Thursday, April 30, 2015

Same old, same old

The vicious circle of Philippine politics has again reared its ugly head. I am writing this in New York and clearly it’s the same in this country and why only half would exercise their right to vote especially in the metro areas. These people, the writer included, would define law-abiding as most everyone would; and then some: it includes the right not to vote. (In a developing nation like the Philippines where democracy is still evolving, there are more compelling arguments to exercise the right.) And arguably they don’t vote because they don’t want to be party to a charade. In other words, there is the world of politics – which, sadly, is dysfunctional – and there’s the world outside politics. In our faith, for example, not everyone has to partake in the sacrament of marriage.

What is the object of Philippine politics? Is it about the common good as in economic development and nation building? Or is it about reinforcing the status quo – of political patronage, political dynasties, crony capitalism and an oligarchic economy? And we don't expect good governance to thrive under those conditions, reflective of a banana republic?

But our economy is growing!

My Syrian and Lebanese friends would say something similar. But they don’t put lipstick on a pig. They see doing business as a necessity and an opportunity. Because people need stuff. Someone has to produce them. “That’s the third time that the factory we’re moving supposedly to a safer location has been held for ransom. We’re hoping though that one of the three that we erected next to the Russian military base will be safe. We are assuming no one would dare come near it.”

But since there is war, where is the money coming from? They would have a long story to tell: The US, for example, has been giving aid to Israel and Egypt for many years. And they are doing it to other countries as well.

These friends have factories in other countries including Canada where we were meeting. “Do you know that there are young Arab-Canadians that have left and are fighting for the ISIS? It has nothing to do with ideology or religion. It has to do with ‘youth rebellion’. Instead of traveling to Woodstock, they travel to the Middle East and Africa.” That reminded me of young Norwegians being killed in Syria that friends have lamented.

What has that got to do with Philippine politics and economy? These friends generate wealth from the Middle East. And since it costs less to manufacture there, they only run a small facility in Canada. It is no different from American companies producing in China. In other words, their economy goes on despite the conflict, but they don’t expect to become the next Taiwan or Malaysia or Singapore.

Lebanon’s GDP per capita (at PPP) is $17,900, compared to PHL’s $7,000; Syria is behind PHL yet their latest poverty count (which needs to be updated) says they are much better than PHL’s 26.5%. And we Pinoys see the glass as half full or is that fatalism getting the better of us?

We are not the Middle East (yet have our own little war in Mindanao) but have been shackled by an oligarchic economy. Sadly we underestimate how it undermines development efforts and thus poverty continues to define this once ‘Pearl of the Orient’.

And woefully good governance goes beyond “daang matuwid”. If the supposedly most incorruptible president can't push the FOI and Arangkada, for example, there must be something terribly wrong? And what CJ Panganiban calls “kinship” may be at the bottom of our woes? We can't say no to all forms of kinship! Of course everywhere there is kinship. But ours ranks among the worst? The evidence? Beyond infrastructure or the lack of it (despite PPP) and our failure to industrialize, throw in corruption and we attract the least FDI. Not surprisingly, we lag in technology, innovation and competitiveness. Sadly, to us they're just terminologies?

And so we need to pluck some redeeming value from this reality? What about stepping up to the plate beyond seeking self-esteem? We may be high up in PHL hierarchy and would have greater need for it but PHL’s reality won’t change if we stick to same old, same old?

There are 28 million Filipinos that are poor and an almost like number that are hungry, i.e., half of our people claim hunger and/or poverty. If we’d care to comprehend that. 28 million is more than the entire population of Australia and just a bit less than that of Malaysia. They need more than CCT. They need to move up the ladder – and reclaim their lost souls; in one word, development. 

But why do we in fact deflate our own self-esteem?

“It embarrassed him to inform the Indian that our Facomas had long been gone. Studies have since attributed their demise to politics, corruption and mismanagement. At present, our own farm co-op system is marked by a few islands of success amid many failed or struggling ones.” [Good teacher, bad practitioner, Cielito F. Habito, No Free Lunch, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 Apr 2015]

“‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’ We’ve probably all heard that saying, originally traced to a 1903 play written by George Bernard Shaw. It may be unduly disparaging of teachers but, sadly, seems quite apt to the Philippines as a country. We’ve been good mentors to those around us, yet have been sorry underachievers, even laggards, in the very things they learned from us.

“There’s clearly much we can learn about growing the agricultural cooperative system from the Koreans, possibly the Indians as well. Ironically, it seems that both looked to us as mentor when they started out half a century ago.”

Sorry underachievers are we?

