Saturday, October 31, 2015

Wall Street’s short-term thinking . . . and traditional politics

“The economic growth rate has nowhere to go but up given the economy’s traditional strong performance in the second half, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said yesterday . . . Philippine economic expansion has been ‘good’ so far and would ‘continue to improve’ in the second semester. Growth slowed to 5.3 percent in the second quarter from 6.4 percent in the same period a year ago. The government has set a seven- to eight-percent target for the year, but has long resigned to hitting even just an average of six percent.” [Economy has nowhere to go but up – Abad, Prinz P. Magtulis, The Philippine Star, 22nd Oct 2015]

Do we have a perfect storm in our hands? On top of short-term thinking there is fatalism and resignation and disconnect to boot? “I received this e-mail from a reader, Eric Cantuba.” [Duterte the political rock star, Boo Chanco, The Philippine Star, 21st Oct 2015] “On a recent trip from Davao to Manila, I bumped into Sec. Procy Alcala . . . I asked him if he can relay my message to Sec. Jun Abaya since they are both in P-Noy’s circle of friends. He said he has a direct line to Sec. Jun while brandishing his phone.

“So I told Mr. Alcala na baka pwede namang ayusin ng DOTC yung traffic management sa NAIA runway. Our flight had already been delayed for two hours. Sec. Procy just shrugged his shoulder like it is not a big deal . . . He continued by saying “ganito din naman katraffic sa ibang bansa” . . . I was saddened and totally felt our government officials are so disconnected with the common tao.

“. . . I no longer wonder why Mr. Abaya, or any personality within P-Noy’s inner circle are just going through the motions na busy sila. I feel bad about the state of our country lalo na sa mga kamay ng kagaya nila.”

“‘There’s still a lot of growth to further heighten the domestic demand component of the economy. The capacity is huge,’ Abad said during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay at the Luneta Hotel.” [Magtulis, op. cit.] “Traditional drivers of holiday spending, as well as accelerated government spending would work on the economy’s favor. The budget chief said this would help offset weak external factors which are ‘beyond our control.’ Among the weaker spots of growth in the second quarter came from exports, which grew by a slower 3.7 percent in the first half . . .”

But how disconnected is government? “Arbitration cases against the government should be the last resort in settling business claims. But when they become frequent, foreign investors take notice and begin to wonder about the business climate and the regulatory risks in a country.” [Arbitration cases harming PH image, Ray S. Eñano, The Standard, 14th Oct 2015]

“Foreign businessmen weigh the regulatory risks in doing business in the Philippines. Such risks are manifested in the level of foreign investments, which the Philippines is trying to attract. Manila, so far, has a poor scorecard in this aspect . . . The dismal investment figure is not about to improve, if the government of President Benigno Aquino III keeps reneging on its contractual obligations.”

But there’s a breath of fresh air. “For the 2016 candidates, an agenda for service,” Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina Jr., Manila Bulletin, 19th Oct 2015. Widespread poverty, injustice, joblessness, disease, homelessness, and traffic chaos, among others — the reversal of this dire situation demands that we elect in to public office not just popular personalities but God-fearing, highly competent, and compassionate local and national leaders who can bring to the nation excellence in governance.”

“To succeed, the new administration must implement the 10-point agenda for reform and development proposed by a nationwide multi-sectoral movement of workers, farmers, fishermen, urban poor, indigenous people, people with disabilities, senior citizens, youth, women, faith-based, and advocacy groups who comprise the “Katipunan ng mga Manggagawa at Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (KMMP).”

“This agenda for reform and development is as follows: 1.Modernization and industrialization of agriculture, with full implementation of agrarian reform, natural resources and fisheries reform, as keys to achieve food security, job creation, poverty eradication, and balanced rural-urban development.

“2. Rapid industrialization and employment creation through appropriate investments (including public-private partnerships), government spending, promotion of micro, small, and medium enterprises, and self-employment schemes.”

With due respect to the Senator, the writer is not quoting the entire 10-point agenda. Given his private sector background he is scared every time he reads a dissertation-like program or agenda. Why? Given our Pinoy “crab mentality” whenever one gives an inch, it translates to surrendering much more. It’s not about the more the merrier or it's “more fun in the Philippines” – it’s chaos and confusion . . . and why we haven’t moved beyond square-one?

