Friday, February 27, 2015

“Whatever the costs . . .”

“In a powerful sermon that signaled his desire to push ahead with historic reforms, Pope Francis on Sunday (Feb. 15) said the Roman Catholic Church must be open and welcoming, whatever the costs.” [Pope Francis Slams 'Prejudiced Mentality' Of Believers Who Fearfully Cling To Religious Laws, David Gibson, Religion News Service,, 15th Feb 2015]

If we come to think about it, catholic means universal and thus open and welcoming?

“‘There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost . . . Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking . . .’ as he outlined the current debate in the church between those seen as doctrinal legalists and those, like Francis, who want a more pastoral approach.” [ibid.]

“Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences . . . For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family. And this is scandalous to some people!”

“Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal . . . He does not think of the close-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.”

“Francis repeatedly slammed the ‘narrow and prejudiced mentality’ of believers who cling to religious laws out of fear. They wind up rejecting the very people they should be ministering to . . . which means anyone on the margins of society ‘who encounters discrimination.’”

Question: Where do we in PHL stand given the historic reforms that Francis is championing? For example, “[T]he Roman Catholic Church must be open and welcoming, whatever the costs?” Consider: Our value system, characterized by our parochial bias, is not open and welcoming to change especially of the extraneous kind. And so we find even the community and the common good extraneous – so long as our family's needs are provided for. No wonder we're among the most corrupt? And given the ambivalence in our traits and values, we live with and perpetuate a feudalistic system even as we claim that we are for an inclusive society. And it is deep-seated and has stood the test of time. 

The evidence: How long have we heard unsolicited advice like the following? “Phl needs to open up economy – think tank” and “Corruption, investment restrictions hinder PH ‘economic freedom’ – US think tank” and “EU urges reform in PH procurement system.”

“US-based think-tank The Heritage Foundation said the Philippines would need to open up the economy to more players and continue its structural reforms to increase investments.” [Phl needs to open up economy – think tank, Kathleen A. Martin, The Philippine Star, 19th Feb 2015] “Terry Miller, executive director of the organization, said . . . the government should consider altering some rules on trade and investments to better cater to a bigger group of investors. Miller said that some policies only protect a number of businesses or some sectors, holding back economic development and investments, and in turn, the creation of jobs.”

“They tend to preserve the benefits to perhaps only an elite group in the society. Maybe if you can open up the economy, then much more opportunity will be available for average people. Policy changes can make significant changes.”

“THE Philippines should focus on three key areas of concerns to achieve ‘economic freedom,’ according to the US-based Heritage Foundation.” [Corruption, investment restrictions hinder PH ‘economic freedom’ – US think tank, The Manila Times, 18th Feb 2015] “[T]he think tank’s Senior Analyst Anthony Kim and Executive Director Ambassador Terry Miller both said that the Philippines should further improve its policies and reforms for the elimination of corruption, ease restrictions on foreign investments, and remove the influence of corruption in the judicial system.”

“The country should improve its rule of law in the performance of the judicial system and in fighting corruption. If those are addressed, there should be advancement in the [economic freedom] score for the long term. Address corruption and change the culture to correct the acceptance of corruption in the [government] processes.”

“THE European Union has urged the Philippine government to do more in improving the transparency and competitiveness of its procurement system as it plays a key role in attracting job-generating investment into the country.” [EU urges reform in PH procurement system, Mayvelin U. Caraballo, The Manila Times, 17th Feb 2015]

“In a forum on Tuesday, Ambassador Guy Ledoux of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines, said the country has made progress in terms of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), noting that inward FDI stocks in the country increased to 25 billion euros in 2013, mostly originating from the EU, from 10 billion euros in 2004. However, the EU ambassador said that the latest figure is only a fraction of the more than 200 billion euros in FDI that European companies invest every year around the world. That the Philippines has been a laggard in FDI growth can be traced to the bottlenecks in the country’s procurement policy, which blocks investments.

“Some of these companies are reluctant due to problems industry faces with procurement: companies encounter problems with tendering and bidding processes that seem to work against foreign bidders,” Ledoux said.”

Those are pretty damning indictments that should wake us up and bring us down to earth? If they're not bad enough, what about our demonstrating to the rest of the world that indeed we're a banana republic? Are we again foolishly entertaining the idea if not gearing up to upend a democratically elected government?

I was chatting with a relative who was bragging about their province up north. And so next January during their fiesta they will host us to see for ourselves how much progress they've achieved even when they're not done yet – and have in fact attracted foreign investment. But that's why when another relative wondered aloud how the fate of Luisita would have angered relatives of President Aquino, one would appreciate how after we take one step forward we then take two steps back.

Wouldn't our generation wish to see the future of the Philippines? But not if we keep moving backwards? And so I have to miss another extended family get-together before our annual homecoming to the Philippines ends. With my Eastern European friends, we are among the sponsors of Singapore’s 50th anniversary celebration and received an invite to an advance thank-you event. While having just returned, I'm flying back because I want to be a witness to Singapore (more so the Philippines) going full circle after 44 years – when I first visited and the industrial area of Jurong was still barren land. [Concern is in the air in Singapore following the news that Lee Kuan Yew is not in the best of health.]

Francis referenced “the close-minded . . . repeatedly slammed the narrow and prejudiced mentality” . . . “Charity is creative . . .” They are a great guide not only about faith but thinking as well, including innovation and creative destruction. But even the Curia, to the surprise of Francis, can’t imagine that? Not surprisingly, mortals like us Pinoys are like a lost sheep? Which explains why we’re the regional laggard?

Because our comfort zone always wins, it goes without saying that we're preserving the status quo, yet we wonder why reform efforts don't get traction. For instance, half of our people say they are hungry and poor yet we take the ambivalence for granted? And so instead of the positives of charity and creativity, we are confronted with the negatives, of a narrow and prejudiced mentality? 

