Friday, November 27, 2015

Raising our level of consciousness for development

“We have been pouring investment incentives for years and wondering why our FDIs remain dismal compared to regional competitors like Vietnam. Early this week, I caught a story quoting Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima saying our economy is doing marvelously even with our relatively low FDIs.” [A PPP project goes bust, Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 20th Nov 2015]

“That’s not the attitude I was hoping for. It is like saying we don’t need to do anything more because we are doing well... we don’t have to remove Constitutional restrictions on investments and ease the red tape investors must deal with to start and run a business here.”

Have we reinforced ‘learned helplessness’ and our vaunted fatalism given our inability to attract FDI? To quote an earlier posting: “Human history and developmental psychology tell us that changing our thinking can elevate our worldview and consciousness. In other words, development is informed by a people’s worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership, among others. And human development evolves in stages . . . And every transition to a new stage of consciousness would usher a new era in human history. And at every juncture everything changed: society changed from family bands to tribes to empires to nation states; economies from foraging to horticulture to agriculture to industrialization. Power structures and the role of religion also changed.” [From: Reinventing organizations, Frederic Laloux, Nelson Parker, 2014; pp. 5, 14]

And this is where we are in our consciousness: “Obama was all praise for our small business entrepreneur and innovator Aisa Mijeno. The US President seems to have done his homework and did background check on the diminutive Filipina inventor. Obama was profuse in his endorsement of Aisa’s invention—a LED lamp that is powered by a chemical solution produced out of sea or saltwater. Interviewed later by Ted Failon, Aisa was asked what help the Aquino administration gave her. She groped for an answer.” [Obama, Aisa and illumination, Tony Lopez, Virtual Reality, The Standard, 20th Nov 2015]

Si Obama pala. I was surprised it was the White House who invited Filipina scientist Aisa Mijeno to the APEC CEO Summit last week. Interviewed by Alvin Elchico of ABS-CBN News, Aisa said ‘White House po ang nag-invite sa akin. I was surprised. Akala ko prank call ang na-receive ko nung Monday!’ Mijeno said she had to be escorted by the US Secret Service to be able to enter the venue of the forum because she had no APEC ID.” [Lessons learned, Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 23rd Nov 2015]

“It was in fact Obama’s staff who found Mijeno online and pushed her to center stage, where she met world-famous entrepreneur Jack Ma. The richest man in China promptly offered her a scholarship to an entrepreneur school in his country. So where’s that vaunted government support for local SMEs? What are local officials doing to solve the energy problem in their communities? Why must it take outsiders—in the case of Mijeno in Kalinga, and Obama and Ma during the APEC—to find solutions to a domestic crisis? How long before they see the light?” [Let there be light, Editorial, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22nd Nov 2015]

“Thanks to the kind invitation of Tony Tan Caktiong, conference chair of the just-concluded ‘Apec 2015 CEO Summit’ (and board chair of Jollibee Foods Corp., the ninth largest quick-service restaurant on earth in market capitalization), I had a ringside seat (on the first row) listening to US President Barack Obama speak on climate change, Chinese President Xi Jinping on trade pacts, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on fighting terrorism, and several other leaders on other issues.” [Internet, the globalization equalizer, Artemio V. PanganibanWith Due RespectPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 22nd Nov 2015]

“. . . President Obama’s unorthodox ‘moderating’ of a panel composed of Jack Ma and Aisa Mijeno, the young Filipina who pioneered the production of electricity from salt water, drew the most applause. It showed entrepreneurial ingenuity at its best, with an accomplished giant and a very promising startup both being buoyed by free enterprise.”

If we don’t raise our level of consciousness in the pursuit of development, our ‘absorptive capacity’ shall remain low versus our neighbors. What is absorptive capacity? From: Rethinking absorptive capacity,” Robert D. Lamb and Kathryn Mixon, A Report of the CSIS Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation, Center for Strategic & International Studies, ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD, June 2013.

“Whatever tool is used [in measuring absorptive capacity] it is critical to identify the resources, capabilities, knowledge, or conditions that are required for the [development] intervention to work but that are not provided or produced by the intervention itself. These are usually called assumptions, risks, or external factors . . . or prerequisites . . . Any good political economy analysis of the recipient system will help identify these prerequisites . . .”

That may sound too technical but if we go back to the above-referenced articles like the one quoting Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima [saying “our economy is doing marvelously even with our relatively low FDIs”], we would get a sense of where our level of consciousness is in the pursuit of development and why we lag our neighbors.