“While the Philippines needs pure hearts and smart minds, we are also in need of capable hands to bring paper to practice and deliver palpable service to the millions of our countrymen.” [Beyond good intentions, Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, Manila Bulletin, 28 Apr 2015]

“Government policies, rules, and regulations are meant to develop a more productive society and improve the lives of citizens. And yet, there seems to be a collective groan when these new policies are rolled out to the public.

“Just recently, taxpayers from all over the country voiced out their resistance to the electronic filing system of the Bureau or Internal Revenue (BIR).

“I am reminded of a quote from the late Sec. Jesse Robredo: “Hindi sapat na tayo ay matino lamang. Hindi rin sapat na tayo ay mahusay lamang. Hindi lahat ng matino ay mahusay, at lalong hindi naman lahat ng mahusay ay matino. Ang dapat ay matino at mahusay upang karapat-dapat tayong pagkatiwalaan ng pera ng bayan.”

“Good intentions and upright principles are vital in government, but so is capability, competency or the ability to implement properly. One without the other is good, but not good enough.”

With a few exceptions, like the one exhibited by Sen. Aquino, and why it’s edifying to read the piece of Ciel Habito, we pick and highlight what’s wrong with other nations like we’re in a race to the bottom. Sadly, that perspective is not what global competitiveness is about.

It is about being focused outward, not being biased to our inward-looking metrics. The power of benchmarking is in its simplicity and straightforwardness: it is picking and choosing what works – with the Asian Tigers, for example – in order to attain competitive advantage.

Development for the poor or self-esteem for the elite? Where are we? But are we sorry underachievers in the first place?

What about stepping up to the plate? And tossing fatalism?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Banana republic image undermines PHL development

Thank you Sen. Aquino! “For me and for a lot of people, this seems to be one of those … requirements to get to the next level where we can compete with the rest of the world, where countries will look at us, investors will look at us and will not see us as a banana republic but as a country where rules are in place, where regulations are in place and where we can actually use their regulations as parameters to move forward.” [PH needs competition law to level playing field – Sen. Aquino; ‘DROP THE BANANA REPUBLIC IMAGE,’ Voltaire Palaña, The Manila Times, 21st Apr 2015]

“. . . I think what people say when you talk to them and you tell them . . . more options, more choices, lower prices, better for the consumers and you’re fighting monopolies and cartels, definitely people appreciate and understand that. If you’re part of the public discussion . . . that being part of the public discussion will help us, will help the president to put in people that will honor the objectives of this bill and really be able to create that new regime for our country.

“Competition lawyer Anthony A. Abad . . . stressed that the country needs to move forward in putting market rules in place. The government has taken initial steps to liberalize the economy and allow competition . . . But after that, there was no follow-through… What are the rules of the game? When you say free market or fair market, it should be — everybody is competing. What is anti-competition, that’s collusion, cartel … and you use it to exclude other competitors. We need [the rule of] law to be able to determine that.”

Wikipedia: “In political science, the term banana republic is a pejorative descriptor for a servile dictatorship that abets or supports, for kickbacks, the exploitation of large-scale . . . agriculture, especially banana cultivation. In economics, a banana republic is a country operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by a collusion between the State and favored monopolies.”

“Economists and legal experts said lawmakers should not give in to lobbying from some sectors that aim to water down the proposed Fair Competition Act—which is now inching closer to approval in Congress—through various exemption provisions.” [‘Don’t water down competition law,’ Catherine Pillas, Business Mirror, 21st Apr 2015]

Of course! Newton's third law is at work: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more Sen. Aquino appears to get traction, the greater will be the lobbying efforts to undermine the initiative. Sen. Aquino needs more supporters from every sector.

But we like seeing the glass as half full and so enjoy reading reports about PH being a trillion-dollar economy – despite all the “ifs” and caveats! And they are real barriers if we don’t succeed in shedding our banana republic image!

“As a word of warning, the IHS analysis points to the challenge of mobilizing both foreign and domestic investment flows into the manufacturing sector as the long-term outlook for the country’s future development will be heavily dependent on the ability to make the manufacturing sector more competitive . . . A key priority for the Philippines must be to attract greater FDI into the manufacturing sector, in order to boost employment growth and make the Philippines a competitive Asean manufacturing export hub. More FDI inflows will help reduce poverty by boosting jobs growth and household incomes.” [‘PH seen a trillion-dollar economy by 2029 – HIS; EVEN IF GROWTH SLACKENS TO 5.5%,’ Mayvelin U. Caraballo, The Manila Times]

And that’s precisely the point. We Pinoys have yet to sort out, despite being a witness to how nations develop, our ambivalence, that is, should we follow the Asian Tigers and be an open economy and truly attract FDIs? But are we wedded to an archaic set of values, that of a parochial-hierarchical-cacique-oligarchic economy?