More precisely, we have to internalize the imperative to erect the building blocks of major undertakings – or the equivalent of an ecosystem – and prioritize the ones that give the biggest bang for the buck. Even the Creator needed seven days to complete the task.

But then again, there is welcome news. Mindanao gets bulk of infra projects approved by PRDP,” Carmelito Q. Francisco, Business World, 22nd Oct 2015. “A total of 190 infrastructure projects with a combined cost of P11.3 billion have been approved for implementation under the Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP), with Mindanao cornering the bulk at P5.1 billion for 113 sub-projects.”

“Luzon, on the other hand, has 52 sub-projects worth P4.3 billion, while the Visayas got the green light for 25 sub-projects at P1.932 billion, according to a statement issued on Wednesday, which also indicated the change in the PRDP title to ‘project’ from ‘program’.”

This blog constantly talks about visionary and strategic leadership. And the writer had a smile on his face reading the above title change – from program to project. Indeed the PRDP appreciates the import yet a national imperative remains: to develop a vision for the Philippines.

“The Price of Wall Street’s Power,” Gautam Makunda, Harvard Business Review, June 2014. “Clayton Christensen argues that management’s adoption of Wall Street’s preferred metrics has hindered innovation. Scholars and executives alike have criticized Wall Street not only for promoting short-term thinking. . . The financial sector’s influence on management has become so powerful that a recent survey of chief financial officers showed that 78% would ‘give up economic value’ and 55% would cancel a project with a positive net present value—that is, willingly harm their companies—to meet Wall Street’s targets and fulfill its desire for ‘smooth’ earnings.

“So why do managers make choices they know are wrong? Why do so many believe (or act as if they believe) something that simply isn’t right? I’m a political scientist. That means that, just as an economist thinks about money or a soldier about armies, I think about power. There are lots of situations in which people—and countries—act against their own interests.”

Is that what traditional politics is about? Everyone can learn from Iceland, especially bankers: “Iceland, Where Bankers Actually Go To Jail For Committing White-Collar Crimes,” Alan Pyke, Think Progressive, 23rd Oct 2015.
“Nearly all the financiers who headed powerful American firms in the run-up to the 2008 economic crisis remain wealthy, powerful, and free. Not so in Iceland, where jail sentences handed out last week bring the number of bankers imprisoned over the meltdown to 26. Combined, the bankers will spend 74 years behind bars. While critics of such stringent treatment of the business community often warn that cracking down on finance hurts the economy, Iceland’s experience has shown it’s possible to pursue corporate accountability and broad growth at the same time.”

What about traditional politicians, what are they accountable for?

Free market and connecting the dots . . .

Indeed democracy is messy that even in the US a minority of 40 in the House held the democratic process hostage. And US historians would reference Madison and the framers of the Constitution – it was never meant to be “it’s my way or the highway.” It’s childishness – akin to a kid in a candy store: that’s mine, that’s mine, and that’s mine!

The writer saw it when his family moved to the US. The culture needs adult supervision; and friends that belonged to the non-voting population (e.g., a 50% voter-turnout wasn’t uncommon) would introduce the writer to the reality. But then again, man is irrational and, not surprisingly, a new branch of economics has emerged: behavioral economics. Even the Vatican isn’t spared: A Whiff of Intrigue as Vatican Disputes ‘Unfounded’ Report on Pope Francis’ Health, Laurie Goodstein and Gaia Pianigiani, The New York Times, 22nd Oct 2015.

Does that absolve us Filipinos that we are childish in our own way? Not really given our backwardness compared to what the Asian tigers have reached – i.e., moved from Third-World and drastically reduced poverty!

Despite the free-wheeling atmosphere of a free market, visionary and strategic leadership is demanded – as in Japan, Inc. or China, Inc. or Singapore, Inc. Freedom is not free. Freedom must be defended . . . and pursued. And why development presupposes maturity. It is not unfettered free market. A nation can pull in different directions at its peril. And we don’t have to go very far: think Mindanao!