And the fact that we had to shut down Metro Manila for APEC was a flagrant display of our low absorptive capacity. It may pique the interest of major foreign infrastructure builders, for example, yet our Constitution poses a barrier. As a friend would ask the writer, do you believe we can change our culture? And that is where the problem lies. We’re not conscious of our instincts (or values?) because we take our culture for granted. On the other hand, in an egalitarian culture where innovation is truly valued, a president (and it so happened to be the most powerful nation in the world) would go out of his way to seek and invite to a major forum an unknown personality like an Aisa.

And why this blog has raised our biases: hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy. They undermine not only our faith (that every person is made in the image and likeness of the Creator) but also the building blocks of competitiveness, development and nation-building. Infrastructure development and industrialization are two critical building blocks yet our laws, practices and priorities by definition have been dictated not by competitiveness, development and nation building but by hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy. And consequently foreign investments have not come our way to the same extent as they have poured into our neighbors.

In the meantime we like to monitor and address our competitiveness ranking yet there are things sacrosanct that we have not touched? Until we raise our consciousness for development, we would rank low in absorptive capacity. And do we even risk going the opposite direction?

“In some countries, the old liberal arts colleges have either shrunk or completely vanished under its sway. Entire departments have been dismantled in many of the big universities abroad, their offices and faculty items taken over by new programs.” [General Education in the modern age, Randy DavidPublic LivesPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 22nd Nov 2015]

“The functional specialization of learning displaces value orientations that have been entrenched by previous academic traditions. As a result, literature and the arts, nationalism and civic duty, philosophy and moral education, etc.—along with classical notions of what constitutes a learned human being—gradually lose their foothold in the modern university curriculum. Their place—equivalent to the number of units allotted to subjects outside the core curriculum of every college—has shrunk over time.”

That would go against the imperatives of development. “Development is informed by a people’s worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership, among others.” On the other hand, functional specialization can reinforce linear thinking. And if development has many facets, linear thinking risks marginalizing specialists?

And not surprisingly Steve Jobs defined creativity as “connecting the dots” – which implies lateral thinking. And to be able to appreciate and identify the dots to connect, an enterprise, a society or a nation must be purposeful, even soulful. Otherwise linear and short-term thinking would undermine the overarching vision. And we are the living proof: Philippine underdevelopment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It’s in our hands, not somebody else’s

The writer and the wife were in a cafe in Saint-Germain-des-Prés 5 days after the gruesome attack in Paris. With friends from the Philippines they had toured France by car, covering 3774 kilometers. They were in Lyon when the carnage occurred. And as the writer shared, the experience was not exactly new. He was in Bangkok as a coup unfolded; stranded in Cairo on 9/11; on a flight from Singapore to Manila that had to turn back because of People Power, and stranded in Singapore until MIA reopened.

Yet to him – a “road warrior” the last 3 decades – the world is a better place. Folks who could speak to the World Wars and the Soviet rule vividly narrated to him their horrors otherwise read in history books. And he has friends and acquaintances that are delighted about their experience in the free world, warts and all.

He marvels to have witnessed the reality of ex-communist facilities from airports to factories to offices to apartment buildings, among others. And how decrepit they were. Yet as he traveled around the region he would be in awe to see how much could be done in a relatively short period of 13 years. Of course to the locals progress would never be enough except to those that have learned to adapt and thrive in the new order and have the requisite skill-set and thus amply rewarded. While autocrats would sadly still be around – despite the collapse of communist rule – as well as the abhorrent practices of corruption and poor governance.

“CHANGING prime ministers in Romania is nothing special. Changing them on grounds of corruption or incompetence is unprecedented. Changing the whole dysfunctional political system is still a daunting and distant prospect. But . . . Romanians are beginning to feel a breath of optimism, after 25 years of fitful progress in building institutions and entrenching the rule of law.” [Collective responsibility, The Economist, 14th Nov 2015]

In eastern Germany despite the sense of a gap between their standard of living and their western counterparts to this day, majority would not want to imagine turning back the hands of time. While the Chinese are today among the most traveled people, once the exclusive bragging rights of Americans. And Asia has minted more millionaires than North America beyond drastically reducing poverty.

Whether it's about the impact of freedom and democracy or wealth generation, people see the world a better place despite the recognition that man wasn't meant to be perfect. Which can be manifested in conflicts perpetuated in the name of his religion or his God, if not lust for power.

Not surprisingly the world had to invent hegemony though during the time of the Nazis, the Germans were a big and influential ethnic group in America. And in more ways than one they had an impact on US leadership, torn if they had to be involved in the conflict in Europe despite appeals from European leaders. 

Fast forward to the present. Even with NATO and the EU, European countries still expect the US to be the hegemon since no one is prepared to step up military spending. [The US defense budget is over $600B while its budget deficit is $475B. Simplistically, they can raise social services and truly be the land of milk and honey, and yet the US can’t be an island unto itself. They raise $358B in charitable contributions although provide a mere $34B in foreign aid.]