“Another key challenge for the Philippines, the study said, is to boost infrastructure investment to create high-quality transport infrastructure for roads, ports and airports, as well as for power generation and transmission—all essential for spurring growth in manufacturing and services.” [Caraballo, op. cit.]

“The country continues to face other economic development challenges such as poverty and unemployment, it added. Poverty and unemployment remain very high in the Philippines, with around 28 percent of the population still living in poverty according to government estimates, while the total number of unemployed or underemployed workers exceeds 10 million.

“Creating a diversified economy with key growth industries that can generate rapid jobs growth will be a key strategic imperative for the government.

“Sustained rapid growth will require continued economic reform to improve the business climate of the Philippines, making it more attractive for FDI into sectors such as manufacturing and tourism, the study concluded.”

Do we have the big picture and the North Star yet? But where is our heart? Are we prepared and committed to support Sen. Aquino so that the competition law does not suffer the fate of the FOI or Arangkada? We can’t keep putting initiatives on the table – aka “crab mentality” – when it means the big picture and the North Star don’t have clarity in our heart . . . and our mind?

In the final analysis, freedom and democracy does not square with an archaic set of values, that of a: (a) hierarchical, (b) cacique and (c) oligarchic economy.

And in the 21st century, parochialism does not square with global competition that demands competitive levels of investment reflected in: (a) world-class technology and innovation; (b) in the building blocks of people, product and market development: (c) in the construct of an economy that yields a balanced portfolio of industry, agribusiness and services; and (d) even more fundamentally, in good governance that can erect the platform for institution-building and infrastructure development.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Cultures are stubborn

“France is stubborn. It is an idea, after all. Ideas must be defined against something. France has little choice but to define itself against the English-speaking world, rushing after money when other consolations abound. It was the French epicure Brillat-Savarin who noted: ‘I have drawn the following inference, that the limits of pleasure are as yet neither known nor fixed.’” [Confessions of a Francophile, Roger Cohen, The New York Times, 14th Apr 2015]

“Perhaps it’s the perfection of Paris in these early spring days that makes all the chat about moroseness seem facile — the sweet breeze, the wide bright sky on the banks of the Seine, the low-slung bridges with their subtle fulcrums, the early-morning silence (enveloping enough for the sound of a woman’s heels on the sidewalk to be audible), the city’s gentle awakening, the curve of a zinc roof, the flat-topped pollarded trees along the gravel pathways of the Tuileries, the etched shadows on limestone, the streets that beckon and the boulevards that summon. If this is the vapid grandeur of a fading power, I’ll take it!                  
“Of course, Britain has raced ahead . . . Thatcher-revolutionized itself, uncrimped itself, and London has become the global city par excellence, while Paris has merely burnished the credentials of its beauty. France has grown sullen in its defiance of global modernity. Well, so be it!

“Few countries would have handled the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 with such rigor, transparency and speed. Watching Brice Robin, the Marseille prosecutor, I was reminded that public service in France is still a high calling that draws many of the country’s best minds. It is not a mere second-best to the lucrative private sector. Once again the police — applauded by left-wing crowds in the vast demonstration after the Charlie Hebdo killings in January — showed superb professionalism. President François Hollande was measured and composed, his response appropriate at every step.”

“France is a country that works. It could work better. But it works in its way. And if it worked better, by the standards of the Anglo-Saxon world, it would also lose some essence of its particular functionality.”

It is a country that works. “Thanks to the sheer guts and vision of many of our small and medium entrepreneurs, they have persisted despite all the odds thrown their way. As the saying goes: no guts, no glory. In the Doing Business ranking for 2015 by the World Bank, the Philippines dropped nine notches, from 86th in rank in the 2014 report to 95th . . . There are 10 indicators used to measure ease of doing business. Not surprisingly, starting a business is our weakest points: of the 189 countries in the ranking, the Philippines is ranked 164th, or just 25 steps to the bottom rung . . . It takes, on the average, about 34 days to get a business permit, with the longest wait in obtaining a business permit from the local government office (six days), getting printed receipts and invoices (seven days), and registering with the Social Security System (seven days).” [Starting business not fun in Phl, Rey Gamboa, The Philippine Star, 16th Apr 2015]

But didn’t we read about this many times before or at least 3 years ago, if not earlier? “DTI launches PBR at QC, Monday, March 19, 2012. Starting a business in Quezon City is made faster and more convenient with the Philippine Business Registry (PBR) now available at Quezon City Hall . . . The PBR at Quezon City, which was inaugurated today by DTI Secretary Gregory L. Domingo and QC Mayor Herbert Bautista, is expected to facilitate the business registration process of applicants who want to set up business in Quezon City,”[]

“PBR is the integration of registration processes of five government line agencies - Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-ibig), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and Social Security System (SSS) - into a single application system, which cuts down the processing time from two weeks to 30 minutes.”