But we’re not about to rock the boat? Precisely why Francis wants openness whatever the costs? Openness is not sacrilege. But in a feudal society, that applies only to the few? Like my old neighbors in our old enclave in Alabang; they flexed their muscles (all the way to the SC) to block a planned community center in the neighborhood. Bravo!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mindanao: a hard nut to crack

“Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter S. Cayetano said yesterday the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that is supposed to bring peace to violence-wracked Mindanao belongs in the waste basket.” [BBL: Cayetano aims for the waste basket, Mario Casayuran, Manila Bulletin, 15th Feb 2015]

I’ve watched the Senate Majority Leader on TV whenever we’re in town and he seems to make sense. But in politics as in love and war, all is fair; and so detractors have been throwing darts his way and his family's. For instance, that he belongs to a political dynasty with its own baggage? 

Emotions are still raw and it is understandable Senator Cayetano wants to toss the BBL although he says he’s for peace. It appears the MILF has a credibility issue and those outside the peace process believe they can’t represent Bangsamoro. And so after the MNLF and the MILF, where do we go? “There will always be many Mamasapanos remaining in profuse poverty when our national hierarchies continue to deny us the chance to prosper. We ask our leaders in the Government and the MILF to uphold the trust they share in the peace process.”— Junaid (FNU), Mamasapano resident, 07 February 2015. [National unity, morale, trust, leadership, strategic priorities (Last of two parts), Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos, Manila Bulletin, 14th Feb 2015]

“Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign for federalism struck a high note among the people of Palawan, a province long embroiled in a dispute with the national government over its share of the controversial Malampaya Fund.” [Duterte: Federalism to stop Malampaya theft, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4th Feb 2015]

Mindanao is a hard nut to crack. It needs a Philippine president that will demonstrate a commitment to Mindanao. While that means accelerating economic development, Mindanao must have an overarching goal. And what will it take to get there? What infrastructure, what strategic industries and what science and technology and education initiatives must be in place? And the efforts must be monitored in a very high-profile manner because we are working to win the hearts and minds of the people.

It is more than allocating money or land like we saw with land reform. It’s about the ecosystem, the absence of which revealed our shortcomings in economic development and nation building – owing to the inability to connect the dots? Does it have to do with our crying need for visionary leadership? Or to forward-think? Does it have to do with “kanya-kanya” or self-centeredness? Try community sense and the common good . . .

But back to the peace process. Duterte . . . appealed to the country’s top political leaders to rise above the national outrage and anger over the Mamasapano (Maguindanao) incident.” [‘Rise above anger and work for peace,’ Manny PiƱol and Catherine Valente, The Manila Times, 21st Feb 2015]

The Third-Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the body that monitors the progress in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, highlighted the need to continue with the peace process especially after the tragedy in Mamasapano.” [Casayuran, op. cit.] “The recent tragic events at Mamasapano have underlined yet again the human costs of conflict, and the TPMT joins in expressing their condolences to the families of all the victims,” TPMT Chair Alistair MacDonald said during a press briefing held for the release of their second annual Public Report on February 13.

“But it will be essential to protect the future while providing just remedies for the past – and that future can only prosper in the context of a widespread and lasting peace. According to MacDonald, while public attention is focused on the tragedy, the substantial progress made in the peace process for 2014 must not be overlooked. He noted that the report they release should serve to remind the public of this progress.”

We need third parties involved because of our own credibility problem. Remember the Irish peace process? Perfection is not of this world yet we like to think in absolutes? Evil is always at hand to undermine the best of intentions. And evil has been around since Eden and even at the Last Supper. And in the case of Mindanao, do we want to truly know and learn how to live with our Muslim brothers?

But we worry about the Constitution? We have to invest in the “substance” lest the “form” won't suffice. Does Pinoy abilidad mean throwing one for the other? For example, we shared with a couple of local experts our discomfort with federalism not because we discount it per se but to suggest that we go through the thought process. What is the fundamental given? That a market must have critical mass and economies of scale in order to be viable. For example, Quebec or Scotland; and thus they chose to keep the status quo.

At the end of the day, the challenge is how to rigorously prioritize development initiatives (i.e., the substance) and it is something that we as a people have yet to learn whether we are federalized or not (i.e., the form)? And what about the risk of reinforcing our parochial bias? Which together with our hierarchical system and structure have held us back – and why we’re still in our dark ages?

I am writing this in Singapore after being driven practically all around this city-state (and was just in KL.) And shared with my Eastern European friends that 44 years ago, I stood over a barren land they called Jurong* and never imagined how rapidly they would turn into a First-World nation. And we discussed a thinking model to guide the enterprise going forward, i.e., with the view to “self-actualizing” the consumer. And that is what being competitive means in dynamic markets. [*The government saw industrialization as a solution to the country's economic problems and Jurong was picked as a prime area for development. Wikipedia]

But we Pinoys have our work cut out for us, our failure to rapidly pursue economic development. [See above re our inability to connect the dots.] And it's worth repeating the analogy: Let us imagine we’re going through layers while putting up the building blocks of the economy. And it starts with infrastructure. And once it’s extensive enough, we can overlay a set of vital strategic industries that will travel far and wide and drive PHL’s economic output several times more than currently. Industries need a platform. But then we must stretch our imagination by asking ourselves, how shall we sustain these efforts? And that means we need science and technology and education over the longer term.

“[Former President] Ramos recalled military action against rebel groups that burned down Ipil town in Zamboanga in April 1995 ahead of the signing of a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) . . . ‘The Ipil raid in April 1995, this was seen by us as an attempt, just like now, to destroy the peace agreement we were about to sign with the (MNLF),’ Ramos said.” [Aquino hemming and hawing—Ramos, Erika Sauler, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 15th Feb 2015]

There are no simple answers. And like the world is witnessing today (in Ukraine, Syria, Greece, etc.), we’re in a funk. But we better ask ourselves whether our worldview will put us in good stead in the here and now?