EU countries would rather invest to boost their economies. The lesson from the fall of the Soviet empire (that geared for war?) is not lost to them? And as Clinton once put it, it's the economy . . . stupid! That said . . . “Humans . . . are meaning-seeking animals. We live . . . in a century that has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning. The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.”[Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts, David Brooks, The New York Times, 17th Nov 2015]

This is already leading to religious violence. In November 2014, just to take one month, there were 664 jihadist attacks in 14 countries, killing a total of 5,042 people. Since 1984, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed by Islamist militias in Sudan . . . [I]t is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.”

And compare them to WWI & II: “Casualties, WWI: Estimated to be 10 million military dead, 7 million civilian deaths, 21 million wounded, and 7.7 million missing or imprisoned. WWII: Over 60 million people died in World War II. Estimated deaths range from 50-80 million. 38 to 55 million civilians were killed, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine. []

More recent history would suggest the US has been gun-shy despite hegemony. And bad leaders of affected nations would have freer hands to perpetuate evil. Should the rest of the world have intervened in Sudan or Rwanda, for example? Though in a few cases America would choose to, rightly or wrongly. And in the case of Iraq, Bush 41 didn’t mince words in criticizing Bush 43, the son.

“But it’s not Cheney’s fault, it’s the president’s fault . . . [H]ow needlessly harsh Bush 41 thought the rhetoric was, including Bush 43’s characterization in 2002 of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an ‘axis of evil.’ And for that tone Bush 41 largely blames Dick Cheney, defense secretary during his own administration and a man Bush 41 believed had grown more hawkish over time, perhaps because of the influence of his wife, Lynne, who, Bush 41 speculates, is ‘a lot of the éminence grise here — iron-ass, tough as nails, driving.’ Cheney ‘had his own empire there and marched to his own drummer,’ Bush says. ‘The big mistake that was made was letting Cheney bring in kind of his own state department. I think they overdid that.’ [Jon Meacham’s ‘Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,’ Jim Kelly, Sunday Book Review, The New York Times, 9th Nov 2015]

And not surprisingly there is growing sensitivity among donor nations to recognize the ‘mandatories’ of ‘absorptive capacity’ if development efforts in client-countries are to succeed. And which we Filipinos have yet to internalize? It explains our inability to attract FDI to the levels enjoyed by neighbors. That it takes two to tango. Still, the onus of development is on us, like we tell our kids. [It's because of absorptive capacity that the writer chose to work with one client in Bulgaria but not the other. He spent a month with each one to make the determination. And the rest as they say is history.]

For example, we have had Mindanao for the longest time and we considered efforts especially brokered by foreigners as undermining our sovereignty – despite warring among ourselves. And Mindanao is not all about a religious war although being a Catholic country, we like to highlight their being Muslims and a minority and their desire for autonomy as a risk. That we want peace but not at the risk of dismembering the country. Implicitly we are condoning war?

Is it surprising when we have condoned other undesirable things? Let’s look at Romania again if it’s hard to examine our own failings. “The disaster epitomized many of the features that have held the country back: irresponsibility . . . incompetence . . . and apparent corruption . . . In the aftermath of the fire, Romanians took to the streets in some of the biggest protests since the collapse of communism. Under the slogan Coruptia Ucide (Corruption kills) they demanded resignations and prosecutions, as well as a cut in the number of lawmakers; new anti-corruption laws; and higher pay for officials to reduce the temptation to accept bribes. A banner in University Square, a hotspot of the 1989 revolution, read: ‘In 1989 we fought for liberty, today we fight for justice.’” [The Economist, op. cit.]

Perfection is not of this world yet people and nations can lift themselves up from misery. Even if Lucifer, once in a perfect state, was corrupted by self-generated pride (and which we may likewise see in powerful nations) it doesn’t translate to doom. 

The world is a much better place today – but not to Juan de la Cruz?  “Behind pomp of APEC summit, crushing poverty endures,” Jim Gomez, Associated Press,, 20th Nov 2015. “While poverty remains in the region, free trade policies that APEC has advocated since its 1989 founding have helped about half a billion people rise from poverty to the middle class, said Alan Bollard, executive director of APEC's Singapore-based secretariat. . . But at the same time, Malaysia, the Philippines and China have had big increases in inequality.”

What makes us stand out amongst the 3 countries is we’re the least competitive. There is no free lunch. And it’s understandable if we don’t see the world a better place given abject poverty has remained with us – with an internal war to boot. But it is in our hands! And we don’t have to choose misery.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Human consciousness

Should we examine the Filipino worldview and consciousness?

