Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Things don't just happen

That is paraphrasing Speaker F. Belmonte Jr. as he stressed the imperative for Congress to focus on amending the economic provisions of the Constitution if we are to indeed have a platform to attract FDI. But that would be truly revolutionary if we deliver against such a challenge.

As my wife would ask, talking about Bulgaria, as we were traveling on the 400-kilometer highway towards the Black Sea: “This is likewise a poor and even a much smaller country and won't ever have the traffic that we have between Manila and Baguio. And Baguio is not even that far. Can you imagine how efficient travel to Baguio would be, and we've been doing it ourselves for half a century, since our childhood days. Yet our big boys are getting the spoils and we assume everyone is happy – when we're only reinforcing that PHL is truly an oligopoly? It was only 10 years ago when we first went to the Black Sea via their old highway. Which brings us to NAIA; how can we Pinoys tolerate such backwardness?”

And a week later we were traveling from Sofia to Malaga and had a 7:20 AM flight via Paris. And it was just 11 years ago when we first arrived in the old terminal building, courtesy of their Communist rulers (which they upgraded into the current Terminal 1 for domestic flights; and they have a new Terminal 2 for international flights.) And checking in for our flight we noted they opened 8 counters and at the security check they had 3 X-ray machines running. In no time we were at the lounge enjoying our cappuccinos as we awaited our departure.

The previous evening friends hosted a dinner. And there were two sets of kids present: one attends the equivalent of our high school and the other, grade school. “I want to enroll in a university that has a program where I can be in London and the US; I'm European and London is a natural but I want to be in the US too because the world is meant to be small.” The grade-schoolers, beyond their local teachers, have a Brit, an American and a Dutch in their class. “Imagine, the very few English words I learned growing up that I picked up while playing with other kids, and they were gutter English,” volunteered the father.

Yet in this country the medium of instructions and business is still Bulgarian. But there are efforts to look beyond their borders. In other words, people can be nationalistic and not be parochial – because no nation can progress and develop apart from the rest of the world, North Korea being the obvious example? Their politics are not the best. They just formed the latest government after kicking out the previous two because of their frustrations with corruption. My wife and I once even joined the daily protests they held over several months until the world took note and the EU intervened. Things don't just happen.

In PHL we're finally recognizing that the OFW phenomenon is not to brag about (for example, Cardinal Tagle had pointed out its social costs to our elite class, and a recent editorial even raised it as modern-day slavery) despite being the engine of our economy – and how we created a handful of billionaires. Yet we remain parochial at the core? The reason we saw our OWFs as a positive was because despite our underdevelopment we had 10 million Pinoys with jobs that paid more than local ones. But how myopic was that? And I would include myself because I saw them no differently until international institutions lectured us otherwise.

We shut the rest of the world out to preserve our inward-looking, cacique hierarchical system and structure to the detriment of nation-building? And still we have no consensus, if not clueless, about what nation building is – because our assumptions, beliefs and values haven't changed? And foreign investors are keenly aware of that: “The European Union (EU) yesterday called on the Philippines to strengthen its justice system to sustain its economic growth, alleviate poverty and protect human rights.” [EU to PHL: Strengthen justice system to sustain growth, Pia Lee Brago, The Philippine Star, 29th Nov 2014]. Is that the kinder way of saying that we must emerge from the dark ages? And how long have we been talking about our restrictive economy? Things don't just happen, which was the moral of the Juan Tamad story?

Over dinner the adults were talking about something not that different. While looking at me one said: “I was with Vladi and we discussed that what he learned as sales manager and what we learned as a local Bulgarian company is irrelevant in his new region. He has half a dozen countries with per capita GDPs over 5 times more than ours. And so his focus is not on our economy brands. He is working with our senior-most managers to draw up the right business model, including developing products that will respond to their needs and lifestyles, and driven by an integrated marketing effort.”

Earlier in the day, one of the managers came over: “I want to update you on the discussions we're having with a potential partner. I am convinced that while we're meeting with the local representatives, the mindset is there. This group developed their business in the West and have enough Western players in the team. They understand the principle of partnership and I want us to do our homework so that both parties would truly value working together and succeed beyond the immediate future.” He's a protégé and I could not help but feel proud.

“You're starting on the right foot and the parameters you've covered with this group are a good foundation. The key is to jointly develop a business model that would satisfy our definition of success as well as theirs. And if indeed both of us appreciate the size and value of the business potential for the partnership, however either of us currently defines success, we must recognize that that may not necessarily hold true in that future scenario. And which goes back to your point of doing our homework; and it means rigorously testing and critiquing our own assumptions – but that will be a function of how sharply and confidently we spell out that future scenario. If we can demonstrate that with credibility, then we will show this group the way forward.”

Indeed, things don't just happen.

“How then, can the free flow of capital and investments, as well as the free exchange of professional services in the ASEAN, happen as far as the Philippines is concerned without our Constitution being amended?” [Biting the bullet of change, Rita Linda V. Jimeno,Out of the Box, Manila Standard, 24th Nov 2014]

“Assuming there will no longer be constitutional impediments come 2015, can the Philippines compete in light of its serious inadequacy in physical and technological infrastructures? Investors have stayed away because of peace and order concerns and the instability and slow process of our judicial system. There too is the nation’s heaviest baggage of all – politics.  While there should now be a frenzied scramble toward preparing for the ASEAN economic community in 2015, energies are instead focused on the 2016 national elections.”

“It is as it has always been: the Filipino people just have to bite the bullet.”

“We Filipinos like to think we’re among the intelligent peoples in the world, that we’re up-to-date on what’s going on the planet, that we’re knowledgeable about many things.” [We think we’re advanced, Leandro DD Coronel, Manila Bulletin, 23rd Nov 2014]

“What we don’t realize is that other nations are way ahead of us in demanding accountability and transparency in how the people’s money is used. We don’t realize how backward we are for tolerating the theft of our own money by politicians that we wrongly trust and give deference to as our leaders and betters.”

“That is the sad fact about a nation that in many ways is advanced but is also in many ways so backward as to not even know that it’s being led astray by its own leaders.”

Is this the best shot we Pinoys can make for the country we claim we care about? Are we simply a bunch of losers? I came to Bulgaria because a group of people said they wanted to emerge from the dark ages . . . Things don't just happen!

No comments:

Post a Comment