Is ours a country that works? It does if we believe press releases on a subject that has played like a broken record? “Gov’t unveils reforms in doing business,” Louella D. Desiderio, The Philippine Star, 15th Apr 2015. “The head of 12 government institutions signed a memoranda making it easier to do business in the Philippines. From the current 16-step, 34-day process, the set of reforms announced yesterday cuts it to a simple 6-step, 8-day process. Payroll-related payments will also be reduced from 36 to 13. Reforms will roll out throughout the year, starting in Quezon City, and are expected to significantly boost the country’s competitiveness.”

“The Philippine government has launched reforms aimed at simplifying the process of registering a corporation, as well as payroll-related payments to provide ease in the conduct of business in the country.

“A memorandum of understanding to implement the reforms was signed yesterday by the following institutions: Department of Finance, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bureau of Internal Revenue, Social Security System (SSS), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the local government of Quezon City.”

We can be stubborn with our culture . . . but we’re not France? For example, we still have to internalize that parochialism has sunk us and will continue to sink us given how much investment, technology and innovation have advanced the Asian Tigers. But not only. In the process they have progressed ahead of us in people development, product development and market development. And now we’re looking at Vietnam and Cambodia closing in fast. Yet we still don’t realize that we aren’t doing Mindanao a favor with the peace council but are in fact doing ourselves a world of good, if Mindanao is able to contribute its fair share to the economy and in nation building?

It is not rocket science. It’s about resources, economies of scale, and the power of diversity. The US despite the racism by certain sectors, by and large, has been open and welcoming. And who are the people – that are not white men, a group that is to become the minority – that led America to advance its ecosystem reflected in the massive levels of investment it attracts and the technology and innovation that comes out of its hopper? And despite its education challenges, it continues its march forward in people, product and market development?

Sadly, parochialism will flourish in the Philippines because of how we value hierarchy – and will be left behind because of the archaic tendencies that come with it?

“France is stubborn. It is an idea, after all . . . It was the French epicure Brillat-Savarin who noted: ‘I have drawn the following inference, that the limits of pleasure are as yet neither known nor fixed.’”

“More recent work in philosophy includes various forms of realism about the world: the idea that reality is not the product of consciousness, or of human perceptual structures or languages or interpretive communities, but exists independently. We don’t make the world, as one might put it; the world makes us. Where for decades or even centuries, philosophy has focused on our representations and descriptions of the world, on human consciousness and cultural systems, many are now turning to the external features of the world that constitute the content of our experiences and the context of our social practices.” [Philosophy Returns to the Real World, Crispin Sartwell, The Stone, The New York Times, 13th Apr 2015; The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.]

“Let’s call this phase after postmodernism post-postmodernism – “popomo” for short. There are many varieties of this recommitment to the world, from thinkers across disciplines, including the speculative realism of figures such as Graham Harman and Jane Bennett; externalism in philosophy of mind, led by Andy Clark and Mark Rowlands; the “new materialism” of Rosi Braidotti or Karen Barad; Viki McCabe‘s cognitive psychology; the physicist Lee Smolin‘s defense of the reality of time; and Bruno Latour‘s anthropology.”

Thanks to my late Jesuit friend, and as my wife would say, I’m a “bone-head realist” and can relate to Sartwell’s “In graduate school I actually took to calling myself a “bone-head realist.” Yet would always look forward to dining at a couple of French restaurants in the city and in the suburbs [of New York.] On second thought, we just had a dinner to remember in a Lebanese restaurant in Montreal. It’s one of my favorites. Thanks to a Lebanese and a Syrian friend; all I need is ask.

Monday, April 20, 2015

North Star against our "bida" culture

If among the bishops in the CBCP – and the cardinals in the Curia – the North Star isn't preeminent, what more in government? A few times this blog pointed out that even in corporate America, the reality exists. And that after seven years of being a witness, someone had to say enough is enough. And so at the first opportunity, as a regional manager, we pushed and called a spade a space and became known as “the father of goal alignment” at this MNC.

Consider how out of sync government bureaucracy can be: (a) “DTI exec warns vs DOF measure that may impede companies’ competiveness”; (b) “Coconut levy funds… so near yet so far” (c) “Volkswagen Philippines President and CEO John Philip Orbeta urged the government to make up its mind . . .”; (d) “Writing off auto manufacturing in PH.”