Over the weekend the writer had very positive feelings about news reports he read: “Inclusive growth gains ground . . . Subic Freeport adjudged best in Asia . . . Cebu’s quiet rise to NIE-hood . . . NEDA draws up Filipino 2040 long-term development plan . . . We need to create a stronger sense of ourselves as a distinct people . . .”

But then again, how do we connect the dots?

“We may have a Philippine state, but not yet a Filipino nation. For us the diffusion of national awareness—the incorporation into the national community of all sectors of our population—is still a work in progress . . . We need to create for ourselves a more rounded kind of nationalism—a forward-looking nationalism focused on the effort to account for ourselves as a people—and to claim our place of dignity in the world community.” [INDEPENDENCE WITHOUT NATIONALISM: We need to create a stronger sense of ourselves as a distinct people, Juan T. Gatbonton, Editorial Consultant, The Manila Times, 17th Oct 2015]

“[T]he Vietnamese, won their freedom unequivocally. So that, at the end of sacrificial struggles against the Chinese, the French, and the Americans, they could turn, undistracted, to the work of growing their economy and redeeming themselves from poverty… [W]e Filipinos, even in the age of globalization, remain ideologically protectionist. Hospitable we may be as a people; but we keep foreign investors at arm’s length. We keep our economy heavily regulated, though we’re forced to export people instead of products.

“We all realize there’s no escaping structural change in our political, economic and social institutions. But what direction should change take, and how is it to be organized? Certainly we must speed up market opening and reduce the costs of doing business, if our country is to catch the new wave of growth building up in East Asia . . . Not only are we among the poorest: we’re also among the most unequal.”

And how are we dealing with these challenges? “The central bank has had several milestones in the last five years in its promotion of financial inclusion. Its most recent was in July when it launched the National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI) – a key component in the government’s drive to ensure inclusive growth across the country. . . The NSFI, to some extent, could be considered as the government’s most comprehensive effort towards financial inclusion.” [Inclusive growth gains ground, Lee C. Chipongian, Manila Bulletin, 18th Oct 2015]

“Beginning in 2008, the government has been implementing the conditional cash transfer (CCT) or “Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program” (4Ps) initiative aimed at eradicating poverty in the country by investing in health and education. This is one of the government’s most visible efforts in pursuing inclusive growth. As of June, 2015, the 4Ps operates in all 17 regions in the Philippines and has registered nearly 4.5 million household-beneficiaries with disbursements amounting to P17.8 billion.

“[T]he 4Ps have been highly effective, to wit: increased school attendance (the number of out-of-school children declined to 5.2 percent in 2013 from 11.7 percent in 2008 or around 1.7 million children); enrolled 36,003 beneficiaries in state universities and colleges as of June, 2015; and covered 4.4 million beneficiaries under the National Health Insurance Program.”

Another positive news reads: “The Subic Bay Freeport, has been recognized as the best in Asia by a publication of London’s The Financial Times. Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairman and administrator Roberto Garcia said the freeport was declared as Asia’s overall winner in the Global Free Zone of the Year 2015 award while also receiving commendations for infrastructure developments and reinvestment. Emerging as overall winner . . . is a significant indicator of Subic Freeport’s level of competitiveness among other zones in the region.” [Subic Freeport adjudged best in Asia, Richmond S. Mercurio, The Philippine Star, 18th Oct 2015]

And there is one more: “The entire nation has a stake in Metro Cebu’s success and we should do all we can to support it. After all, this is a region that has a clear vision of what they want to be by the year 2050. Cebu’s hopes and aspirations are embodied in its master plan called Mega Cebu 2050. Their impressive development road map can be viewed in this website:” [Cebu’s quiet rise to NIE-hood, Andrew James Masigan, Manila Bulletin, 18th Oct 2015]

“In the same manner as a parent invests in their most talented son, government must prioritize Cebu’s infrastructure development by channeling more of its infrastructure budget to it. Urgently needed are a storm water and sewerage management system, Automated Guideway Transits and Light Railway Trains to get in and around the city center, bulk water supply and the expansion of its seaport, to name a few.

“Cebu is giving us a chance to industrialize – something we foolishly bypassed in the past. They have done so not so much by government design but through good planning and sheer hard work. Through them, the nation has a clear shot to join the ranks of the NIE’s and partake of the benefits that come with it. All Cebu needs is infrastructure. Government must give it to them.”

