but it's a mirage and why our comparables are equally poor nations.

Of course, big business – both Filipinos and foreign ones like my old MNC company – will always benefit when there is growth even in poor countries. Not surprisingly, during my time as a student, we held rallies against MNCs. We saw especially the bad ones as exploiting host countries. We also rallied against bad country leadership. But have we as a people truly understood the imperative of investment, which is what an MNC is about, and like water seeks its own level? And MNCs don't have to be from the West – i.e., my Eastern European friends made their mark in this supposedly poor region of the world having made the decision to invest, and in Ukraine in particular, where the economy has contracted given bad country leadership and the conflict in the eastern region, they are growing the business in leaps and bounds. And that wasn’t lost to Forbes Magazine that my Bulgarian friend made it to the cover of Forbes’s most recent regional edition.

Two news reports about infrastructure would make one wonder if we are prepared to set Pinoy abilidad aside and instead learn to connect the dots. A Japanese sponsored effort to pursue a master infrastructure development plan for Metro Manila would reveal their ability to do just that. “The roadmap emphasizes the need to establish better north-south connectivity and appropriate hierarchy of different transportation modes such as roads, railways, and other mass transits.”[NEDA approves Mega Manila transport roadmap, Manila Bulletin, 2nd Sept 2014]

“This forms the “Dream Plan” to have a modern, affordable, and a well-coordinated and integrated transport system for Mega Manila by 2030. The roadmap also recommends planned and guided urban expansion to adjoining provinces through an integrated public transport, affordable housing for low-income groups, retrofitting of existing urban areas in integration with public transport, expanding multi-modal public transport network, and strengthening traffic management systems.”

Meanwhile we are embarking on our favorite activity – doing a roadshow – this time in Europe to present infrastructure investment opportunities in PHL. But the news report was silent on efforts to connect the dots. For example, to plan a roadshow is not the endpoint. The endpoint is to engineer a well-oiled economy. And that means erecting a solid economic platform comprised of infrastructure and a strategic and competitive industrial base. In short, we must connect the dots: investment, infrastructure, industry and synergy – if we are to ever attain continued and sustainable economic growth! That is where inclusive growth will come from!

Compare how the following reads versus the Japanese sponsored roadmap above: “President Aquino will embark next week on a five-country visit (Spain, Brussels, France, Germany and the US) tagging along with him a top-level business delegation to promote investments especially for the government’s pipeline infrastructure projects under the public-private partnership (PPP) program.” [PNoy to lead infra investment roadshows in EU, US, Manila Bulletin, 2nd Sept 2014]“[I]nfrastructure has always been a part in all of the government’s investment roadshows overseas but . . . this is the first time for the Philippines to hold an infrastructure forum in Europe . . . It is not yet clear as to where exactly the forum will be held, but . . . mostly probably it will be in Paris.”

“We are targeting big funds and big project proponents . . . there are over 30 PPP pipeline projects that are in need of investors, funders and contractors. These are basically toll ways, rail lines, seaports and airports . . . The emphasis on infrastructure investments has been timely given foreign investors and analysts concern on the slow infrastructure investments happening in the country.”

But what is reality? “In a report, titled: Southeast Asia Investment Policy Perspectives that was published last June, the 34-country group [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD] -- whose members include France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States -- cited its own FDI (foreign direct investment) Regulatory Restrictiveness Index showing the Philippines also as the most restrictive among 64 developed and developing countries. The index measures restrictiveness of FDI rules across 22 sectors, including agriculture, mining, electricity, manufacturing, as well as ‘main services’ like transport, construction, distribution, communications, real estate, financial and professional services.” [Philippines found among most restrictive, Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag, Business World, 4th Sept 2014]

Is that the final nail on the coffin? Because we will not learn to compete and simply be an OFW & BPO economy, if not implode? The rest of the world just put the mirror in front of us. We’re the nation that can't progress beyond oligarchy on the one hand and poverty on the other – given our definition of nationalism? If there’s a fine line between genius and madness [because of the gene called neuregulin 1] is there a fine line between nationalism and underdevelopment – and self-destruction as the world saw in Hitler? And more recently, Putin has played the nationalism card – i.e., Russia will not learn to compete and simply be an oil & gas economy, if not implode?

Is borrowing Petron's plant beyond the ridiculous and even the absurd? But it’s Pinoy abilidad, making do with something that is far removed from the imperatives of problem-solving – and keeping an eye on an overarching goal or the common good? Yet we have an abundance of them, in big and small ways, including granting emergency powers to the president. A few years ago a friend in the medical tourism industry in Manila related how a state-of-the art equipment they brought in sat at Customs because the tax authorities wanted to levy a ridiculous sum. And more recently, a physician-friend in New York supporting the campaign against HIV in PHL narrated how Customs were holding up donated medicines – and it meant starving patients of their required therapy.

New items: PH jumps 7 notches in WEF rankings, Paolo G. Montecillo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3rd Sept 2014. “Results of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report for 2014 to 2015 showed the Philippines climbed seven places to 52nd out of 140 countries in the world. Since 2010, the country has climbed 33 spots, making it among the biggest gainers among the nations surveyed . . . In Southeast Asia, the Philippines ranked behind Singapore, Malaysia (20th), Thailand (31st), and Indonesia (34th).” [Philippine competitiveness gains further, Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag, Business World, 3rd Sept 2014]

Does our higher ranking mean that we’re attaining global competitiveness and that we can sustain it? That is a very important question that we must answer – given our roller-coaster history in economic development. We’re no strangers to the characteristics of highly competitive teams like La Salle or Ateneo and why they are crowd drawers – i.e., competitiveness is a culture or a state of mind, not an afterthought? And “borrowing Petron’s plant” is exactly that, an afterthought?

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