Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sacred cows, status quo and reality

“Sacred cows at the NHCP (?),” Katrina Stuart Santiago, The Manila Times, 18th Jul 2015. “What I do not get, and have been unable to wrap my head around, is how anyone can discuss the Torre de Manila issue without actually reaching the bottom line: the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) gave DMCI permission to build that monster of a structure behind the Jose Rizal Monument in Luneta.”

“[M]odernization will not be easy, because the interest groups that resist reform are powerful, organized, and focused—while reform’s potential beneficiaries are weak, scattered and distracted.” [Fragmented into self-interested factions, they are unable to lead nation forward, JUAN T. GATBONTON, EDITORIAL CONSULTANT, The Manila Times, 11th Jul 2015]. “Our next President must find ways of harnessing Filipino idealism—particularly that of our young people. He must point us toward a national purpose. He must set out a series of national goals that will engage our civic spirit.

“Right now, we have no individual, no institution responsible for wider public interests beyond those of the individual and the family. We as a people need to develop a national ‘vision’—a shared preconception of the national future—and a set of national goals that everyone accepts.”

“International business groups have advised the Philippines to re-examine some of its policies to attract the inflow of more foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country. The American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) has expressed concern about the slowdown of the country’s FDI inflows in recent months.” [Foreign business groups urge review of FDI policies, Richmond S. Mercurio, The Philippine Star, 20th Jul 2015.]

“‘So I think that’s a reason for some re-examination about what the Philippines has been doing. There are still more reforms needed, it is a competitive world we’re living,’ Forbes said. He said it is important for countries in Southeast Asia, being the region with the fastest growing economy in the world, to get the most in foreign investments.

“‘Foreign investment in Vietnam is quite remarkable. It is now the number one exporter in this region to the US and is capturing the lion’s share of the relocation of investment from China. The Philippines can capture more,’ he said.”

“In the early years of a unified Vietnam, the government pursued disastrous experiments with collectivized farms and bans on private enterprise. The country’s leaders changed course around the time the Soviet Union collapsed, embracing the market economy, a pillar of the very system they had fought to defeat.” [Capitalist Soul Rises as Ho Chi Minh City Sheds Its Past, Thomas Fuller, The New York Times, 20th Jul 2015]

“Since then, Saigon, a freewheeling bastion of capitalism before 1975, has returned to its roots with vigor . . . If, for the Americans, the war here, in which 58,000 Americans and as many as three million Vietnamese died, was on some level about keeping Vietnam safe for capitalism, it turns out that they need not have worried. Capitalism here churns relentlessly, aided by what Ted Osius, the United States ambassador, calls ‘the most entrepreneurial people on earth.’

“Last year, 78 percent of registered companies in Ho Chi Minh City shut down, according to government statistics, as the country was emerging from a debt crisis. But the creation of new companies has since gathered pace; so far 26 percent more new companies have been formed this year than in the same period last year. City planners here speak approvingly of the intense competition and the constant cycle of corporate failure and rebirth.

“The name cards of government officials still say ‘Socialist Republic of Vietnam,’ but their talking points would bring a smile to Adam Smith . . . ‘Weak companies will fail; that’s normal,’ said Tran Anh Tuan, the acting president of the Ho Chi Minh City Institute for Development Studies, a government planning agency. ‘They can learn from failure. That’s a good way to develop.’”

That is how the Vietnamese define the real world! And how do we, Pinoys? “FILIPINOS ARE, by nature, optimistic. This was again validated by the results of a Social Weather Stations survey showing four out of every five Filipinos were confident that the Philippines could join the ranks of ‘developed’ countries.” [Optimistic people, Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21st Jul 2015]

“What was worrying about the results of the survey was that many of the respondents had a very restricted view of what a ‘developed country’ is, associating the term to access to affordable education and job opportunities. In fact, three out of 10 respondents replied ‘yes’ when asked if they thought that the Philippines was already a ‘developed’ country. While seven out of 10 opined that the country has yet to reach this status, half of the respondents believed that the country could attain it within 3-10 years.

“Past SWS surveys have shown that Filipinos are always optimistic about their future, but never with the quality of their lives for the past year from the date of the survey.”

“By advocating the very questionable ‘Filipino First’ policy, the Constitution and the laws deriving from it have given to the Filipino elite who have the monopoly of capital in the Philippines the monopolistic or oligopolistic control of vital industries, especially in the public utilities sector. The poor never benefit from ‘Filipino First’ policies . . . They benefit from the employment generated by those who can invest risk capital, whatever the nationality.  With very good intentions, those who are afraid that our natural resources and domestic markets may be ‘exploited’ by foreigners have actually encouraged some Filipino entrepreneurs to inflict their poor quality of services or goods at higher prices on tens of millions of hapless Filipinos.” [Misguided Nationalism (Part 1), Bernardo M. Villegas, Manila Bulletin, 19th Jul 2015]

What’s wrong with us, asks a columnist? We don’t want to be an island unto ourselves and be cut off from the real world? We don’t want optimism to be a façade for fatalism? We don’t want to confuse faith and governance? “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God which are God’s” is not an American invention! And we don’t want to struggle facing the 21st century where change is the only thing constant? Even the pope questions the mistaken notion of the absoluteness of the Vatican and keeps battling the Curia!

At the end of the day, it is family, church, school, government and society at large that form our traits and values or culture. And we don’t want them to be failed institutions stuck with sacred cows and the status quo shielding us from the real world?

And the risk is real: “Annual ranking finds Philippines more ‘fragile’ second year in a row,” D. E. D. Saclag, Business World, 19th Jun 2015. “THE PHILIPPINES slipped for the second time in a row in the latest Fragile States Index that ranks countries on levels of instability and the pressures they face, as its performance worsened in more than half of a dozen measures. The country placed 48th out of 187 countries in The Fund for Peace’s annual ranking after scoring 86.3 out of a possible 120. Swaziland occupied the same spot . . .”

“The Philippines’ performance this year put it in ‘high warning’ category along with 26 other countries like Russia (65th with a score of 80.0), Laos (55th, 84.5), as well as Angola, Cambodia and Lebanon (tied in 41st spot with scores of 88.1, 87.9 and 88.1, respectively).”

We want to be in good company, not in “high warning” category? To benchmark against the Asian Tigers and commit ourselves to be the next one? In the meantime we can’t just celebrate our strengths, talk about assets and not liabilities. That is, if we want to measure our true net worth, as accountants would tell us. In the same manner, social scientists won’t just recognize the driving forces, and not the restraining forces, if an enterprise or society wants to move forward. And we had to reach the age of reason before we were introduced to the Sacrament of Penance.

Is that how a SONA should be defined? In the private sector, it’s called a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] analysis, a navigational tool.

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