And finally, “The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is preparing a medium-term development plan or long-term vision, aptly called Filipino 2040. It will be evidence-based or a product of nationwide consultations as well as existing data and targets, such as the Philippine Development Plan, the Millennium Development Plan (MDG), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).” [NEDA draws up Filipino 2040 long-term development plan, The Philippine Star, 18th Oct 2015]

“SocioEconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan said the intention is to craft a medium-term plan based on the aspirations and dreams of the Filipino for a better life. A nationwide survey and consultation has already started, while another group is doing technical work on various topics, themes that are amenable to policy change, like health, education, environment, innovations, and other social issues’ The plan will be for a period of 25 years since it will take several years and administrations to achieve what Balisacan calls ‘a modern nation.’ ‘No single administration can transform a poor nation into a rich nation.’”

That’s encouraging. But one caveat to heed from the private sector would be: keep it simple lest such a big plan collapses under its own weight.

With all that said, how do we in fact connect the dots? It starts with visionary and strategic leadership, not transactional and retail and populist – which has defined us? Our GDP per capita remains meager – and explains our persistent poverty. The Asian tigers became tigers not because of CCT-like initiatives – with due respect to the Central Bank – but by driving their economic output aggressively via investment and industrial development . . . And looking outward, not inward and insular and parochial, which is what country must be. No man is an island!

Monday, October 19, 2015

“Country is a legal fiction . . .”

“. . . A concept which not so many can grasp or understand. There are so many pretenders in this country who declare in discordant voices that they love this country, yet they enthrone dysfunctional and despicable systems which make the country an unjust and oppressive place to live in… ‘The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, But in ourselves that we are underlings.’ – Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.” [Cry, The Beloved Country: A nationalist perspective, Homobono Adaza, The Manila Times, 16th Oct 2015]

“[W]e should teach our people – including the pretentious intelligentsia like the illustrados of old – what is love of country. For me, love of country should be defined in very plain and simple terms. For the overwhelming majority of our people, love of country is love for their family and their barangay because that is the only reality of country they know for the whole of their lifetime. For a few millions, probably it extends to their towns; for some hundreds of thousands, it extends to the provinces. Beyond that, it is a world which they don’t know and they cannot grasp.”

And how can we express love of country? “THE European and other ambassadors’ statement appearing in media today supporting the CAB and the BBL, whose constitutionality has been challenged by various sectors of Philippine society and which is now pending in the Supreme Court and being deliberated in Congress, show a lack of respect for Philippine laws and can be considered an undue interference in the affairs of a nation to which these ambassadors have been accredited.” [Statement of the Philippine Council on Foreign Relations on foreign ambassadors’ statement of support for BBL, The Manila Times Online, 16th Oct 2015]

“Before the statement is construed as exerting of undue influence by the diplomats on branches of this government, the PCFR therefore requests the above group to cease and desist in making statements like the one they have made and make an apology to the Philippine government.” [Signed for the Trustees and the general membership by Amb. Jose V. Romero, Jr. Ph.D., President, Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, Inc. The PCFR is composed retired ambassadors, multi-sectoral organizations, retired flag officers, members of academe, businessmen, and distinguished members of civil society.]

Indeed we have all the right to be offended. Still, among ourselves, love of country doesn’t end with making such a statement. For example, “It’s impossible to visit the battlefield of Gettysburg without being deeply moved. The Union and Confederate armies together suffered more than 50,000 casualties during the three-day battle.  The course of American history was changed forever by leaders making strategic decisions under grueling circumstances.” [Reflections on Leadership from Gettysburg, Paul Merrild, Harvard Business Review, 12th Oct 2015]

“When I recently spent three days wandering these hallowed grounds as part of a leadership retreat, I realized that my industry, health care — and others going through turbulent times — have much to learn from the hard-won lessons of Gettysburg. Here are a few insights that I gleaned:

“Convey the leader’s intent. Union Army General George Meade would sit down with his war council sometimes three or four times per day during the battle. This continual ‘confirmation of understanding’ allowed Meade to better to communicate with his commanders and soldiers the tactics and strategies needed to survive the Confederate push.

