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?

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