Human history and developmental psychology tell us that changing our thinking can elevate our worldview and consciousness. In other words, development is informed by a people’s worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership, among others. And human development evolves in stages; we don't grow continuously like trees. But instead would experience sudden transformation – akin to a caterpillar becoming a butterfly or a tadpole becoming a frog. And every transition to a new stage of consciousness would usher a new era in human history. And at every juncture everything changed: society changed from family bands to tribes to empires to nation states; economies from foraging to horticulture to agriculture to industrialization. Power structures and the role of religion also changed. And Einstein put it succinctly: problems couldn't be solved with the same level of consciousness that created them in the first place. [From: Reinventing organizations, Frederic Laloux, Nelson Parker, 2014; pp. 5, 14]

Consider: in 1976 the IMF and World Bank Group's annual meeting was held in Manila; in 1996 the Philippines hosted the APEC meeting and again in 2015; and each time over at least the last 40 years countless Filipinos had high hopes about the prospects of our economy.

“The true cost of APEC,” Andrew James Masigan, Manila Bulletin, 15th Nov 2015. “As a major global event, the eyes of the world will be affixed upon us for a whole week. It will be our chance to show how far we’ve come, economically and otherwise. For the last and most definitive time, we can dispel the derisive misnomer that we are Asia’s sick man but rather a healthy, thriving athlete they better watch out for. With luck, the event will give us more gravitas in international diplomacy whilst strengthening our position as a viable destination for foreign investments.

“I am supposed to be feeling happy, even excited about the APEC Summit. Why then am I feeling a sense of contempt towards it? While I know that hosting APEC is a good thing for the nation, in my gut, I know that doing it in Metro Manila is a huge mistake. Let me explain exactly how huge.

“Metro Manila accounts for 36% of the national economy. By declaring a two day holiday over the APEC week, factory productivity will screech to a halt, supply chains will be disrupted and financial markets will be shut down. As it stands, exports have already shrank at its steepest pace in four years, contracting by 24.7% in September!

“Rough calculations show that APEC will cost the economy R11 billion in foregone productivity on top of its actual cost of R4.6 billion. This will translate to a drag of nearly one percent in our fourth quarter GDP numbers. Considering, too, that GDP growth for the first semester has already been underwhelming at just 5.2%, another one percent reduction will be a painful blow.

“But keeping our skies clear will cost us the most. As of this writing, more than 1,200 flights have been cancelled to ensure aviation security and mask our embarrassing situation of airport congestion. Again, supply chains will be disrupted as a result of cargo immobility, small hotels, and resorts in the provinces, who rely on foreigners and visitors from Manila, will face a dry spell. Business opportunities will be foregone while personal dislocation will be experienced by the public.

“But the most severely hit, sadly, will be our workers who get paid by the day and those who live on a hand to mouth basis. For them, two days without wages could mean no food on the table or inability to make rent.”

“I had a two-hour lunch interview with Department of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima last Wednesday. He told me a good story. So in the interest of fair play, I write about it.” [Purisima’s confidence game, Tony Lopez, Virtual Reality, The Standard, 13th Nov 2015] “The President-elect wanted Purisima to lead his economic team. ‘He [Aquino] empowered me,’ Purisima recalls. The new President asked the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management MBA: ‘What are we going to do?’ Readily, Purisima thought of one word to describe his game plan—confidence, which stated differently, is exactly Aquino’s slogan—Matuwid na Daan.

“Purisima had to inspire confidence from three groups of stakeholders—in the government, among investors, and among the people. That is what the Finance chief calls the virtuous-cycle strategy. To restore confidence in the government and in the country, the government must raise revenues, tighten or rationalize its expenditures, and put order in borrowings, here and abroad.

“The government had to gain the confidence of the financial markets . . . Today, the deficit-to-GDP ratio hovers at 0.6 percent (0.2 percent in October 2015), down dramatically from 3.7 percent in 2009, while the debt-to-GDP ratio is 44.9 percent as of June 2015, less than half of the value of economic output.   

“Purisima also reduced debts denominated in foreign currencies (as a percentage of GDP), from 38.4 percent in 2009 . . . By June 2015 the ratio was 25.7 percent . . . The significant reductions, along with complementary reforms, improved the Philippines’ credit standing. Today, the country is investment grade—a first in history. The Philippines actually received 22 positive credit rating actions since Aquino took over. Fourteen of those were upgrades, since 2010.

“The positive upgrades and the investment grade ratings mean lower borrowing cost, from abroad and locally . . . Filipino consumers have saved some P41 billion on their consumer, car and housing loans, due to the dramatic lowering of interest rates since 2009. The government itself reduced its debt service payments (interest and principal yearly), from P689.8 billion in 2010 . . . to just P515 billion by 2014.