I'm speaking to Singaporeans and while they went through a rigorous screening process before we hired them, I don't see them any better than people I worked with over the 20 years I was in the Philippines. But how come Singapore is a First-World nation and we can't even feed half of our people? If we have a Muslim problem, these people principally are: Chinese (74%), Muslims (14%) and Indians (9%).

And in KL I was speaking to a group that was half Chinese and half Muslims. And as I recalled being driven around in both places (their infrastructure puts us Pinoys to shame), I was pleased with and congratulated them for the progress they've achieved in a short period of time. And as we discussed the challenge to move up to the next level, they asked questions and expressed the desire to learn more and do even better.

And these people represent nations with GDPs per capita so many times more than PHL. How do we respond? “Alam ko na ‘yan” . . . or . . . “Wala tayong magagawa”?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The bias must be on “outcome” . . . not “activity”

“This past October, a roadshow was conducted by the PPP office in the US to present to potential investors 50 PPP projects worth $20.82 billion. That is a substantial amount of investment the Philippines could use for its infrastructure improvement . . . But in the words of (Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kurt Tong of the US Department of State) . . . the projects need to be ‘practical,’ a word that we do not understand the meaning of in this context. However he also said the rules and plans need to be clearer . . . ‘PPP deals’ need to be viable on the revenue side of the private investor . . .” [PPP and the USA, Business Mirror Editorial, 23rd Jan 2015]

Where are we coming from on the PPP and where is the above US official coming from? To answer the question we may want to borrow a page from education. “Outcome-based education (OBE) is an educational theory (1989-present) that bases each part of an educational system around goals (outcomes). By the end of the educational experience each student should have achieved the goal.” [Wikipedia]

And much earlier there was “Bloom’s higher level of thinking. It is named after Benjamin Bloom, who chaired the committee of educators (1949-1953) that devised the taxonomy. Bloom's taxonomy refers to a classification of the different objectives that educators set for students (learning objectives). It divides educational objectives into three "domains": cognitiveaffective, and psychomotor (sometimes loosely described as "knowing/head", "feeling/heart" and "doing/hands" respectively).” [Wikipedia]

And from Soren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” And more recently many would have heard of Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 habits of highly effective people,” and “Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.”

This blog has talked about a simple model in the pursuit of undertakings, big and small, and it goes: Where are we; where do we want to be; how will we get there. And it is reflective of the thinking processes of visionary leadership (like Deng Xiaoping, Lee Kuan Yew, Mohamad Mahathir) as well as forward-thinkers and innovators (e.g., Edison, Jobs, Gates.)

In the case of the PPP – and for decades in our export promotion efforts – we trumpeted the roadshows we organized to the West and now Singapore. [“Phl holds Singapore roadshow for PPP projects,” Lawrence Agcaoili, The Philippine Star, 6th Feb 2015.] But they’re focused or biased on activity not outcome. An activity is not necessarily designed to reach a predetermined outcome, and in which case it is open-ended. And what to do to close the loop? Rely on “bahala na” or “fate”? 

As one local expert shared with me, “we train our business students how to plan but we don’t train and test them on how they execute.” And it is not surprising given the conventional wisdom and approach to learning, i.e., linear thinking. Practice. Practice. Practice.

It takes practice to learn execution . . . and also how to define an outcome so that it becomes its own metric. For example, the metric of a product idea could be something like: Can it be translated into a tangible product that sells and is preferred by consumers in the local market and beyond? Is it a sustainable undertaking, does it deliver healthy margins that it will contribute to the growth and competitiveness of the enterprise, and become a contributing member of society, including every country where it does business? [The model also applies to agribusiness, e.g., where scale via consolidation is imperative. And the bias must be to look outward and tap best practices from wherever, e.g., from Malaysia and Thailand. It is a race to the top which is what benchmarking is about. “Pwede na ‘yan” doesn’t cut it. And “alam ko na ‘yan,” is the road to disaster?]

And how many supposedly great product ideas have been pursued without defining the desired outcome that is its own metric?  And how many of them fell by the wayside? Even SMEs mustn’t use size as an excuse. It is about embracing innovation and competitiveness. And it is not a monopoly of MNCs as my Eastern European friends have demonstrated. Nor is it about the ideology of globalization. It is about the fundamental given of economies of scale. And it is beyond the rhetoric of “inclusiveness.” It reminds me of my late Jesuit friend who kept bending my ear about “reality” but was too dense it took years to sink in. Reality is the opposite of “plastik.” 

An oligarchic economy cum feudal society by definition is not about the common good and thus is not inclusive. But even the Church takes it for granted? And so do our conglomerates? While some of them have ventured outside the country, their DNA is about local dominance. They haven’t been truly honed in global competitiveness. Think Samsung. They’ve graduated from local dominance to global dominance.

Where the rubber hits the road is in the selling of a product. How does the mantra – “begin with the end in mind” – apply in selling? “Show them the money.” Don’t sell a retailer the product, show them how they will make money by selling the product in their stores. And that’s why marketing is important or the marketing mix, i.e., the 5 Ps: the product, the pricing, the placement, the promotion (and add people because execution is about people.)

And that is why innovation matters. And innovation has to be principle-based, e.g., human empathy – as championed by the Stanford School of Design; and is team-driven as opposed to being dependent on “bossing” which is inherent in our hierarchical system and structure. It is a carryover from Edison, the father of modern R&D where he moved away from the conventional wisdom – i.e., where research efforts were pursued by individuals – to that of a team-based orientation.

A marketer must thus put herself and her team in the place of the person or consumer in order to internalize what problem or need she has. And in the process of examining her need, we can’t ignore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Or why Steve Jobs would say that a person may not be able to articulate her need but the spirit of innovation demands empathizing with her to realize that higher level need, as in being self-actualized. Of course, we can read consumerism in that – and see malice in everything.

