Tuesday, December 23, 2014

“We got ourselves into this . . .”

That’s a quote from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy. “ITALY has long suffered from inertia, its individual vitality smothered by the bureaucracy and opacity of the state. Italians are rich, prudent savers. Their state is poor, profligate and inefficient. For 30 years now, since I was a correspondent in Italy, I have watched the country deploy its ingenuity to evade modernization, culminating in the orgy of baroque escapism known as the Berlusconi years.” [Trying to Reinvent Italy, Roger Cohen, The New York Times, 13th Dec 2014]

“So it was with some astonishment that I found Prime Minister Matteo Renzi sweeping in to meet me the other day in jeans and a white open-neck shirt (‘I hope you don’t mind, it’s casual Friday!’), without the obsequious retinue of past Italian leaders, bearing a message of change. His aim: the creation of ‘un paese smart’ — a smart country — that has ‘stopped crying over itself.’ ”

“‘Here a lot of people have accused Merkel of being the guilty one in the crisis,’ Renzi said. ‘But the fault is not hers. It’s ours. We got ourselves into this. If we had done labor reform 10 years ago, when Germany did it, we would have been a lot better off.’”

“We got ourselves into this.” Is that something we Pinoys have to learn to say and mean? Where are we again?

“Indeed, if people’s initiative is our passport to a new Philippines, the Churches are our passport to a successful people’s initiative.”[People’s initiative: Our passport to a new Philippines, Norman V. Cabrera, The Manila Times, 12th Dec 2014] “The first may be difficult to undertake but, if we as a people shall succeed, the next ones should be easy.  What Filipinos need to do is to exercise this right, to make the Constitution and implementing law work for them, and to take affirmative action where Congress has failed, then, now and will in the future. Otherwise, expect us to remain what we are today for a long, long, long time – a country with a great number of poor and powerless people.”

“For me, the main context has to do with the manner in which the country’s American colonial past has shaped the politics and the economy of the country. This was pursued further under the post-colonial state particularly during the Cold War era in the 1950s and 1960s whereby the United States needed to prop up Southeast Asian states as a ‘bulwark against communism.’” [Interpreting Marcos’ ‘chief technocrat’, Teresa S. Encarnacion Tadem, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7th Dec 2014]

“One way of achieving this was through an economic development model guided by professionals with the ‘technical expertise’ and the development vision compatible with American economic interests. As noted in his coedited book ‘After the Crisis: Hegemony, Technocracy and Governance in Southeast Asia,’ Japanese historian Takashi Shiraishi said: ‘American intellectual hegemony was built into the economic policy-making structure of its Asian allies through a technocracy,’ with emphasis on liberalization, i.e., incentives for foreign capital.”

“The ‘technical expertise,’ gained through their acquisition of US graduate degrees, made technocrats like Virata a prize catch for the Philippine business elite who were either expanding into the manufacturing sector and/or were involved in joint ventures with or servicing the needs of American multinational corporations in the country.”

“It was also this ideological tripartite merger of the United States, the technocrats and the state, as represented by Marcos, which assured the technocrats’ ascension into the power elite during the martial law period.”

So, we didn’t get ourselves into this? What about the Americans dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And the Malaysians kicking out the Chinese? The euro zone continues to fumble, if not running around like a headless chicken; should they recall the pioneers back and leave America to the Indians? Do we turn back the hands of time or step up to the plate: who are we, really? Isn't the world one in saying that this is the Asian century? But as things stand, that would mean our neighbors not us? In short, why have they prospered? The science of the mind says the hardy mindset sees self as the one in need of change, and not to wait for others to change. Call it an ideology or a bias or an assumption or a belief or a value, yet man since being driven out of Eden has demonstrated the ability to play the hand he’s dealt. But we Pinoys unwittingly want to live in the past and aren't predisposed to change? And it explains why ours is not a problem-solving culture? And why we lag in innovation and creativity?

This blog isn’t about preaching an ism because perfection is not of this world. Nor about religion even when my wife and I led a Christian community although I would always acknowledge our faith. We know that even in the Vatican the culture of impunity has existed. And Rizal saw that over a century ago. What it's about is: we must paddle our own canoe. There's no free lunch – and it entails connecting the dots from a spectrum of disciplines, knowledge and experience. And that’s what I’ve been preaching my Eastern European friends – i.e., openness, transparency and diversity.

It is not about me and myself. It's team sport, yet we Pinoys sincerely believe that 100 million of us each has the answer? And it’s not about complexity either but in fact keeping it simple. And that means being able to focus on the vital few as postulated by Pareto. And that presupposes establishing a vision of the common good and subordinating vested interests and developing a community sense. And that is easier said than done and precisely why leadership is key. Sadly, these are not elements of our comfort zone. And that may be our undoing: when there is no pain there is no gain. Which brings us back to character building. Juan de la Cruz is “pusong mamon” – which explains our subservience on one hand and culture of impunity on the other?

I've shared my experience – living and being immersed in the two worlds of East and West – because not many of us have had the chance. And especially to witness how a bunch of Easterners learned how to beat Westerners in their own game. It was like yesterday when a business unit manager came to me looking pretty distraught: “How do we get out of this rut, this competition of ours from the West seems to be always two steps ahead?”

And my response: It’s all in the mind. We have to stop thinking like followers and start thinking like leaders. The outcome: we took market leadership from the two biggest Western competition in our home market and are breathing down their necks in the other countries where we compete. One of them even pitched a partnership that we rejected. Wittingly or unwittingly, we Pinoys express helplessness whenever we look at ourselves against the West? [But that is why we admire Tatang Sy, he never felt helplessness even in a country where in his younger days we looked down on Tsinoys as second class citizens. And everyone knew that extortion wasn’t uncommon and Ongpin was a favorite hunting ground of predators. Today Tatang Sy is the wealthiest Pinoy and we, supposedly first class citizens, continue to thrive in a culture of impunity?]

As far as East versus West is concerned, do we see ourselves lower in the hierarchy? And because they came before us, they must be ahead of us? But we're not from a different planet? And in the meantime, Pope Francis has restated that creation is not incompatible with evolution. While my sister-nun and a handful of Maryknoll sisters who visited our Connecticut home shared why they were focused on the environment. That man is just a tiny speck in the universe . . . And can't cause the ruin of his planet?

And we, my wife and I and a group of friends from the Philippines, were reminded of it on a recent cruise that brought us to the Canary Islands. [And they would also bring memories of Baguio in its heydays when the pine trees were lush and the mountain air was fresh and invigorating. Can we revive its old glory?]  

“Lanzarote is the easternmost island of the Canary Islands and has a volcanic origin. It was born through fiery eruptions and has solidified lava streams as well as extravagant rock formations. The island emerged about 15 million years ago as product of the Canary hotspot.” [Wikipedia]

“15 million years ago.” Indeed we're just a tiny speck in the universe. But that doesn’t mean we have to abandon growth and development – which is inherent to nature. Put another way, we don't have to be laggards compared to our neighbors, if not the rest of the world? But we must first recognize that “we got ourselves into this” – and must paddle our own canoe?

My family joins me in wishing one and all a blessed Christmas and a prosperous New Year!

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