It’s the human condition. We value our own ideas and which explains why even empires become passé. Isn’t the world waiting for the demise of Uncle Sam with China (not long ago had begged for Western money and technology) rubbing it in via the AIIBank? And the more people and nations think highly of themselves the more they fall into the trap of ideology – that can become archaic?

“The Things I Carried Back,” John F. Burns, The New York Times, 11th Apr 2015; he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent whose postings over four decades included Bosnia, Afghanistan, Russia, China, Iraq and South Africa. “In my case, poking from the very top of my traveler’s backpack is something you might expect of a reporter who spent long years in what were then some of the nastiest places in the world, each of them fraudulently dressed up, in their enveloping propaganda, as something entirely different, and benign. What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises.”

“From Soviet Russia to Mao’s China, from the Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban to the repression of apartheid-era South Africa, I learned that there is no limit to the lunacy, malice and suffering that can plague any society with a ruling ideology, and no perfidy that cannot be justified by manipulating the precepts of a Mao or a Marx, a Prophet Muhammad or a Kim Il-sung.”

Are we as Catholics ideologues? But then Francis sees ideologues as suffering from leprosy!

As some of my Bulgarian friends would explain, even with the fall of Soviet-style socialism in Eastern Europe, they didn’t expect those that had called the shots to adhere to the new order. “YOUNGER Ukrainian intellectuals look not only to Dr. Khersonsky’s experiences as a Soviet dissident for guidance, but also to his experiences with systemic collapse. While he said he initially welcomed capitalism, the economic turmoil that followed Ukraine’s independence was a disappointment. ‘What we received was a criminal capitalism,’ he said.” [A Craftsman of Russian Verse Helps Ukraine Find Its New Voice, Sally McGrane, The New York Times, 10th Apr 2015]

“In the meantime, his work as a psychiatrist — a dark-red velvet couch sits in the corner of the dacha for patients — helps keep him calm . . . Dr. Khersonsky said that if the opportunity arose, he would be happy to psychoanalyze his country.

“If Ukraine came to lie on my couch, I would say, ‘You need a long process of integration,’ he said. ‘I might also tell her she needs to develop a better sense of reality. And of course I will remind her she should visit me twice a week for one hour. I won’t charge her much, because of her financial difficulties.’

“‘Ukraine can only become a whole state by admitting its differences,’ he said. ‘Admitting, and admiring.’ Dr. Khersonsky — an increasingly influential voice in Ukraine’s intellectual circles — has for years advocated moving away from the idea that Ukrainian nationality should be determined by ethnicity.

“But watching the pro-European protests in 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, and the change in leadership in 2014, he became increasingly aware of something else. While his mother tongue, the bulk of his cultural heritage and most of his artistic fame have come from Russia, he felt he was Ukrainian at heart.”

And closer to home: “STEPS should be taken to ensure the controversial measure to monitor incentives being pushed by the Department of Finance (DOF) will not impede the competitiveness of individual companies, said an official of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).”[DTI exec warns vs DOF measure that may impede companies’ competitiveness, Catherine Pillas, Business Mirror, 12th Apr 2015]

“A source privy to the discussions on the Tax Incentive Monitoring and Transparency Act (Timta) reiterated the DTI’s general opposition to the bill, saying the DOF is pushing hard on provisions in the Timta that may violate companies’ confidentiality and pare down their competitiveness.

Should the reality then surprise us? “The Senate and House of Representatives are consolidating their own versions of the two measures separately. However, both the Timta and the rationalization of fiscal incentives (RFI) are still stuck in the committee levels of each chamber, and chances are slim that neither one will be able to pass the RFI or the Timta.”

But can we truly move on? “We are almost there. Let’s rally behind the PCA and get the Coconut Industry Road Map approved by the President and move on!” [Coconut levy funds… so near yet so far, Dr. Emil Javier, Manila Bulletin, 11th Apr 2015]

“The notion of a perpetual trust fund remains valid and relevant . . . The principle could be embedded in the Road Map which the President required of PCA and OPASFAM. The coconut farmers and like-minded scientists, academe, agribusiness professionals and managers should actively engage themselves in the articulation of the Coconut Industry Road Map to make sure this principle of perpetuity as well as the mobilizing of modern technology and management systems are built in into the Road Map.

“Preparing the Coconut Industry Road Map should not be a big deal. We have repeatedly gone over the terrain in the annual coconut summits convened by PCA. Privately the coconut farmers are fed up. As venerable Ka Oscar Santos of Quezon laments, he hopes the preparation of the required Coconut Industry Road Map will not take that long because HE HAS little time left!