Yet there is the overarching goal of a people's well-being that can be attained via competitiveness that is derived from investment, technology and innovation as well as people, product and market development – the elements that make an economic activity robust and sustainable . . . and become a pillar of an economy. It is the inverse of persistent poverty or a non-inclusive economy. And it explains why the global community has adopted yardsticks in the pursuit of innovation and competitiveness, among others. [“First APEC public-private dialogue” (by Roberto R. Romulo, The Philippine Star, 13th Feb 2015) drives home the point for the BPO industry. “[T]he 21st century has moved on . . .” And he talked to “disruptive technologies”: “The dramatic changes in technologies demand greater innovation and creativity from management and different/higher skills from employees . . .”]

At the end of the day, our ability to compete will be the acid test of how we will fare in the 21st century, including in the Asean Economic Community. There is no free lunch. We can’t rest easy even when AEC opens a bigger market for us . . . if we are not competitive in the first place. It will be sad if all that we gain from AEC is a bigger market for OFWs – because it will reinforce our “Dutch disease” where services will all the more outstrip industry. We now know that it is industry that drives the economy because of its greater multiplier effect – and why the NEDA secretary wants “to rebalance” the economy . . . if we are to truly overcome persistent poverty.

And back to the PPP. “But in the words of (Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kurt Tong of the US Department of State) . . . the projects need to be ‘practical,’ a word that we do not understand the meaning of in this context. However he also said the rules and plans need to be clearer . . . ‘PPP deals’ need to be viable on the revenue side of the private investor . . .”

Beyond doing roadshows, we need to demonstrate to investors how they will make money. There’s nothing wrong when Tom Cruise hollered,“Show me the money!” It’s reality . . . as I explained it to my Eastern European friends, a bunch of ex-socialists.

Monday, February 16, 2015

. . . And love is blind

“ . . . Education Secretary Armin Luistro wanted to tackle the issue head-on. He prefaced his remarks [to Philippine publishers] with a declaration of the unhappiness he felt over the implementation of the moratorium, the practice involving the peddling of supplementary materials, and the significant budget of publishers that goes to agents’ activities that breed corruption (yes, he dared say the “C” word) in government, as DepEd personnel are lured with personal incentives.” [Telling it like it is, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24th Jan 2015]

“Luistro reminded the gathering that early in his administration, he had given his personal e-mail address to publishers with a standing agreement to report to him the names of any DepEd personnel in the central office or in the provinces involved in irregular transactions. He never got a single such message . . . There have been at least two occasions where Integrity Pledges were signed by members of the industry in similar assemblies.”

During the Ayala-UP School of Economics briefing on the state of the economy (Jan 2015), it was confirmed that Education accounts for the largest share of total government budget, just a bit below 50%. It appears we are putting our money where our mouth is given education is the road to knowledge and equal opportunity. “What a painful and tragic irony if the department engaged in the nurturing of young minds would continue to be mired in unacceptable unethical practices. It would be lamentable and unforgivable.” [Cruz, op. cit.]

It appears people are not exaggerating when they lament that corruption is in every nook and cranny of PH way of life. And a journalist wondered aloud why only three senators were indicted for plunder? And it appears that even in the private sector, where there was a drumbeat promoting Integrity Pledges, the pledges in truth were optional? Not a surprise given with traffic lights we take red lights as optional too? And so President Aquino had to promote the “no wang-wang” rule.

Try “kanya-kanya” or self-centeredness: “One has no regard for others. So long as my family and I are not in need, I do not care about the world.” [THE AMBIVALENCE OF FILIPINO TRAITS AND VALUES, Prof. EMERITA S. QUITO,]

Yet we take pride that when we're in the West or in a developed country, Filipinos follow driving conventions and observe traffic rules, for example. And during the time of Ka Doroy Valencia, we kept Luneta spic-and-span. In other words, in a civilized environment we behave in a civilized manner. But it takes a lot to create that environment.

An environment is a creation of the community, it demands community sense and a commitment to the common good. And where we cannot justify violations – minor as they may seem – because everyone does it. Sadly, that is what uncivilized is and the opposite of development, especially advanced development. We have to set our sights higher. Enough of “mababaw ang kaligayahan” or low expectations? This is the 21st century and global competition takes no prisoners.

Granted we have yet to reach advanced development . . . we have to start somewhere. And granted that after 40 years of an economy characterized by the boom-bust cycle, we have reason to celebrate the last 5 years where the average growth rate was indeed elevated. Still, we have ways to go and not be the region’s laggards and where half if not more of our people say they’re hungry and poor.

“The Philippines has become a more attractive location for investments for British firms amid improving economic conditions here, but the government needs to address bottlenecks to growth such as lack of infrastructure, predictability in business environment and skills gap to get more investors . . . Despite the improvements made, [London Mayor Alan] Yarrow said there are bottlenecks which need to be addressed for the country to continue to grow and attract more investments.” [Phl urged to address growth bottlenecks, Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star, 13th Feb 2015]

Sadly, we have yet to internalize what it means to pursue change. How many of us have called for reforms yet unwittingly are still operating within the same narrow band? For example, during the decade I was an MNC regional manager, I never for a moment doubted that we Pinoys were better than our neighbors. And was that the blinder that made me miss reality . . . that our neighbors were well on their way in pursuit of the future while we were stuck in the past? It’s called love, love of country but love nonetheless. And love is blind.

And many years later, I can’t help but see myself still with the blinder – because we barely acknowledged that we contracted our own Dutch disease, i.e., OFW remittances. And even when doing a-7% GDP growth, it will take at least a generation for PH to be a developed economy. In other words, our generation will not live to see the future!

