Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cebu memories: how do we reinvent ourselves?

2008 was the last time my wife and I were in Cebu, but we saw very little because we were in fact visiting the island of Bantayan, where we spent Holy Week – and where the Good Friday procession attracts visitors from near and far. It was in Bantayan when I was asked: Do you have something to say after PHL earned the label of “basket case” of the region? Having lived overseas since 1988, I needed to brush up and read our dailies, including over 50 columnists and bylines, for a year . . . and then took the next step: write to editors and columnists. And at the suggestion of friends, I turned the letters into a blog . . . and later into a book: Learning to reinvent ourselves.

This time (January 2015) we were visiting Cebu itself and got a pulse of the community because of our hosts, Jessica and Bobit Avila and their daughter Katrina. [We met them while they were visiting Stamford, a New York suburb, through our neighbors-friends, Inda and John Gage.] We chose to stay at Marco Polo on the hills of Lahug recalling that it’s the old Cebu Plaza, where we had stayed decades ago when it was the solidary tall structure in the area, then an expanse of foliage. To our pleasant surprise, Marco Polo did a great job updating the hotel and more than the lovely hotel lobby is the efficient and business-friendly non-smoking room we got on the 12th floor. Which came in handy when I had to do some deskwork. Although my wife couldn’t stop talking about Plantation Bay and Mactan Shangri-La – and sooner than later we should be off to Mactan.

“We have Cebu traffic too except that you endure it for 10 kilometers at most,” Bobit warned us. But given the population of Metro Cebu is just a tiny fraction of Metro Manila, it’s comparing apples and oranges. The common denominator, as Bobit would point out, is the need for proper infrastructure. And the locals debate traffic among current and major issues in their Tuesday “888 News Forum” TV program, where I was invited with two others, a town mayor and an American, a long-time Calbayog resident, whose advocacy is fighting dengue. They invite representatives from Congress too to discuss priority bills because of their concerns about “Imperial Manila.”

The town mayor was grilled about the budget and the inefficient budget process that revealed the issue of “nepotism.” The mayor has at least a dozen relatives in the administration. Before the nepotism debate, I had commented that even in the private sector and also in the case of the US, with a budget in the trillion dollars, the budget process is always a challenge. People keep taking one fundamental given for granted, the scarcity of resources.

It is crucial for people to internalize the imperative to prioritize. But because of “pusong mamon” and “crab mentality,” we undermine our ability to succeed in managing undertakings, big and small. And “nepotism” is one manifestation when “family” is the be-all and end-all. We’ve tossed “community sense and the common good,” wittingly or unwittingly? And why the friars saw Juan de la Cruz as incapable of self-rule?

For example, while we recognize that poverty is greatest in rural Philippines and where agriculture remains underdeveloped, experts have asked: Why can’t we adopt the system of consolidation (or pulling small farms into a larger enterprise and where the key is managing an ecosystem – i.e., figure out and connect the dots beyond credit facility and farms-to-market roads) in order to drive economies of scale, innovation and competitiveness – which they have successfully done in Malaysia and Thailand? Sadly, with our inward-looking, parochial bias, we couldn’t be bothered? We really don’t mean it when we talk of benchmarking?

Add the absence of visionary leadership . . . we then have a perfect storm. 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?

I repeated the theme when I was interviewed by Bobit Avila on his TV show. How do we reinvent ourselves? Bobit reads this blog as well as the book where I had compiled a number of blog postings, and where I talked about “reinventing ourselves.” I understand there is a national transformation effort that is going on and is supported by Church people, both Catholic and non-Catholic. While there are those outside Metro Manila that are talking about “revolution” because of frustrations with “Imperial Manila.”

But as I reminded people, we had a bloodless revolution in People Power yet we’re back to square-one? On the other hand, following the Civil War, the Americans put community and the common good above all, “a government by the people, of the people and for the people” . . .  that is committed to “the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.”

As Bobit would stress, “look, from a small town here in Cebu and all the way to the corridors of power in every branch and through every layer of government, it is all about me and myself.” That's precisely why PHL needs visionary leadership. It is one that is able to instill a sense of purpose that people can commit to. An example is Deng Xiaoping. He challenged the Chinese people to learn from the success stories of capitalist Europe in order to accelerate the modernization and economic development of China, and recognize that the country had been left behind.

And from a sense of purpose would flow the elements that would make the pursuit of major undertakings more manageable. For example, an undertaking means producing an outcome or a product or a service. And critical thinking demands that the community be able to figure out the mandatory building blocks that will produce the outcome; and likewise to be forward-thinking and define the outcome against which to measure progress. And both indeed are overwhelming hurdles. And that is why pulling the community together and its best minds is imperative. But does our hierarchical system and structure get in the way? Rank has its privileges – but does not equate to the best minds. And Edison demonstrated that with the first-ever team-based, modern R&D.

And Steve Jobs, in the numerous patents Apple has won, doesn't have his solitary name in the paperwork, acknowledging that like everyone else, he's a team member. And so in the West, industry believes the educational system is wanting considering the demands of the real world: critical thinking, communication and teamwork skills. 

We want to reinvent ourselves? We better look into our hearts and our minds, including our focus on family. Family is no license to kill, to perpetuate a culture of impunity and to take nepotism for granted, if not a virtue.

At the recent Ayala-UP School of Economics forum on the state of the Philippine economy, NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan made an excellent, well-balanced presentation of what would pass with flying colors of a model SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. [My thanks to Professor Gerardo P. Sicat for graciously extending me the invitation.] Indeed we're no longer “the sick man of Asia.” But the challenges the secretary pointed out to sustain the higher trajectory that PHL has attained in terms of the elevated average growth rate over the last 5 years are enormous – i.e., we still lag our neighbors in practically every measure.

And as far as Juan de la Cruz is concerned – and as reflected in the frustrations of people in Cebu – self-declared hunger and poverty and the combined impact of unemployment and underemployment are still staggering. Put another way, we could be growing at 10% and dramatically reduce poverty if we address our challenges especially investment, infrastructure, industry and agriculture and good governance. [China did over 10% over the 10-year period 2001-2010.] And while we are debating the issue of inclusiveness, we like to dwell on the positives. Which is not bad per se because we have to celebrate successes. Yet if we're either from Ateneo or La Salle, every time our team would lose we are angry.

We can't sit on our laurels – and must strive to elevate our sense of competitiveness and sense of community and the common good. We are behind our neighbors . . . and that is clearly manifested in our embarrassing poverty picture. As Steve Jobs put it, “when behind, leapfrog.” And given public administration is not as efficient and productive and innovative and competitive as the private sector, we need to pull together more as a community . . . Charity begins at home but doesn't end there . . .

[This posting builds on the points I made at the forum; copy furnished Secretary Balisacan and World Bank Senior Economist Karl Kendrick Tiu Chua, a panelist at the forum]

No comments:

Post a Comment