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!

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