“This notion of the leader’s intent is an important one for all of us. The concept is simple: everyone in the chain of command must know clearly and concisely the mission’s objectives two levels above them and be able to communicate this information two levels below them. This understanding enables anyone in the army to make decisions ‘in the moment’ that are consistent with the overall strategic objective set by the general.”

This blog has constantly raised the challenge of visionary and strategic leadership that we Filipinos have yet to muster. And we are nowhere near that ideal if we go by how we are gearing up for the next presidential election. And beyond leadership is the imperative for Juan de la Cruz to see beyond self and family and embrace his bigger community, that is, the Philippines.

For instance, assume we want and will have the status quo in Mindanao – notwithstanding 17 years of efforts – how about Philippine progress and development? We can’t just talk up the imperative to fight poverty and demand an inclusive economy when country remains a legal fiction as Mr. Adaza eloquently opined: “There are so many pretenders in this country who declare in discordant voices that they love this country, yet they enthrone dysfunctional and despicable systems which make the country an unjust and oppressive place to live in.”

“But that’s because many of us are so insular in our thinking. That’s why even our Constitution is restrictive . . . We need to realize there is a world out there and we must compete for every dollar available for investment, domestic or foreign.” [Philippine investments abroad, Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 16th Oct 2015]

“Having placed into perspective this ‘flight’ of domestic capital abroad, it will also do us well to examine why, despite all the press releases, we are unable to get our FDI numbers comparable to our regional peers.”

The writer can only shake his head given such insularity in our thinking especially after his participation in the kickoff meeting with his Eastern European friends to signal the start of their budget review process. Twelve years ago they were a tiny enterprise in a former Soviet-satellite state; and today the relatively new colleagues, managers from the West, would be in awe as they got to know the company more. And these people have sterling credentials themselves, earned from some of the world’s best and largest enterprises.

And these friends have invested in other countries too yet the knowledge and expertise they’re gaining and bringing back home are invaluable. And visitors from halfway around the world would be the first to notice the world-class and best practice models – in the people and the local facility – that would welcome them. This supposed group of newbies from Eastern Europe, new to the free market system, demonstrated that to be an MNC doesn’t mean being from the West. That competitiveness is not exclusive to the West.

But to PHL it will always be – and perpetuate our oligarchic economy and the poverty that comes with it – unless we shed our inward-looking parochial instincts? And grasp and understand the concept of country?

“It was only in Mindanao that 54 percent of the respondents said they will choose candidates who will support the BBL.” [Poll: Voters will junk BBL backers, Joyce Pangco Panares, The Standard, 15th Oct 2015]

Does the poll in fact confirm that because of our parochial orientation and bias, only Mindanao would be supportive of the efforts for peace in Mindanao? And we’re insulted that foreigners have come to our rescue? Yet even the Irish worked through their peace process with the guidance of foreigners! But we read the BBL as dismembering the country – owing to the Muslim minority even when the 54% would not be all Muslims? But then again, what do we mean by country?

Should we Pinoys wake up to the here and now – and face the natural phenomenon of and adapt to change? Does it explain our backwardness – as in being the regional laggard – in more ways than one? The evidence? Consider: decades have gone behind the fiasco that is NAIA 3; 17 years behind peace efforts in Mindanao; and it will take a generation even at 7% GDP growth for us to become a developed economy. But that is a big if given how we keep shooting ourselves in the foot!

And do we want to be held down by the primacy of law – a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye – not unlike the Pharisees that couldn’t claim wisdom . . . and were the anti-Christ?