“The restoration of confidence brought in investments. Net foreign direct investments ballooned from $1.07 billion in 2010 to $6.2 billion in 2014 . . . The overall impact has been unbridled economic dynamism. Under Aquino, the size of the economy has expanded from P8.026 trillion value of GDP in 2009 to P12.642 trillion GDP by 2014, an expansion of 58 percent in six years.”

“But the question today is the same that it has been every day for the last 25 years: Why can’t the Philippines fulfill its economic potential?” [Bold moves seen needed to sustain growth momentum, realize potentials, Krista Angela M. Montealegre, Business World, 26th Oct 2015]

And missing from the good story is how dependent we are on OFW remittances and the BPO industry, which don't translate to an industrialized economy – anchored in investments and competitive products and services, and key to how developed economies became wealthy. “They can brag but should have been there when the Binondo Central Bank had to save us,” intimated a retired banker. And the Marcoses and their ilk now want to rewrite history?

We are playing catch up in a big way. LeBron James can score over 30 points and still not make his team world champions. And while it stands to reason that we should feel positive, we can’t afford to be mired in the same worldview and consciousness. Which explains why we’ve blown the last 25 years, if not 40 years? And if the reality of our government officials is not shared by half of our people, who continue to claim if not suffer abject poverty, we better heed Einstein: problems couldn't be solved with the same level of consciousness that created them in the first place.

Why can’t we move beyond family bands to a true nation-state? And beyond agriculture to industrialization? And beyond power structures that are hierarchical? Why can’t we move from an oligarchic to a competitive economy? And beyond viewing competition as cutthroat – to one of curiosity, inquisitiveness, discovery and innovation inherent in human progress and development?

We can’t take the status quo – if not complacency or fatalism – as a virtue when Juan de la Cruz and poverty have become synonymous. And must indeed examine our worldview and consciousness?

It’s not the strongest nor the most intelligent that survives but the most adaptable to change. But that demands transformation that can come if we are able to change our thinking – and move up from the levels of law and criticism and conflict to the level of wisdom. And should we heed Francis and move beyond ideology?

Monday, November 16, 2015

“Nobody’s got it all figured out”

If indeed our “captains of industry are at a loss” and “we’re at the gates of hell,” should we then take pause and figure out where we are? For example, haven’t we all been prescribing cures for what ails us when we have yet to come to terms with our reality?

“To be not corrupt is necessary . . . but not enough. Furthermore, what is sorely lacking from all the candidates, is a national strategy and vision . . . Rex Drilon II, chairman of the Management Association of the Philippines’ National Issues Committee, agreed. ‘The first thing any elected president should do is to design a road map for the country.’ It sounds commonsensical—too, when you get behind the wheel of your vehicle, you have to know exactly where you are going so you can figure out the best way to get there.” [‘Muddling through,’ Adelle Chua, The Standard, 2nd Nov 2015]

“How come we never get the visionary leaders — with the strength of character, firmness of principles, and integrity of life — who can impose the discipline to get all the fractious elements of our society to rally around a common banner?” [On our way, Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, Manila Bulletin, 23rd Oct 2015]

To have a common banner presupposes being predisposed to the common good? But where does the sense of the common good come from? If development is about growing up, the sense of the common good is where the men are separated from the boys? And if Juan de la Cruz values hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy, what does it say about what and who we are?

For example, hierarchy lends itself to political patronage which then nurtures oligarchy. When we see ourselves as slotted into levels and ranks we fall victim to self-fulfilling prophecy – we take “our destiny” as a given. And those at the higher levels of the hierarchy would fall victim to complacency – they see themselves as masters. Which William Pollard [1911-1989, physicist-priest; a colleague of Einstein in the Manhattan Project] called “arrogance of success – i.e., to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” It explains how technology has upended once great enterprises, and Apple is a testament to that. 

And why our government officials are themselves being shortsighted railing against our ranking in the WB's competitiveness index. Competitiveness respects no rank even if it may rankle our sensibilities. And worse is how such shortsightedness would encourage group think – and undermine our creative-thinking capacity. The evidence? The absence of visionary and strategic leadership has likewise brought about the Philippines’ low innovation quotient. In other words, what we call “Pinoy abilidad” doesn’t equate to innovation – because in reality it is about “making do” in a culture that is hierarchical and subservient.

If that is our reality, should we be surprised that we not only lag the region in infrastructure development and also suffer from the absence of an industrialization policy – while we relied on OFW remittances and the more recent BPO industry? If we look back to these phenomena, it wasn’t industrialization that we were pursuing but employment. Sadly employment, like an inclusive economy, doesn't come from the goodness of our hearts per se.

It comes from creating the building blocks of a robust economy with industrialization as its platform. Major human undertakings require an ecosystem, the hard and the soft elements. To be kind and gentle are great attributes but that was not how da Vinci, for example, created his masterpieces. He was a master in visualization and utilized tools like an architect to visualize the outcome of his ideas.

