Tuesday, June 2, 2015

“Ships that pass in the night . . .”

“. . . and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.” [Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]

Does Longfellow come to mind with the following news reports? (a) “Purisima invites Japan to invest in infrastructure, manufacturing,” Chino Leyco, Manila Bulletin, 26th May 2015; and (b) Aquino urged to focus on policy reforms,” Bernie Magkilat, Manila Bulletin, 26th May 2015.

“When you talk of the Philippines, there are many opportunities in infrastructure… and opportunities in terms of manufacturing . . . the robust economic growth of the Philippines . . . the youngest country in Asia . . . with a median age of 23 years old. And we will be in the demographic “sweetspot,” that means that majority of our population are between 15 and 65 working age for the next 40 or so years . . . We are also fast growing . . . We are the second fastest next to China, a large country. We have sound macroeconomic fundamentals, we are a current account surplus country for 13 or 14 consecutive years already . . .” [Leyco, op. cit.]

That must be the credit side of the ledger while the debit side reads: “The Philippine Business Groups (PBG) and Joint Foreign Chambers (JFC) . . . urged the Aquino administration to focus its final 12 months in office to enact critical policy reforms to ensure inclusive growth.”[Magkilat, op. cit.]

“In a letter to the President on May 15, 2015, PBG and JFC have identified critical policy reforms from both the executive and legislative branches of government. The list of reforms, aimed at ensuring growth through job generation, poverty reduction and global competitiveness, was a result of a month-long consultation process with the participating organizations.

“To ensure these objectives are met, the business groups would like the Aquino government to focus on institutionalizing integrity and good governance, accelerating infrastructure development, ensuring massive job generation, facilitating trade, increasing foreign investment, and boosting competitiveness.”

This is not the first time such conflicting messages have been captured in the news. How many times that while we had teams doing roadshows overseas to deliver our spiel to foreign investors back at home their representatives were delivering a sobering message?

Thus in the private sector they employ the tools of marketing effectiveness to minimize such risks. Selling or marketing is two-way especially in this 21st century world that is highly competitive. Whatever we wish to sell must represent competitive advantage. And competitive isn’t defined from our standpoint but that of the prospective buyer. In one word, selling or marketing is about empathy – i.e., to understand the buyer.

It isn’t victimhood like we’re victims of history and have a “fixed mindset.” But the “growth mindset” of successful people, which can be summarized, thus: “To believe that if something is not working or is ineffective, ask: What is it that I can do differently to change the situation?” See above re Aquino urged to focus on policy reforms.

Indeed we are exerting efforts to raise our competitiveness. But it goes beyond that. There are fundamentals that international agencies have shared with us which we must internalize if we expect investors to be on our side. “In an interview late Wednesday, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando M. Tetangco Jr. told reporters this was the considered assessment of the international credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P). They recognized the continuing good economic performance and the reforms that have been put in place that are supporting this performance…although they are also looking at further improvements in certain areas, like in infrastructure . . .” [Growth without infrastructure buildup not sustainable, Bianca Cuaresma, Business Mirror, 21st May 2015.]

“Governance and leadership matter. They lead to competitiveness . . . In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report . . . governance is captured under a section called Institutions. In this section, items such as budget reform and decision-making, the judiciary, nepotism and favoritism, law enforcement and security, corporate governance, and other measures are covered.” [Constituency for Reform, Guillermo M. Luz, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9th May 2015.]

“Researchers at University of the Americas Puebla in Mexico studied criminal impunity in 59 nations and concluded that the Philippines had the highest level of impunity after Mexico itself . . . A Rule of Law meaning that laws fairly composed, applied and enforced govern the acts of the nation and its citizens that sanctions are applied by the state and arbitrary action by individual government officials is not allowed. The Philippines sits at No. 60 out of 99 countries surveyed in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index.” [Impunity, Mike Wootton, The Manila Times, 26th May 2015]

One would assume that we in fact do get it? Sadly, we’re not unanimous on who, what and where we are. If we're still debating where we are, how can we figure out where we want to be – and more so, how we will get there?

“The Philippine Fair Competition Act (House Bill No. 5286) passed the House of Representatives on third and final reading last week, taking well over two decades to get this far—dating back to President Cory Aquino and the Eighth Congress, in fact. The Senate had already passed its own competition bill (Senate Bill No. 2282) last December . . .” [Game-changing reform, Cielito F. Habito, No Free Lunch, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 26th May 2015]

“Not surprisingly, traditional opponents of the measure, not necessarily with the greatest good for the greatest number at heart, will still try to stop the law even at this eleventh hour, or failing that, find ways to water it down and render it ineffective . . . Foremost perhaps is the emotionally appealing scare tactic that says the law will break up large Filipino enterprises and pave the way for foreign firms to lord it over our economy. Along with it is the argument that we need to let large Filipino firms get even larger and become internationally competitive (yes), and it may take stifling competition in order for that to happen (emphatic no!)”

And when we read “MVP submits highest bid for Calax” (Miguel R. Camus, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27th May 2015), one may assume we’re talking about a large Filipino firm? “Manuel V. Pangilinan-led Metro Pacific Investment Corp. (MPIC) is set to bag the 45.5-kilometer Cavite-Laguna Express (Calax) deal after submitting a surprise aggressive offer in a rebidding exercise for the public-private partnership (PPP) project that edged out rival San Miguel Corp.”

Until we read, but note the byline, it’s Bloomberg, not local media, “Ayala mulls partnership with Salim Group to bid for $3.8-B railway project,” Bloomberg, Manila Bulletin, 23rd May 2015. “Ayala Corporation, the Philippines’ oldest family-owned company, may partner with a venture of billionaire Anthoni Salim to bid for a $3.8-billion railway project, the most expensive infrastructure work to be auctioned by the government . . . Metro Pacific is the Philippine unit of First Pacific Co., which is controlled by Indonesia’s Salim Group.”

In the meantime our MSMEs have yet to embrace technology and innovation and exports; and malls (retailing) are still a major PHL industry. Of course, over $25 billion in OFW remittances will continue to prop us up. Yet our mindset can’t be anachronistic in fairness to succeeding generations. My Eastern European friends came out of the iron curtain relatively recently yet have been engaged in business-model experiments – beyond new product R&D lab work – because they’ve stepped up to global competition. While we Pinoys keep running away! How do we learn competitiveness? Yet it’s not surprising given our sheltered upbringing? Precisely the call of Francis?

No one will give us slack for the ambivalence in our traits and values. For instance, efforts to entice foreign investors cannot be an exercise in isolation. And indeed foreign investment is fundamental to economic growth and development as the Asian Tigers demonstrated.

Yet even more fundamental is for us to market a truly competitive PHL. Not as we defined it but as others have. It is all about empathy: “To believe that if something is not working or is ineffective, ask: What is it that I can do differently to change the situation?”

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