“The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, But in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Monday, October 12, 2015

Beyond the shortcomings of the educational system

“The rapid changes in the 21st century’s profound impact on the organization of life and work and the persistent poverty in developing nations such as ours have demanded the significant attention of education providers and educators to the issue of employability. Rapid technological changes and the corresponding need to continuously retool workers have compelled industry to pay as much, if not more, attention to learning competencies associated with a liberal or humanist education—critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, and ethical moorings, among others.” [Toward national development and global competitiveness, Patricia B. Licuanan, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3rd Oct 2015]

“But what competencies or human-resource qualities are needed to fulfill the other function of higher education? Put differently, what constitutes the spectrum of desired characteristics of the new corps of human resources in an evolving innovation? At the recent Apec High-Level Policy Dialogue on Science and Technology in Higher Education, I cited among such qualities critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communication skills, adaptability and collaborative skills, which are similar to, if not the same as, what IT BPM (business process management) and other industries are looking for. These add solid disciplinal foundation, design thinking, global-thinking skills (or the ability to understand and analyze social, cultural, industrial, political and economic global forces that impact on technological innovation), research skills, improvisation and regenerative capacity, leadership skills and capacity for risk-taking.”

They all sound very promising. Let’s then try to connect the dots:
“ARANGKADA PHILIPPINES 2010: A BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE, Joint Foreign Chambers Advocacy PaperSeven Big Winners: A proven strategy to achieve higher investment, exports, and jobs is concentration on sectors of the economy where the Philippines has competitive advantages and high potential. Ireland, with a population of 4.4 million, followed such a strategy in four sectors after it joined the EU, marketing itself as a manufacturing location that provided easy access to much larger markets in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. Within a decade the ‘Celtic Tiger’ experienced a boom, transforming itself from poor to rich. Irish schools were oriented towards graduating students with skills needed in the prioritized sectors, and foreign investment campaigns in North America and Asia successfully attracted multinational firms that hired these English-speaking graduates.

“In the middle of the global financial crisis in 2009, the JFC released a study that recommended the Philippines build Seven Big Winners, sectors that have high growth and employment potential and in which the Philippines has demonstrated competitive advantage. With its position within ASEAN, with its large, youthful English-speaking population, and with improved access through new ASEAN FTAs with large and fast-growing markets, the Philippines is situated, as Ireland was, to attract large amounts of foreign investment and to create millions of new high-quality jobs in the seven sectors: Agribusiness, Business Process Outsourcing, Creative Industries, Infrastructure, Manufacturing and Logistics, Mining, Tourism, Medical Travel, and Retirement”

It appears the JFC has adopted a model that we could pursue or, alternatively, we can put forward our own? Whatever it is, the key is for PHL to aggressively pursue an industrialization policy! Consider: “Based on the latest round of the Labor Force Survey (LFS) in July 2015, job generation continued to be led by the services sector, majority of which belonged to the informal services sector, followed by industry. In industry, the construction sector, not manufacturing, drove job creation.” [Philippine Economic Update, World Bank, Oct 2015]

Indeed there is a role for education in the pursuit of industrialization . . . yet we must stress, highlight and focus on the platform of the Irish model: “A proven strategy to achieve higher investment, exports, and jobs is concentration on sectors of the economy where the Philippines has competitive advantages and high potential. Ireland . . . followed such a strategy . . . marketing itself as a manufacturing location . . . Within a decade the ‘Celtic Tiger’ experienced a boom, transforming itself from poor to rich . . .”

Have we Pinoys taken the JFC efforts for granted? How do we embrace the imperative to craft a vision of what PHL is – that is, an industrialized and developed economy – and the requisite values that will deliver the vision?

We must cease and not take hierarchy as a given against an egalitarian ethos! We are the least able to attract FDI because foreign investors are well aware that the cards are stacked against them and skewed in favor of oligarchy. We must cease and not take political patronage as a given against good governance! Our culture of impunity needs no further exposition.

We must alter – and it is an imperative and the sooner the better – the building blocks of PHL’s economy if we are to be globally competitive and in the league of the Asian tigers! We don’t want to be among the species that aren’t adaptable to change? Nor do we want to be in a race to the bottom, if not extinction?

Granted it’s convenient to rationalize that we need time . . . because we aren’t cut out for Western-style democracy? What about Japanese or Chinese or Singapore style? Or do we believe we’re more like Latin America – which certain quarters would associate with banana republics?

Or are we like the Russians? “‘The Russian people are backward,’ [Putin] told a group of foreign academics in 2005, according to Marie Mendras’s account in ‘Russian Politics: The Paradox of a Weak State.’ ‘They cannot adapt to democracy as they have done in your countries. They need time.’” [In Putin’s Syria Intervention, Fear of a Weak Government Hand, Steven Lee Myers, The New York Times, 4th Oct 2015]

Is our own challenge as daunting?