On the other hand, we saw virtue in Filipinos finding jobs overseas, and locally, lining up behind the service industry via the BPO industry. Don't we say matter-of-factly that we must teach people how to fish and not just give fish? And so we finally realized that such “make-do” efforts can’t compensate for our missteps in development and nation-building?

In the meantime, hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy have remained the pillars of our development journey. It is a journey that has brought about persistent poverty. We take it for granted that these pillars are what would keep body and soul together. And what are we missing? Juan de la Cruz wasn't meant to just keep body and soul together. He was made in the image and likeness of the Creator. And he is destined for greatness not subservience.

But if we carefully dissect what hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy are about, they pigeonhole Juan de la Cruz. And sadly they dominate our conversation and what we get from our media day in and day out – with a little help from the church as it preaches compassion?

And worse, because we’re too close to the trees we keep missing the forest? And that would explain why despite incessantly prescribing cures for what ails us we’re still unable to deliver the goods? But is it about ideology? Yet even Francis doesn’t buy the ideology professed by churchgoing people like us – nor the Curia.

And Japan, Inc. and China, Inc. and Singapore, Inc. are all different yet they all became wealthy economies. What do they have in common? They all sought development and its prerequisite, investment. Did we think there’s a substitute for investment – like manna from heaven?

And can underdevelopment be a consequence of linear thinking, preoccupied with activity but not necessarily driven by a desired outcome like a vision? But then again that is not surprising: visionaries come few and far between.

Yet visionary and strategic leadership isn’t confined to the West as the Asian Tigers demonstrated. If indeed we're at a loss . . . and at the gates of hell, do we owe it to ourselves to traverse a different path?

Should we be scared that we are decreasing our odds to make a do-over whenever we allow hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy, akin to the social cancer Rizal saw, to metastasize?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Juan de la Cruz needs an epiphany

More than infrastructure, more than bold moves and more than reform, do we need a conversion like that of Saul? “[W]e have been at the ‘gates of hell’ and for so long now, it has been staring us in the face.” [Metro Manila as gates of hell, Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 26th Oct 2015]

“Manila is the world's most densely populated city with 66,140 people per square kilometer. The Metro Manila population is estimated at 12 million but the larger urban area has a population estimated at 21.3 million. The Metro Manila population swells during the daytime however, to about 15 million. This density is much higher than that of Mumbai (23,000 people/sq. km), Paris (20,150 people/sq. km), and Tokyo (10,100 people/sq. km).” []

Have we turned Metro Manila – if not the nation – into a monster that is now way over our head? Somewhere in this posting reads “several foreign firms are interested to invest in rails and toll road projects but have a hard time complying with the equity ownership prohibition in the Constitution.” Do we even know where we are? How could we then figure out where we want to be and how we shall get there?

“The Philippines: Still unrealized potential,” Business Mirror Editorial, 26th Oct 2015. “We are reminded of that saying, ‘If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?’ . . . “The total Philippine GDP was flat, showing no growth—and with population increases actually shrinking on a per capita basis—between 1996 and 2004. In 1996 the value was $82.8 billion, and in 2004 it was $83.9 billion. However, between 2005 and 2010, Philippine economic output grew by 90 percent and per-capita GDP was up 13 percent.

“Total GDP increase between 2009 and 2014 was 62 percent and per-capita GDP was up 19 percent. The data shows that the economy actually grew faster in the five years prior to 2010, but the per-capita growth has been larger since 2010. Part of the reason is that Philippine population growth has decreased from 1.9 percent in 2005 to the current 1.7 percent, and some better government policies to ‘spread the economic growth wealth.’

“But the question today is the same that it has been every day for the last 25 years: ‘Why can’t the Philippines fulfill its economic potential?’”

“‘Bold moves’ seen needed to sustain growth momentum, realize potentials,’ Krista Angela M. Montealegre, Business World, 26th Oct 2015. ‘Bold moves’ seen needed to sustain growth momentum, realize potentials. During the general membership meeting of the Makati Business Club yesterday, McKinsey & Company Managing Director Dominic Barton said investments in these four key areas must be “enabled” by vocational training, investments in infrastructure and higher level of external orientation to realize their potential.

“Mr. Barton pushed for more investments in applied learning institutes, similar to the British Columbia Institute of Technology, since the Philippines has been suffering from a growing gap in skills needed for professional, semi-professional and skilled labor jobs. ‘One of the challenges is there’s far too much focus on university as opposed to vocational education,’ Mr. Barton said.