No doubt we’re getting more FDI today and even doubled it in 2014. But we’re so way behind Thailand that we need a six-fold jump in FDI. And Thailand is not nirvana – or the full measure of our future – yet where they are would be a major accomplishment, a yardstick we can’t ignore, because it means we would have doubled our GDP per capita. It will take that much if we are to appreciably reduce PH poverty. And that will not happen if we can’t deal with the nagging issues that have been with us for the longest time – i.e., power, vital infrastructure and strategic industries, among others.

Of course we need leadership to get us all looking in one direction and into the future. And it’s not just leadership but visionary leadership. And if we stop there for a moment, given Juan de la Cruz is leader-dependent, what do we do in the meantime?

And precisely why we need to overcome “kanya-kanya.” If we don’t pull together we can’t create a civilized environment and attain advanced development. Within our respective circles we have to start to think outside self and family. I remember that when my wife and I were introduced to a Christian community, we developed the affinity to our cell group and across the board people became more attuned with their respective groups than with the larger community.

How do we begin to look outside self and family and to the larger PH community? If we were a Philippine publisher and doing business with the DepEd, how do we live up to our Integrity Pledge – or wherever we are in the private or public sector for that matter? How do we develop a sense of accountability for our collective future? And to get started we likewise need a sense of urgency? Do we ever wonder why Juan de la Cruz struggles with the sense of community or the common good or the sense of accountability or urgency?

“Assertiveness is frowned upon because it smacks of pride and ruthlessness . . . If for the Filipino smallness, meekness, and humility are ideals, could it not be that he is not this-worldly? Could he not perhaps be aiming, consciously or otherwise, at the life in the hereafter where the last will be the first, the weak will be strong, and the small will be great?” [Quito, op. cit.]

We may have to resurrect Rizal’s call to the youth. Which I thought about when a niece reminded me that the median age of Filipinos is 23.4 years; and they speak up and are more assertive, she told me. And indeed the following is a breath of fresh air: Problem solvers,” Sara Grace C. Fojas, Manila Bulletin, 13th Feb 2015. “Asia’s largest business and youth leadership conference is all set to unite students on a quest to change the world.”

“In a world dominated by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites, the youth is now free to voice out their opinions regarding social, political, economic, and cultural issues. They, however, lack the proper venue to get their problem-solving ideas across. This is the goal in mind of the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) Asia Conference, one of the Asia’s largest business and youth leadership gathering organized by students.”

It’s probably time to listen to the youth. Our generation is toast anyway. We blew it . . . and blew it big time!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Forward thinking . . . and a game plan

Bangkok is not perfect. As an extended family, we flew in to Bangkok in three separate groups and the taxi fares from the airport to our hotel were three disparate amounts. Between Bangkok traffic and opportunistic taxi drivers, who knows why? Still, their airport puts ours to shame and the level of activity would match those in more developed countries. And going around Bangkok via their public transportation system isn’t that different from these places either. Yet Thailand’s GDP per capita is just a fraction of Singapore. But it’s still more than twice that of PH. Given Thailand isn’t wealthy, we can understand why half of our people say they’re hungry and poor. That’s our story . . .

President Aquino may want his cabinet members to spend time in Bangkok to see for themselves what we’re missing. Singapore may be too far advanced and may discourage them but Thailand is more doable and could inspire them. Japan and China many years ago did something similar, sending teams to Europe to learn about progressive Western ways and “successful capitalist practices.” And both China and Japan in fact succeeded and together with the US, the three are today the world’s largest economies.

We may not realize it but our inward-looking bias hasn’t helped us. We keep reinventing the wheel instead of learning from others. For example, Thailand is the Detroit of Southeast Asia and hence their supply of automobiles has contributed to Bangkok’s traffic. But they believe their work isn’t done yet. They believe that an efficient public transportation system will make Bangkok a commuter’s city, and New York comes to mind. And so they’re stepping up the efforts and extending the rail system (which they call a multi-year mega project) into the suburbs. And the potential is not lost to developers: new high-rise residential buildings are sprouting to complement the rail project. It’s forward-thinking no doubt or what Steve Jobs simply called connecting the dots.

How do we do such forward-thinking – and connect the dots – in the Philippines? Consider the following news reports re our infrastructure efforts: “DOTC quibbles anew on MRT3,” Rosalie C. Periabras, Manila Times, 8th Feb 2015. “LRT-2 is profitable, so why bid out operations (?),” Jarius Bondoc, GOTCHA, The Philippine Star, 9th Feb 2015. “A clueless bureaucrat (?),” Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 9th Feb 2015.

Are we equipped – in our hearts and our minds – to populate the 21st century? It is not about hiding behind studies. “Study after study,” to quote a journalist, hasn’t taught us how to move forward as a nation.

“THE Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is quibbling anew on what to do with Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT). It earlier said it would buy out the current operator but it is hamstrung by the fact that Congress did not allocate a budget for the buyout . . . This time it said it is studying the proposal of Metro Rail Transit Holdings Inc. (MRTH) to extend operations over MRT3 for another 15 years.” [Periabras, op. cit.]

Study and more study? “A liar needs a good memory, goes a Latin adage. But that’s lost on officials of the Dept. of Transport and Communications. Last Jan. 8 at the House of Reps, U-Sec Jose Lotilla made a big disclosure. DOTC commuter railways – LRT-1, LRT-2, and MRT-3 – are earning more than enough from ticket sales to cover operations and maintenance. The admission was a blow to Lotilla’s boss Sec. Joseph Abaya. Only three days earlier Abaya had hiked train fares 50- to 90-percent on the pretext of soaring O&M costs. Rep. Neri Colmenares discovered that first discrepancy.” [Bondoc, op. cit.]

If we don’t hide behind a study, there is always the option to lie? “We all know that the problem of congestion at NAIA is on account of its single working runway. (They have stopped using the other cross runway for safety reasons.) Even if we build 10 terminals there but if there is only one runway, planes will still have to fall in line to take off and circle around to land. That is simple and logical even laymen should be able to understand.” [Chanco, op. cit.]