“PCA does not have monopoly of competence of the many facets of coconut industry development. In fact the greater part of that competence are in the state colleges and universities (SCUs), in the research institutes of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) as well as in private industry. The strategy therefore for PCA is to use its convening (and funding power) to mobilize all the above public and private organizations in the articulation and prospective implementation of the Coconut Industry Road Map . . .”

So road maps are not a panacea? “Orbeta noted that President Aquino even visited VW facilities during his visit to Germany to show how interested this German carmaker is on the Philippines. ‘So government should really be serious to create an ecosystem for the development of an automotive industry,’ he said.” [Volks PH eyes existing auto policy as entry point, Bernie Magkilat, Manila Bulletin, 13th Apr 2015]

“[T]he frustration at the apparent lack of seriousness behind the Administration’s “roadmap” is still evident . . . The impression one gets from listening to a variety of knowledgeable viewpoints . . . is that the government’s plan was developed without consideration of competitive factors in other countries . . .” [Writing off auto manufacturing in PH, Ben D. Kritz, The Manila Times, 13th Apr 2015]

Ergo: We’re stuck with OFW remittances and services (BPOs) and behind in agribusiness and industry? Will North Star – i.e., the construct of our economy and nation – ever be in our psyche as a people? Or a sense of purpose – and guiding principles? Only if we unlearn parochialism?

Who will teach us like a Lincoln that American presidents to this day would look up to? He is unquestionably the standard . . . He sort of lives somewhere in the stratosphere.” [Abraham Lincoln, the One President All of Them Want to Be More Like, Peter Baker, The New York Times, 14th Apr 2015]

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Let’s get real II

The ambivalence in our traits and values would constantly reflect who we are as a people? For example, can we be truly proud that ours is a rule of law? Consider the following news report where “Philippine officials were not available for comment.”

“‘The Philippine justice system likewise remains ‘inexperienced’ in dealing with IPR-related cases, the USTR added . . . [T]he agency said corruption in the country remains ‘pervasive’, discouraging American firms from doing business here. Both foreign and domestic investors have expressed concern about the propensity of Philippine courts and regulators to stray beyond matters of legal interpretation into policymaking and about the lack of transparency in judicial and regulatory processes,’ read the report.

“‘Concerns also have been raised about courts being influenced by bribery and improperly issuing temporary restraining orders to impede legitimate commerce.’ Philippine officials were not available for comment.” [PHL not opening up enough – US, Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag, Business World, 8th Apr 2015]

How do we square that to the impulse to start a major undertaking invoking the rule of law? Meanwhile, Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said there is no need to create any presidential directive on the creation of the National Peace Council that will discuss the proposed BBL. Valte said there is no need for an executive order (EO) or an administrative order (AO) for the National Peace Council, noting that it is composed of private individuals.” [PH faces daunting challenges, Edd K. Usman, Manila Bulletin, 11th Apr 2015]

But are we as a people predisposed to the pursuit of peace – “to be open and welcoming”? Or do we wish to throw the book because the people of Mindanao aren’t like us? The marginalization of Mindanao – because they are different – is effectively dismembering the country since Mindanao cannot pull its weight in economic development and nation-building. Yet that would escape us? Which isn’t surprising given we have yet to sort out how a parochial bias undermines economic development and nation building?

And even within the CBCP it appears the bishops aren’t on the same page? “‘I have paid close attention to the arguments of the legal experts summoned by the houses of Congress to shed light on the constitutional issues, and I am convinced that there are some very crucial points of constitutional law that ought to be resolved,’ [Archbishop Socrates B.] Villegas said. He acknowledged, however, that interpretation of the law or the Constitution was not part of his expertise, and that he was forming his conclusion from what the experts have said.” [CBCP: Moro law full of holes, Sara Susanne D. Fabunan, Manila Standard Today, 9th Apr 2015]

“Villegas said in his statement that he was not speaking for the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines or as the archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, but ‘as a Filipino and as a believer in Christ . . . All Filipinos, not only its officials, swear to uphold and defend the Constitution,’ he said.”

What about the pursuit of peace? Ireland is a good example and gives meaning to the words of Francis – “to be open and welcoming.” “From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace.” [‘Urbi et Urbi’: Official Vatican text of Pope Francis’ Easter message, AP, 6th Apr 2015]

If we Catholics would want to draw a line in the sand, wouldn’t non-Catholics want it as well? “. . . Sultan Fisdausi Abbas . . . said that [Miriam Coronel] Ferrer’s [chair of the government peace panel] statement that war would ensue if Congress does not pass the BBL was a direct threat to legislators. Abbas, who fought for the MNLF during the Mindanao rebellion in the 1970s, said that the passage of the BBL would, in fact, lead to more bloodshed.” [Fabunan, op. cit.]