“The Philippine economy has outperformed most of its peers in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in recent years, but this picture hides some weakness. ‘The good news is you have a demographic window, but the bad news is the productivity of that workforce is lower than what we’re seeing in other parts of the world,’ Mr. Barton said. For the country to sustain its historical economic growth pace of 5%, labor productivity must grow 58% faster, he said.”

Is that too macro for us to personally be affected? What about traffic management? “It’s unacceptable for government to simply ask for patience with the ‘temporary’ (yet seemingly endless) inconvenience while the Naia Expressway is being built—when it’s clear that a little active traffic management could improve things even now.” [A long wait at Bay 8, Cielito F. HabitoPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 27th Oct 2015]

“Instead of 5 percent, the next administration’s infrastructure expenditures should be 7 percent of GDP, we should be pushing for higher infrastructure spending,” [Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio L. Singson] stressed.” [Next administration urged to raise infra spending to 7% of GDP, Bernie Magkilat, Manila Bulletin, 26th Oct 2015]

“To encourage private sector investments in infrastructure projects in the country, Singson has urged for changes in the rules in public utilities where foreign firms are limited up to 40 percent ownership only. Singson said that several foreign firms are interested to invest in rails and toll road projects but have a hard time complying with the equity ownership prohibition in the Constitution.”

“The key to jump-starting the emergence of a new center is to bring employment generating investments there. In concrete terms, create affordable industrial venues in the Clark sub-zone in partnership with entities who had done it before in China, Singapore, Taiwan, etc.”[Chanco, op. cit.]

“Create a major tourism center on the Zambales coastline where it joins the hills of Tarlac and Pangasinan. Stop SBMA and CDC from farting around, filling up what ought to be sea and airports to be tourism and what-have-you centers. Get the Subic-Clark intermodal logistics complex going by partnering with the Singapore Port Authority and/or the Dubai entity that has successfully made Dubai into THE hub for Asia-Europe travel.

“‘I get breathless thinking of the explosive growth development that could result from an intelligent approach driven and coordinated by government.’ Obviously, we cannot accomplish all these things in one presidential term. But the work must be started. The thing is, we may just wake up one day to find out it is too late to do anything at all.”

“How come we never get the visionary leaders — with the strength of character, firmness of principles, and integrity of life — who can impose the discipline to get all the fractious elements of our society to rally around a common banner? Who can secure continuity of good policies, and the cohesion as well as mutual reinforcement between those policies? Who will break down the enormous silos we have built up, within which so many of us work and operate, with so little of that coordination that is essential for the effectiveness of whatever ‘system’ we may have?” [On our way, Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, Manila Bulletin, 23rd Oct 2015]

We need a conversion like that of Saul?

We like to believe that we can manage this nation like hell and still be virtuous? And so we hate it when foreigners meddle yet in the history of man to meddle in another country’s affairs has had its share of virtue? We may not have a leadership that slaughtered its own people (although we’ve had leaders that had to be deposed – and a Marcos who many still hold up to high esteem) but how we’ve mismanaged this nation is such a grievous sin nonetheless – given half of our people have lost their souls from abject poverty?

While the status quo may represent our comfort zone and even our sense of patriotism, until we cease to celebrate and perpetuate hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy – and seek the common good and not undersell ourselves and aspire for greatness inherent in the Creator's image – we shall be confined at the gates of hell? 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Our best efforts are failing us?

“In the end, everybody leaves the room with some foreboding, aware of just how big and how complex this nation’s problems really are. There are hints of solutions here and there, but it’s obvious nobody’s really got it all figured out. Even these men and women who run their own corporations—profitable, global and at the forefront of their respective industries—are at a loss as to why we’re still here, still only here, given the richness of our resources and the potential of our people.” [‘Muddling through,’ Adelle Chua, The Standard, 2nd Nov 2015]

“Such was the scene during the General Membership Meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines held Tuesday 27 October at The Peninsula Manila. The topic of the forum, ‘Bayan o Sarili,’ was lifted from a line out of the film ‘Heneral Luna.’

So “Heneral Luna” has had more than its share of “flavor of the month”? Are we then unwittingly indicting the Church? That we need a Heneral Luna as a moral compass despite our being a churchgoing people – and proud of it? Which we can’t say of the West and why we’re critical of their culture? And didn’t we pull out all the stops when Pope Francis visited – we, being the de facto evangelists to the world? But did we miss his message and lesson that hierarchy is not what the Church is – and why he didn’t want the Philippine elite to be in Tacloban?

But we still don’t get it? What about our leadership past, present and future? Why do we struggle to define “individual” vis-à-vis the “state”? “The individual is nothing without the state . . . [W]e had long been confined to the idea of the nation state and it is time to break out of that. So is the idea of pitting personalities versus issues as the basis for choosing whom to vote for. There will always be a consideration for the kind of people candidates are; this cannot be divorced from the kind of leader they would eventually be. 