“Getting competitive,” Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 3rd Oct 2015. “[NCC cochair for the private sector Guillermo] Luz pointed out that the Philippines’ performance over the next several years would ‘absolutely’ depend on the next administration, and that leadership and teamwork would matter: ‘If the next administration has poor leadership and no teamwork, then you’ll see the numbers begin to drop because obviously the other countries are also getting more organized.’

“Over the next several years, Luz’s advice is for the government to continue improvements, particularly in infrastructure development, higher education and training, technology readiness, and anything that puts importance on science, technology and innovation as well as research and development. The government should also continue to institute measures to reduce red tape and streamline regulatory procedures. The Makati Business Club likewise suggested the nationwide implementation of an NCC initiative to reduce the number of steps to establish a business and more intensified efforts to implement critical infrastructure projects.

“Indeed, the Philippines has a long way to go. Compared to its neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, it had the fifth highest ranking in the WEF Global Competitiveness Index after Singapore, which placed second; Malaysia 18th; Thailand 32nd; and Indonesia 37th. Vietnam was behind at 56th.

“Reaching the top 20 percent of the competitiveness rankings means the Philippines should be at 30th or higher. From the current 47th, can it move up another 17 slots in the next five years? It has jumped 38 places in the past five years, and while it will be harder to overtake the next 17 as the countries ahead of it now are better and tougher, the NCC’s Luz believes that it can be done if all stakeholders concentrate on the target and work hard. The administration that will take over in 2016 will be largely instrumental in the Philippines’ achievement of this feat.”

In other words, we need the right leadership, one with a sense of purpose . . . and can articulate a vision and demonstrate the requisite values – that of the common good and demanded by nation building – and for Juan de la Cruz to look beyond self and family and embrace his community?

[T]he NCC’s Luz believes that it can be done if . . .” That can be a small or a very big “if”? And it’s all in our hands!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

“Beggars can’t be choosers”

That is a title option for this posting that came to mind while the writer – on a lazy Sunday morning with the wife and over their first cup of coffee – read an article about the Philippines in the Sunday NY Times. “Warily Eyeing China, Philippines May Invite U.S. Back to Subic Bay,” Javier C. Hernandez, The New York Times, 19th Sept 2015. The other one is: “Sa pagkahaba-haba ng prosisyon sa simbahan din ang tuloy.”

But how do we make Juan de la Cruz less vulnerable, really? “It is also asking Washington for hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding to strengthen its own military, one of the weakest in Asia . . . China’s push to establish the sea as its own has hit closer to home in the Philippines than almost anywhere else . . . ‘The fight hasn’t even started yet, and it looks like the Philippines government has already surrendered,’ said Renato Etac, 35, a fishing boat captain who says Chinese vessels there routinely chase and try to ram his ship. ‘I can’t even count the Chinese ships I see, there are so many.’

“Last year, the government in Manila signed a 10-year agreement that would let the United States station troops, weapons and matériel at bases across the Philippines, setting the stage for an American return to several facilities, including Subic Bay and the sprawling Clark Air Base nearby. But the pact has been tied up by a legal challenge.”

Hopefully it won’t be an ongoing fiasco like NAIA 3 – where decades later this vital infrastructure would become outmoded before it even got off the ground! The operative word being vital – but did we and do we get it?

“Dreams of democracy,” Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 30th Sept 2015. “I was ready to rant about what I thought was my bad experience with NAIA air traffic congestion until I read the Facebook post of Celina Cristobal, the daughter of my friend, the late Adrian Cristobal. She had it worse and she was just flying in from Davao at about the same time. Here is her story: ‘At 11pm, 54 planes were waiting for permission to land at the NAIA. My plane (from Davao) was the 54th. The pilot announced we didn’t have any fuel to wait that long, so our only option was to fly to Clark and refuel. We were there for almost four hours, waiting in line behind other airplanes, then waited again for permission from Manila to take-off. I finally got home at 3am… there was no food on the plane. Diabetic me was crying.’”

