Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Purpose. Principles. Values.

“Rizal . . . wrote: ‘We said, and we repeat it once more, and will always repeat it, all reforms of a palliative nature are not only ineffective but are even harmful when the Government is beset with ills that need radical remedy.’” [Rizal’s prophecies fulfilled, Oscar P. Lagman, Jr., Business World, 28th Dec 2015]

“Brazil’s fall: Disaster looms for Latin America’s biggest economy,” The Economist, 2nd Jan 2016. “As the B in BRICS, Brazil is supposed to be in the vanguard of fast-growing emerging economies. Instead it faces political dysfunction . . . Only hard choices can put Brazil back on course. Just now, Ms. Rousseff does not seem to have the stomach for them.

Brazil’s suffering, like that of other emerging economies, stems partly from the fall in global commodity prices. But Ms. Rousseff and her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) have made a bad situation much worse. During her first term . . . she spent extravagantly and unwisely on higher pensions and unproductive tax breaks for favored industries.

“If Brazil is to fulfil its promise, much, much more is needed. A typical manufacturing firm spends 2,600 hours a year complying with the country’s ungainly tax code; the Latin American average is 356. Labor laws modelled on those of Mussolini make it expensive for firms to fire even incompetent employees. Brazil has shielded its firms from international competition. That is one reason why, among 41 countries whose performance was measured by the OECD, its manufacturing productivity is the fourth-lowest.

“To reform work and pensions, Ms. Rousseff must face up to problems that have been decades in the making. Some 90% of public spending is protected from cuts, partly by the constitution which, in 1988, celebrated the end of military rule by enshrining generous job protection and state benefits. Because it is so hard to reform, Brazil’s public sector rivals European welfare states for size but emerging ones for inefficiency.”

Running like a headless chicken – is not it. That was how this writer would introduce the science of innovation to his then new Bulgarian friends. He applauded their creativity until they were ready to take in the science, that art for art's sake would be counterproductive in their economic pursuits.

Indeed they were an impressive bunch, quick to come up with art works and mockups of products – indicative of their potential to compete beyond their home market. To move up to the next level, they had to respond to queries like “Tell me again what this product is for?” And the response can’t be “Don't you like it; it looks nice.”

What was Rizal asking when he spoke to reforms of a palliative nature? What is this reform for, what is the purpose? Wittingly or not, we created an ecosystem that will perpetuate our state of affairs. As this blog has raised, the Philippine ecosystem – which we perhaps take for granted – is comprised of parochialism, paternalism, hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy. Which is a reflection of what Fr. Bulatao calls our split-level Christianity. For example, we pride ourselves in the focus on family and if Binay becomes president that will even be enshrined – that family is license to kill as in political dynasties?

But we’re incurable optimists despite missing several periods of economic expansion the world has witnessed spanning decades. And today we like to believe that we can address Philippine poverty via “inclusion”? But given our worldview hasn’t changed, would we miss that our ecosystem has a history of generating a perfect storm? See above re the fall of Brazil.

This blog has raised our affliction or Dutch disease – OFW remittances and the BPO industry – because an enterprise, an economy or nation must have a robust income stream. And it can’t be manna from heaven. Man was driven out of Eden because he erred . . . and it was to be his commencement and reality:  to be the master of his world . . . “since we are created in the divine image.” [The Christmas Revolution, Peter Wehner, The New York Times, 25th Dec 2015]

“The incarnation also reveals that the divine principle governing the universe is a radical commitment to the dignity and worth of every person, since we are created in the divine image.” In other words, we can’t rationalize “hierarchy” by embracing paternalism. It is an insult to the dignity and worth of Juan de la Cruz?

And if we would interpret Rizal, poverty can’t be addressed by our definition of inclusion. “Financial inclusion” may be the ’flavor of the month’ yet we’ve had microfinance for the longest time and still our track record in addressing poverty remains pathetic – compared to our neighbors!

And how did our neighbors do it? Economic development! And from what Deng Xiaoping learned from them, China unabashedly begged the West for their “money and technology.” But that goes against the grain if we consider that “parochialism” is in our DNA?