“One personality trait, for instance, is being morally upright. To be not corrupt is necessary . . . but not enough. Furthermore, what is sorely lacking from all the candidates, is a national strategy and vision.

“Rex Drilon II, chairman of the Management Association of the Philippines’ National Issues Committee, agreed. ‘The first thing any elected president should do is to design a road map for the country.’ It sounds commonsensical—too, when you get behind the wheel of your vehicle, you have to know exactly where you are going so you can figure out the best way to get there.”

So where are we? “[B]ut it’s obvious nobody’s really got it all figured out.”

“As the deadline for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) nears, business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan said the Philippines remains unready for the economic unification of the regional market. ‘No, we’re not ready... People keep talking about integration but what does it really mean? I’m not saying it will not happen one day, but not in our lifetime. Let us be realistic that it won’t happen because politics will intrude,’ Pangilinan said.” [Philippines not ready for Asean integration – MVP, Richmond S. Mercurio, The Philippine Star, 3rd Nov 2015]

“‘Like sugar, it is cheaper to import sugar, that will be good for Filipino consumers but you will displace four million people from their jobs. If you’re a sitting president, can you afford that, turn away four million of your people without the livelihood? You cannot. It will be suicide. And any sitting president, whether in Indonesia or Malaysia, will have the same issues,’ he added. Pangilinan chairs the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Metro Pacific Investments Corp., and Manila Electric Co.”

“Even these men and women who run their own corporations—profitable, global and at the forefront of their respective industries—are at a loss as to why we’re still here, still only here, given the richness of our resources and the potential of our people.” [Chua, op. cit.]

Should we lay blame – but where? Is it our culture and the complexity that is inherent in our way of life? Like personalities versus issues and leadership? Moral uprightness and national strategy and vision? Politics as an intrusion? Regional integration and its impact on competition? Livelihood and populism?

When all is said and done, the reality is we are at a loss? Because we have long been suffering from “learned helplessness”? “Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

“While the concept is strongly tied to animal psychology and behavior, it can also apply to many situations involving human beings. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change . . . The concept of learned helplessness was discovered accidentally by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier.” []

Sadly, Juan de la Cruz believes that our culture is set in stone? And that Western-style democracy is not meant for us? But why can’t we create something like Japan, Inc. or China, Inc. or Singapore, Inc.? It is not enough to say that Western-style democracy is not for us. We have to adapt to this changing world! And this is where in our heart of hearts we part ways with Francis whose papacy is characterized as bringing the Church to the present?

This blog as some would know was inspired by the writer’s Bulgarian friends. And others, too, have taken notice. And very recently he was invited to share with a group from the retail industry the success story of his friends. He joined 5 other foreign speakers representing a wide range of expertise: from a member of the core design team of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner to SAP’s solution portfolio to IBM business development and product innovation to retail insights out of London, etc.

What makes the writer’s Bulgarian friends special? Recalling their recent history, as the country transitioned from Communist-rule to a free market, 3 families took control of industry and gave birth to their version of oligarchy. But today two of them are gone. As the writer would clarify with his friends, free market is not free. It is responsible. It is to be defended . . . and pursued. It is competitive, not oligarchic.

To be competitive they had to rapidly develop a sense of purpose – to be the best in the business. Which demands a commitment to a set of values if they are to be driven – and realize their vision. At the end of the day, their success stems from their ability to connect those dots: their purpose . . . and their values – that is, to be uncompromising in investing in their people, their products and brands, the consumers and their partners, both in the private and public sectors.

In the company’s recent budget review meeting, the writer recalled for the group how one of them asked if they could beat a major brand from the West in a business they just entered. It was not a smooth 13-year run yet they demonstrated their ability to adapt. And, of course, they beat the Western behemoth such that another global competition has been wanting to partner with them. If you can’t beat them, better join them!

That’s why this blog talked about the Philippines’ Carlos Chan in a recent posting. If Juan de la Cruz is suffering from “learned helpless,” the Chinoys aren’t? We must learn to internalize that our culture is not set in stone. And it doesn’t take a lifetime to step up and go toe-to-toe against the world’s best and brightest. But that demands shedding hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy Philippine-style. And if our goal – or purpose – is to be a developed nation, we need an economy that is wealthy. And precisely why industrialization is the bedrock of wealthy nations.

Yet that has never been front and center in the Philippines and it explains our pathetic levels of investment. Instead we nurtured and perpetuated a parochial, insular and restrictive economy because of a false sense of patriotism. And it goes back to our instincts – or values – of hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy?

Not surprisingly, our captains of industry are themselves at a loss? “Why [are we] still here, still only here, given the richness of our resources and the potential of our people”?