“What it takes to promote peace,” Rina Jimenez-David, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8th Apr 2015. “. . . Cardinal Orlando Quevedo wrote that in the light of the ‘mutual distrust’ arising from the bloodshed that attended the operation in Mamasapano, there needs to be a ‘change of mind and heart’ not just among those working for and promoting peace, but also, more importantly, among the general populace.”

“Of immediate concern for Cardinal Quevedo was the need to ‘promote reconciliation and reduce biases and prejudices,’ with the possibility broached of gathering ‘widows and children from the MILF, SAF and civilians to share their experiences of grief for lost loved ones.’ After all, there is no monopoly of righteous anger or grievance over the events at Mamasapano, even if some parties would prefer pitting the grieving families and communities against one another.

“As for ‘saving’ the BBL from falling victim to the current atmosphere of blame and naysaying, Cardinal Quevedo noted the need for a more aggressive ‘information tour’ to address the questions raised on the ‘objectionable’ provisions of the BBL, with ‘media people, universities, business and religious groups as primary targets.’”

Indeed we have daunting challenges: The Philippines faces daunting challenges as it tries to attain lasting peace in Muslim Mindanao, convenors of the National Peace Council said yesterday.” [PH faces daunting challenges, Edd K. Usman, Manila Bulletin, 11th Apr 2015]

“Among the daunting tasks that the government needs to address in a bid to attain peace are: “history and culture of the Muslims; centuries of neglect, deep-seated prejudices and biases; the unfortunate clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, last January 25; and the strident voices denouncing the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and calling for all-out war. These were among the subjects tackled by the peace council in their first meeting held last Monday in Makati City.

“At the same meeting, the council convenors agreed to focus initially on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which continues to suffer rough sailing in Congress in the aftermath of the Mamasapano carnage that left 44 police commandos and 18 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters dead.

“Present in the first meeting were former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., Ambassador Howard Dee, business tycoon Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, and youth leader Bai Rohanisa Sumndad Usman. They were earlier named, along with Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, by President Aquino to convene a national summit to look into the BBL.

“The peace council decided not to name a chairman to preserve the spirit of collegiality. Instead, the convenors will divide the work as required.”

But is there a caveat? For example, if there is no chairman, who is the keeper of the big picture and the North Star? Are there risks to contend with? Precisely why leadership matters. Social scientists call it “groupthink.” Groupthink occurs when a homogenous highly cohesive group is so concerned with maintaining unanimity that they fail to evaluate all their alternatives and options.”[]

But we can read on: “Our overarching goal is peace with justice and development in Muslim Mindanao: a political peace settlement that addresses the injustices inflicted on the Bangsamoro religious, cultural, and political identity as a people, as after all, they had their political identity before there was a Philippine nation; the human development of the Bangsamoro people by restoring their human rights and freedom to reverse their economic and social marginalization which has resulted in their human poverty level that is about twice the national average; a process of cultural and spiritual healing to overcome the deep-seated prejudices that continue to divide our people . . .”

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

“A learning PHL”

We’re a proud people and to be a proud people is universal. And so it’s refreshing that we are reading more and more – and perhaps coming around – that as a nation we have also things to learn?

“The fact that Philippine agriculture had been stagnant for the last three decades and rural poverty remains as a national disgrace is a powerful indictment of how badly we have managed the sector. The world has moved on but unfortunately we seemed to have been unwillingly stuck in a sociological time warp. Obviously it cannot be business as usual. If we were to get out of the rut we are in, we have to change tack. Rolando Dy’s prescription is agribusiness. His book ought to be required reading for the next Secretary of Agriculture.”[Agribusiness and inclusive growth, Dr. Emil Javier, Manila Bulletin, 4th Apr 2015]

“The key message of the book is that we won’t go very far in rural development without a fundamental shift in how we approach development in the countryside. All these years we have approached agriculture from the perspective of a farmer and his family raising crops, livestock, rearing or catching fish and hewing wood and other products from forests. This traditional populist and romantic notion of agriculture as a way of life has dominated how we have organized public higher education, research and extension.

“But what is the alternative? Family farming focuses on the family enterprise, primarily on production. Agribusiness, on the other hand, looks basically broadly in the ‘production, manufacturing, distribution and retailing of food products and services.’