Are such woes confronting us a microcosm of our culture of impunity . . . the absolute disregard of the common good . . . and of nation building? In the 80s, the US realized that Japan Inc., particularly in manufacturing, was besting corporate America; and one of their conclusions highlighted one reality: that Japan had fewer lawyers than engineers, the opposite of the US.

In an earlier posting, this blog brought up the three levels of human consciousness. And are we Pinoys trapped in the first two levels, that of law and criticism and conflict, and are ways away from attaining nirvana, the level of wisdom? In development terms, we’ve been an underdeveloped nation for the longest time! And reality is staring us in the face?

“Washington has expressed frustration with the delay in carrying out the agreement, which President Obama announced with fanfare during a visit to Manila last year. The case is not expected to be decided in the Philippines Supreme Court until later this fall at the earliest.

“The base was reborn as an economic development zone after the American withdrawal in 1992. Luxury villas were erected atop former ammunition bunkers, and a marine park was built along the shore. Outside the local government here, a statue of a woman holding a dove celebrates the American withdrawal and a plaque reads: ‘Unchain us now’ . . . In addition to the legacy of American rule of the Philippines, another hurdle to military cooperation is the decrepit state of the Philippine armed forces, which have long suffered from waste and corruption.

“Despite a recent effort to modernize its military, the Philippines still lacks basic equipment, including submarines and fighter jets. The most famous vessel in its fleet may be the Sierra Madre, a decaying World War II-era ship that the government ran aground nearly two decades ago to protect a contested reef. American military aid to the Philippines has increased significantly in recent years, more than doubling last year to $50 million. But that is less than the hundreds of millions the United States provided during the Cold War, when the Philippines was used to counterbalance Soviet support of Vietnam.

“In private talks, the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III has pressed the United States for up to $300 million in aid this year, arguing that it needs a substantial buildup of planes and ships to deter Chinese expansionism, according to a senior Philippine official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because United States officials have asked to keep the talks confidential.

“But the Obama administration has so far rebuffed the request because it worries about corruption and the Philippines’ capacity to handle such an influx of resources. A spokeswoman for the State Department noted that the Philippines was already the largest recipient of American military aid in Southeast Asia . . . Some Filipinos are worried that relying on the United States will delay efforts by the Philippines to build its own military. Others are concerned that the United States, despite its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, is too distracted by its fight against terrorism in the Middle East to help them.

“‘We can’t simply trust that others will come to save the day,’ said Maria Turco, 42, a teacher in Subic Bay. ‘We have to take ownership.’”

That’s a great point. Indeed we have to take ownership. But that presupposes growing up. The good news is development is inherent in people, in nations, in undertakings. The bad news is despite the lapse of several decades, we’re still wobbly scaling the challenge of development.

Does that make us a representation of adolescence that needs adult supervision – like Uncle Sam’s? And it is manifested in our failure in self-government? The evidence?

The rest of the world are in awe of our neighbors, the Asian tigers. And while we claim we have the longer experience in self-government, we are the regional laggard! Why haven’t we benchmarked and learned from the Asian tigers?

Benchmarking is about picking and choosing best practices, not the expectation of perfection – which we want to see in our neighbors? Benchmarking doesn’t work when the mindset is fixed as it does with a growth mindset. Benchmarking doesn’t work when the mindset is fixed as it does with a growth mindset.

And a Filipino educator’s comment to the writer would reveal how we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

“That practice I just discussed has no Philippine example and so it would be a hard sell. It is not uncommon for us in the academic community to hear: has anyone tried that in the Philippines yet?”

Does it explain why we haven’t done much of the good stuff our neighbors have done? If we can’t toss our parochial mindset, biases and values – i.e., hierarchy over an egalitarian ethos, political patronage over good governance, and oligarchy over a competitive economy – should we remind ourselves how Einstein defined insanity? It is worse than simply being an adolescent.

Are we outraged yet? That we've allowed Juan de la Cruz to be so vulnerable that we need the adult supervision of an Uncle Sam? Yet like the Asian tigers, Uncle Sam isn't perfect.

That is why there is evolution and extinction and survival of the fittest. It is not the strongest or the most intelligent that survives, but the most adaptable to change. We Pinoys are on a very slippery slope? We have to wake up from the stupor!