And what are we left with? “He vowed that his administration would prioritize poverty alleviation and uplifting the lives of Filipinos . . . He also promised to continue the cash dole out program of the government for poor families . . . and improve it to ensure better and efficient services as well as provide financial assistance to the senior citizens like what he did in Makati City.” [Binay unfazed by Duterte lead in survey, vows to reduce poverty in PH, Maya Jajalla, Inquirer Visayas, 7th Dec 2015]

Political patronage! That's what we're left with! And it is directed not only to voters but to “kingmakers” – and oligarchy – as well. “The 6 evils of PPPs,” Alberto Agra, Business Mirror, 28th Dec 2015. “Clientism is the funneling of resources to favor a select group. In clientism, former or current clients and friends benefit. Affiliation takes precedence. Capture is providing rents to specific players. When a private proponent captures a public entity, the latter loses its independence, and is beholden to the payor of the rent.”

And as sure as night follows day, when we aren’t the “in crowd” or the select group, “crab mentality” is the favored 'weapon of mass destruction.' “Only P-Noy can resolve issues,” Peter WallacePhilippine Daily Inquirer, 29th Dec 2015. “The country’s dismal record . . . is reflected in the latest World Bank-IFC Doing Business survey in which the Philippines ranked 124th out of 189 economies in terms of enforcing contracts.”

“The Philippines is lagging behind in attracting investment—it’s last among its Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) peers. One of the reasons is policy changes from one administration to the next, or even within an administration. This includes changes in contracts.” And Peter Wallace reminded us of Piatco, among others.

Beyond “crab mentality” is enlightenment or wisdom – or the lack if not the absence of it – which as a churchgoing people we learned through the stories about the scribes and the Pharisees. And is it at the root of PH poor governance – and reflected in our culture of impunity and corrupt and/or delayed justice? 

There are the hard and the soft elements of nation building. And given crab mentality – and our inability to prioritize – what are our chances to move forward as a people and nation? Beyond a Rizal do we need a Washington or a Lincoln or a Roosevelt or even a Deng Xiaoping, for example? We need visionary and strategic leadership – one who will call out our confused or split-level Christianity?

A leadership that can show us the way to an altogether different ecosystem: investment, technology and innovation as well as people, product, supply chain and market development? Meaning, one geared for industrialization because that is how we shall overcome “pwede na ‘yan,” elevate the quality of our income streams and attain a virtuous circle. In short, attain developed nation status!

All reforms of a palliative nature are not only ineffective but are even harmful, so says Rizal. What is our purpose? If it is the development of Juan de la Cruz, what principles and values must we adhere to and embrace? 

“Our ills we owe to ourselves alone, so let us blame no one . . . while we see our countrymen in private life ashamed within themselves, hear the voice of conscience roar in rebellion and protest, yet in public life keep silence or even echo the words of him who abuses them in order to mock the abused; while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the most iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty—why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worse! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

We can’t learn the primacy of community and the common good if we don’t re-learn freedom. That freedom is not free. It is a responsibility. And if we take on a responsibility, we need to truly understand what it entails.

As this writer’s Bulgarian friends have recognized, running like a headless chicken may equate to art for art’s sake, but in this day and age, innovation is both art and science. Or as Steve Jobs put it, the intersection of liberal arts and technology. It sounds simple yet easier said than done? As Einstein explained, “I just keep at a problem longer than most.” They both belong to a select few and the rest of us lesser mortals can’t figure them out?

And why we call Rizal prescient, he saw our foibles over a century ago? “‘Where are the youth who will consecrate their golden hours, their illusions, and their enthusiasm to the welfare of their native land?’ Rizal asked as he wrote in his novel El Filibusterismo more than a century ago.

“But amid such words uttered through one of the novel’s characters, Padre Florentino, Rizal expressed his love and admiration for the youth whom he called ‘bella esperanza de la patria’ (fair hope of the fatherland) in his poem, ‘A la Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth).’” [Rizal’s hope of the fatherland, Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina Jr., Manila Bulletin, 29th Dec 2014]

Did Rizal in fact give up on his generation like our generation is now toast?

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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