I remember a friend telling us, “If you have a dinner appointment in Makati at 7 on the Wednesday that you are returning from Cebu, better get a much earlier flight. Most flights are delayed an hour.” Lo and behold, we thought we were comfortably buckled awaiting takeoff in Mactan when the pilot interrupted our thoughts: “We are being asked to hold for 45 minutes because of traffic congestion in Manila.”

I tried a simple analogy to explain where we are as a nation to folks in Cebu and suggested to imagine going through layers while putting up the building blocks of an economy. It starts with infrastructure. And when they're extensive enough, we can overlay a set of strategic industries – that are competitive and will reach far and wide. Because industries need a platform. And then visualize an ecosystem that will sustain them. That means we need science, technology and education over the longer term – borrowing a page from the playbook of Deng Xiaoping. 

And because we’re missing said layers and building blocks, we’re confronted with: “But here our question for Mr. Fuji: If the existing investment incentives are so great in the Philippines, why did Japanese companies invest over $10 billion in Thailand in 2013 and only $1.2 billion in the Philippines?” [Foreign investment incentives: What to change, Business Mirror Editorial, 8th Feb 2015] “We have examined both countries investment laws and incentives. The major difference is that the list of excluded types of business is much less in Thailand and Thailand allows up to 100 percent foreign ownership unlike the Philippines which requires 60 percent local ownership.”

Surprise, surprise! Isn’t that an old song? And so my wife and a brother-in-law would ask: How could the Thais build a transportation system like this? They know that I covered Thailand for 10 years as an MNC regional manager. And had shared with them that we put up a regional facility in Thailand, after visiting different Asian countries where we were shown their respective “special economic zones.” It’s about the ecosystem.

Think 360 degrees. What would make a special economic zone truly attractive to investors? For example, power is one and at the other end is the port from where to ship products out. And between the site and the port are roads and bridges, and in some countries also navigable rivers and rails. There is also the soft elements. Take the Bureau of Customs and its culture of impunity, which is how Pinoys working on cruise ships explained why industry bosses avoid the Philippines. In sum, an ecosystem connotes efficiency, productivity and sustainability.

But are they what we value? Or is our parochial, hierarchical system and structure most preeminent? And the evidence: “We have examined both countries investment laws and incentives. The major difference is that the list of excluded types of business is much less in Thailand and Thailand allows up to 100 percent foreign ownership unlike the Philippines which requires 60 percent local ownership.” [Business Mirror Editorial, op. cit.]

And when it gets down to developing a game plan if not formulating a vision, our kneejerk is to employ “Pinoy abilidad”? Which is in fact reactive and short-term – not proactive and strategic and long term? See above re “DOTC quibbles anew on MRT3” and “LRT-2 is profitable, so why bid out operations (?)” and “A clueless bureaucrat (?)” . . .

Ergo: “Before investing in PH, Japan firms raise nagging issues,” Amy R. Remo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7th Feb 2015. “[T]hey continue to stress the need for the government to address pressing concerns, such as lack of adequate infrastructure and high power costs, which are necessary to create a more conducive environment for trade.”

Is it our cacique culture or inability to formulate a vision and forward-think or is it incompetence or a culture of impunity? Infrastructure projects are mired in delays and rebids, challenges and whatever, but what’s truly behind them? True or not, after being in town over the last few weeks, I would still be dumbfounded to hear: “Do you know the story behind NAIA 3? Imagine how many administrations had a hand in it. If behind every infrastructure project is such impunity, what do you do if none of the spoils comes your way having arrived late to the party?”

We took a tour to Ayutthaya (old Siam) and I was reminded of how we were stuck in Bangkok traffic many years ago – when we were with our daughter, then a grade-schooler. Today they have the expressway, and they make the journey even more interesting, the return to Bangkok is via a river cruise. And the boat is more upscale than the one my wife and I took in New Orleans last summer. Why does Thailand attract investors and tourists much more than we do?

How do we face the 21st century? Doing it the same old way – over and over again – is insanity?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Developing a hardy mindset . . .

Not “learned helplessness” . . . “As I have listened to . . . individuals who feel trapped and stressed, unable to muster the energy to facilitate change, I think about Martin Seligman's research related to the concept of ‘learned helplessness,’ a concept which basically captures the belief that ‘regardless of what I do nothing really will change, so why even put in any effort to change.’ Once a feeling of learned helplessness begins to dominate one's mindset, most difficult situations elicit feelings of resignation, defeatism, and stress.” [Stressed Out or Stress Hardy (?), Robert Brooks, Ph.D.,]

And he goes on to explain: “Yet, in contrast there are other individuals, faced with seemingly similar situations, who remain more optimistic and more positive and as a result are able to solve problems with greater effectiveness . . . One approach that I have found particularly helpful is based on the research of Suzanne Kobasa and her colleagues. Kobasa defined three characteristics of what she called the "hardy personality." Individuals who possessed these characteristics experienced and responded to stressful events in a much healthier and more effective way than those who did not demonstrate these personality characteristics. I prefer to refer to these characteristics of a "stress hardy" person as features of a mindset, a mindset that defines the way in which we understand and approach all aspects of our life . . .

“Why cast this concept of ‘stress hardiness’ in the framework of a mindset? The reason I do so is my strong belief that mindsets can be changed, that they do not have to remain fixed ideas that are cast in stone. I realize that many people have held on to certain self-defeating ideas for years, but with insight, courage, and support these ideas can be changed. I call the components of ‘stress hardiness’ as outlined by Kobasa the ‘3 C's’ since the first letter of each of the words of the mindset begins with the letter C . . .

“Commitment. Challenge. Control. Kobasa described commitment as being involved rather than alienated from aspects of one's life. When commitment is present, individuals have a sense of purpose and meaning for why they are doing what they are doing. When we have a purpose, when we are guided by a vision, when we never lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing, an energy and passion are triggered that give meaning to our lives and lessen the impact of stress.