“Agribusiness therefore encompasses not only family farms but also firms in food and beverage processing; those in the manufacture and supply of good seeds, fertilizers, chemical, animal and fish feeds, as well as those engaged in food transport, storage, distribution and retailing (sari-sari stores and supermarkets).”

In other words, it is about an ecosystem. It’s exciting if we can deliver a silver bullet every now and then or demonstrate Pinoy abilidad but development is not a walk in the park. Nor is it about populism. It is about economies of scale with its own demands, i.e., investment, technology, innovation as well as people, product and market development. The parameters that progressive and successful global enterprises have pursued.

“In basic education, there is now wide appreciation among educators that effective learning takes place well beyond the walls of school classrooms. Not only must communities be part of their children’s education; communities and families also stand to learn and benefit from the education process itself. The school is the community, and the community at large is in turn the object and beneficiary of the education system. The community, after all, holds the greatest stake in its citizens’ education.” [Primacy of community, Cielito F. Habito, No Free Lunch, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7th Apr 2015]

“Based on global experience, the World Bank and other development institutions now swear by community driven development (CDD) as a most effective tool in pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development . . . All these point to what more and more analysts have come to believe: that the community, more than the individual or household, should be the unit of analysis and intervention in development work. Perhaps the time has come for a new paradigm that sees collective outcomes arising not from individuals pursuing their individual greed (a la Adam Smith), but rather, from communities whose members work collectively for the common good.”

In other words, while we are a proud people and equally proud of our focus on family, the common good comes from embracing community – including Mindanao where it appears many remain non-committal to peace? Yet as a predominantly Catholic nation, we are well aware that our faith connotes universality.

Or as Francis puts it, we must be open and welcoming. “From the risen Lord we ask the grace not to succumb to the pride which fuels violence and war, but to have the humble courage of pardon and peace.” [‘Urbi et Urbi’: Official Vatican text of Pope Francis’ Easter message, AP, 6th Apr 2015]

And there's so much learning we must consider given our many daunting challenges. For example, design thinking or human-centered thinking captures how we can better do problem-solving and/or decision-making.
“Design Thinking or DT has five rules: team over individual, agreement, failure-iteration, simplicity, and diversity. [Ricardo A. Lim, Notes on design thinking, Asian Institute of Management, 2015] “First, the unit of DT is the team. The second rule is agreement. A common rule of brainstorming and improvisation is to make and accept offers. When members contribute, especially in the ideation phase, they must observe the ‘yes and’ (vs. ‘no but’) rule, where people do not question ideas and agree to build on others’ ideas further.

“The third rule is failure and iteration. DT requires that prototypes be made fast and crude, and shown to the users for immediate feedback.

“The fourth rule is simplicity. Elegance in DT comes not from designing a complex product, but simple products with repeatable features. Complexity may achieve product desirability, but may be too expensive or technically infeasible to make. DT defaults to simplicity, to assure that a desirable, viable, and feasible product eventually gets created.

“The final rule is diversity. Teams are best stocked with heterogeneous knowledge, skills and life backgrounds. An overly homogeneous group (e.g. all engineers, or all adults, or all men) tend to come to false agreement faster and tend to view issues from a limited perspective. The five rules are necessary but not sufficient conditions for DT to succeed. Ideally team members should be highly motivated, flexible, and tolerant of others; in reality such a mix may not happen all the time.”

Should that give us Pinoys pause or why we can’t pull together as one people and one nation? That is, we expect everyone else to be like us, “an overly homogenous group” – of Catholics yet not committed to universality but parochialism?

If we are to be “a learning PHL” or nation, we have so much on our plate to sort out. And we are the regional laggard for a reason, i.e., that as a nation we have things to learn? Despite “daang matuwid”!

Consider: “The Washington D.C.-based agency, [USTR], in the 444-page report that was released last April 1 . . . devoted seven pages to the Philippines . . .” [PHL not opening up enough – US, Daryll Edisonn D. Saclag, Business World, 8th Apr 2015]

“[T]he agency said corruption in the country remains ‘pervasive’, discouraging American firms from doing business here. ‘Both foreign and domestic investors have expressed concern about the propensity of Philippine courts and regulators to stray beyond matters of legal interpretation into policymaking and about the lack of transparency in judicial and regulatory processes,’ read the report.

“Concerns also have been raised about courts being influenced by bribery and improperly issuing temporary restraining orders to impede legitimate commerce . . . Philippine officials were not available for comment.”

Que sera, sera? Is that why our neighbors attract more FDIs . . . and are more developed . . . and have drastically reduced poverty? And we have a Mindanao problem like we need a hole in the head?