“Challenge is based on the belief that change is a constant in one’s life. Successful people tend to see change as challenges to confront and master rather than as stress to avoid. They do not deny problems, but instead appreciate that change is an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. It is interesting to note that in the Chinese language, the same word symbolizes both ‘crisis’ and ‘opportunity.’ While opportunity is housed in many difficult situations, in my consultation and therapy activities I have witnessed countless individuals who react to these situations with dread, who would rather remain frozen in a ‘comfort zone’ even if that zone brings them little satisfaction or joy.

“Since the word ‘control’ may be incorrectly interpreted as ‘controlling’ others, I typically refer to this third ‘C’ as ‘personal control.’ The feeling of control or ownership is at the root of almost every theory of effectiveness and motivation. When individuals possess this third ‘C’ they tend to focus their energy on those events that they have control over rather than on situations beyond their control. They believe that they are active participants in plotting the course of their own destiny, of solving problems and making decisions about their own life, of wasting little time worrying about things that are beyond their influence. People become more stressed when they attempt to alter uncontrollable circumstances, often feeling that they are hitting their heads against the wall. When individuals delineate a clear plan of reasonable action for situations that they can alter, their stress lessens. Even when their actions do not lead to success, they at least feel a sense of accomplishment in knowing that they have not passively sat back and, in addition, they are likely to adopt the view that they can learn from what went wrong.”

Let’s bring the concepts of “learned helplessness” and the “hardy mindset” to the present, and more precisely where we are as a people and a nation – e.g., we lag behind our more successful Asian neighbors. We know that our ability to attract foreign investments compared to Thailand, for example, is handicapped. That gap translates to a weakness in technology, innovation and competitiveness, among others, and thus our inability to market our products beyond our shores like they do.

I’m writing this in Bangkok and it isn’t like we’re poised to reduce their lead in accumulated FDIs, which stands at almost 6 times ours . . . when we read something like, “Before investing in PH, Japan firms raise nagging issues,” Amy R. Remo, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7th Feb 2015. “[T]hey continue to stress the need for the government to address pressing concerns, such as lack of adequate infrastructure and high power costs, which are necessary to create a more conducive environment for trade.”

At the recent Ayala-UP School of Economics forum on the state of the economy, NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan put together an excellent SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. In other words, instead of simply dwelling on the positives of the economy, he covered the negatives as well and did it in a very balanced fashion that both of them were crystal clear. Ergo: following the techniques of “force field analysis,” [] we can now focus on driving the elements where there is demonstrated momentum; and likewise prioritize and bridge major gaps in the economy where they exist. Focus, momentum, prioritize, major gaps . . . are the operative words.

Why is it important to step up to the plate . . . of where we are? It is . . . if we want to develop a “hardy mindset” . . .  and not perpetuate “learned helplessness.”

Here is a news report to illustrate. “2014 FDI likely breached $6-B mark, says Domingo,” Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star, 4th Feb 2015. “Given the country’s positive economic conditions, Domingo said the Philippines is ripe for another credit rating upgrade, particularly from Fitch Ratings . . . Domingo said he intends to discuss the country’s gains as well as know about Fitch Ratings’ concerns which prevent the debt watcher from giving the country another upgrade, during an upcoming meeting with the credit rating agency. ‘What are there other concerns? I want to know that…so that if it can be corrected, then we will do that,’ he said.”

Because they gave upgrades before, it doesn’t follow that they would again in future if we don’t address the structural weaknesses of the economy – which they highlighted in earlier reports. And we cannot keep glossing over these weaknesses given their enormity. And those who do are doing a disservice. They are rubbing it in to half of the population that say they are hungry and poor. We may be cash rich and are sitting on a pot of international reserves but that is a function of OFW remittances . . . not investment and most certainly not an ecosystem with the requisite building blocks – of infrastructure, strategic industries and an efficient and productive and innovative and competitive total system.

No question we feel compassion for our people. But then again, we also recognize that we have “no personal control” over Capitol Hill. In other words, we understand the uncertainty of the request we are making yet out of learned helplessness, we still had to do it?

If we trace and examine how our neighbors – starting with Japan and then the Asian Tigers and China – developed a purposeful game plan to move their nations from poverty to plenty, would we get a glimpse and distinguish a “hardy mindset” from “learned helplessness”? 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Charity begins at home . . .

But doesn’t end there . . . “Much has been said about so-called negative Filipino traits. They have been blamed for the weak character of the Filipino; they are the culprits, the scapegoat of our failures, or at least, the explanation for lagging behind more successful Asian neighbors.” [THE AMBIVALENCE OF FILIPINO TRAITS AND VALUES, Prof. EMERITA S. QUITO,]“Assertiveness is frowned upon because it smacks of pride and ruthlessness . . . If for the Filipino smallness, meekness, and humility are ideals, could it not be that he is not this-worldly? Could he not perhaps be aiming, consciously or otherwise, at the life in the hereafter where the last will be the first, the weak will be strong, and the small will be great?”

But is that coming from our faith? “Split-level Christianity may be described as the coexistence within the same person of two or more thought-and-behavior systems which are inconsistent with each other. The image is of two apartments at different levels, each of which contains a family, one rarely talking to the other. So it is with the split-leveled person; at one level he professes allegiance to ideas, attitudes and ways of behaving which are mainly borrowed from the Christian West, at another level he holds convictions which are more properly his ‘own’ ways of living and believing which were handed down from his ancestors, which do not always find their way into an explicit philosophical system, but nevertheless now and then flow into action.” [SPLIT-LEVEL CHRISTIANITY by Fr. Jaime Bulatao, S.J., 1966,]

“Perhaps from another point of view, they may be described as two value systems, differing from each other in explication, one more abstract than the other, one of them coming to the fore under certain circumstances and receding to the background at other times . . . What is needed is some inner process of growth by which a man can reject principles which he really believes to be stupid or on the other hand subject his thinking and behavior to principles which he really sees to be valid . . .

“Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical, ‘Ecclesiam Suam,’ outlines a possible solution. Pope Paul says, ‘When the Church distinguishes itself from human nature, it does not oppose itself to it, but rather unites itself to it...The Church should enter into a dialogue with the world in which it exists and labors . . .’

“The priest has to take the initiative. Relying on his common humanity, he has to work with men on the common tasks of everyday temporal living, of developing the community's material and personnel resources on welfare organizations . . . He has to sit on committees whose organizational structure is secular and built by seculars, and in which he has no power except what is given him by the democratic organization. He thus sits with his equals and participates in their life. He learns and he teaches, he gives and he takes. His apostolate may thus be called the Apostolate of participation, the participation of the clergy in the life of the laity.”

It appears Juan de la Cruz may not be predisposed to change. Since I’ve been in town and met a representation of PHL society, I made mental notes of the hurdles we face: While we are “no longer the sick man of Asia,” poverty is still the worst in the region . . . Low investment in industry + poor agriculture productivity despite rising OFW remittances = not enough good jobs; poor infrastructure despite increasing FDIs holding back foreign investors; power or electricity supply + high prices dampening investments and growth; corruption + poor governance pervasive; public sector bureaucracy taken over by political patronage = demoralizing upright civil servants; incompetence in public service, including leadership levels, palpable; community sense + commitment to common good missing, while evident among SE Asian neighbors; crony capitalism + entrenched oligarchy fighting reforms (e.g., competitive business environment); restrictive economic provisions of Constitution = major barriers to FDIs.

Many would invoke a Higher Being all but resigned to our inability to deal with our challenges. But there were bright spots I heard. For example, infrastructure investment appears to have gotten traction. And between the secretaries of Tourism and Highways, four-lane highways are being laid out in regions where we have world-class beaches, for example. But for every good news there is always a “but” that would come out: Feudalism rules in rural Philippines personified by local lords and political dynasties. It will need external interventions if small farmers are to be educated to pull together and create a larger enterprise that will focus on managing the requisite ecosystem that will drive economies of scale, innovation and competitiveness.

Indeed PHL is yet to produce visionary leadership that can instill a sense of purpose in Juan de la Cruz. If we don’t learn to subordinate the personal to the community and the common good, “kanya-kanya” (which Prof. Quito translates as self-centeredness) will always prevail. And why I’ve raised the question: Is it then a challenge for the church and the education community and society at large to inculcate in Juan de la Cruz the imperative of community sense and the common good?

And Fr, Bulatao, almost 50 years ago, made reference to Pope Paul VI who outlined a possible solution for our dilemma. And at church last Sunday, I was riveted to what the priest was saying after he said he was suffering from Francis fever. And he was exhorting the faithful to take care of the poorest of the poor. Nothing wrong with that. But what about the common good, which is the way to address the root of poverty, i.e., accelerate economic development by ripping open the shackles of an oligarchic economy and a feudal society? And to learn about community starts with very basic behaviors that can blossom into more meaningful outcomes. And why President Aquino’s “straight path” was lauded. But then at the heart of the criticism that followed is: Does he represent our cacique culture where political opponents must be taken down while feudalism rules?

Dilemmas seem to follow us: “A policeman in the downtown district of Manila goes fairly regularly to mass and considers himself a catholic. Nevertheless, he collects ‘tong’ from the small stores in the district as protection money. He feels he has a right to it because he is their protector against gangsters.” (The Split; the modern Catholic principles of justice versus a feudal attitude that the lord may tax those whom he protects.) [Bulatao, Op. Cit.]

Help! “The priest has to take the initiative. Relying on his common humanity, he has to work with men on the common tasks of everyday temporal living . . .”

And as my wife would remind me, my sister-nun is on her second stint to Panama working with farmers employing organic farming. At Maryknoll, they have a group of contemplatives that pray in the chapel 24/7, and another group that participate in the life of the laity. Yet because of the fundamental given of economies of scale, do they need to move up to the next level, that is, pull small farmers into a larger enterprise as noted above? Which means the religious and the Church will have to work with the larger community in order to get its best minds pulling together.

Historically, they have relied on the wealthy if not our cacique masters thus perpetuating our hierarchical system and structure. Between Paul VI and Francis, is it time for the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines to embrace a truly egalitarian society? In earlier postings, I talked about the father of modern R&D, Edison, who demonstrated the power of a team-driven enterprise in pursuit of excellence, creativity and innovation.

It is team sport, not one driven by a hierarchical system and structure – where deference rules. What does the science say? Exercise is good for the body and our mental outlook and well-being; and exercise – both physical and mental – is likewise good for the brain. The brain continues to develop (i.e., neuroplasticity) until we die. That is what’s behind the ability of progressive global companies to thrive in global competition. There is constant debate where even the CEO is not exempt from being quizzed. But the debate is not of the kind they indulge in in Washington – i.e., gridlock or “crab mentality” in the vernacular – because it is not outcome-driven. There is no positive learning when there is no positive outcome. Consider: why haven’t we learned the pursuit of progress and development in PHL?

If we are to indulge in team sport, we can’t leave the priests and nuns to work by themselves. “Kanya-kanya” being the human condition is indeed a hard nut to crack. “It has been said that at the root of our economic and political instability . . . is a moral crisis . . . Undoubtedly, moral recovery must go hand in hand with economic and political recovery. But such moral recovery requires an understanding of values . . . Short-term goals and long-term objectives have to be blended harmoniously, which requires a vision of what the country intends to be.” [Manuel B. Dy, Jr. The Philosophy of Value, the Value of Philosophy,]