Friday, February 12, 2016

Riding the tiger’s back

“On the eve of the 30th anniversary of our peaceful, non-violent People Power Revolution at EDSA, it is important for Filipinos to revisit that phenomenal happening that effected the ejection of a dictatorial regime. It is unfortunate, however, that many incumbent leaders today, including younger politicians, may have already forgotten the historic meaning of our EDSA ‘Spirit of Defiance and Sacrifice’ against overwhelming forces in the defense of our people’s fundamental rights.

“No wonder the Philippines is now #141 in World Press Freedom ranking out of 180 – and worse, #115 in the UN Human Development Index out of 195!!! How low can we get??? Didn’t the Philippines occupy higher, upper-half positions just a decade ago???

“We need leaders of vision who see tomorrow’s brighter possibilities – far beyond today’s election intramurals, political divisions, economic crises, violent extremism, and territorial conflicts. We need leaders who can restore hope by their positive actions and modest lifestyle examples – especially to the youth and those mired in poverty – because the capacity to instill hope is a critical quality of leadership.” [After Mamasapano, where’s the unity, solidarity, teamwork (???), Former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos, Manila Bulletin, 6th Feb 2016]

How else to perceive why we are where we are? Riding the tiger’s back – damned if we do and damned if we don’t? The first line of the above quote is like déjà vu to this writer. “This is the captain. We are instructed to turn back to Singapore. There is fighting – I mean from gunfire – at the Manila International Airport.”

He is in his Singapore hotel room reading the piece of President Ramos after watching Bloomberg TV, where the Singapore Airlines’ CEO was interviewed. They’re a sad reminder of how we blew People Power? 

Transformation is not in our DNA? Over a century ago Rizal saw that, and called upon the youth? We’re sinking deeper but can’t do much because we’re riding the tiger’s back? Where parochialism is high up in our value system as paternalism and hierarchy? And where we’ve given free pass to tyranny when we bowed to political patronage and oligarchy?

If the church couldn’t step up to the challenge posed by Rizal then, what about today? Why did Francis tell us that he didn’t visit Tacloban to rub elbows with the elite class but to be with the poor? Because of our total and complete misunderstanding of what we profess as our faith? It is egalitarian, not hierarchical as exemplified by Francis of Assisi . . . and Christ himself. And why Francis chose to be Francis.

The wife asked the writer why he talks about hierarchy. Problem-solving and innovation and competitiveness – ergo, progress and development in the highly globalized and competitive 21st century world – aren’t the province of hierarchy . . . but of an egalitarian ethos. When he first arrived in Eastern Europe his then brand-new friends saw him as a guru. “What is the rule for this and the rule for that” would be their constant query. It was perhaps a carryover from their dark ages – under communist rule.

And the one story he would repeat a few times went like this: I was visiting a subsidiary at my old MNC-company and after sitting through a day of business review and the country manager and I were ordering dinner, he blurted, “My wife asked me to ask you if you are here to fire me.”

The story would amplify the simple thinking model he has used for decades in different cultures and countries – and markets. “This is your company. Have you asked yourself where you want to be? But then that presupposes you have clarity, are crystal clear on where you are. It takes work to overcome the ABC, the barriers of problem-solving: (A) your assumptions; (B) your biases; and (c) your comfort zone. Together we will navigate that treacherous terrain. If we can’t overcome those barriers, how will we figure out where we want to be? We need those two markers before we can decipher how we will get to where we want to be.” In today’s lingo, it’s called the GPS.

Let’s bring that to PH: (a) British envoy finds PH energy investment policy ‘illogical,’ Redempto D. AndaInquirer Southern Luzon, 7th Feb 2016; and (b) Failure to pass BBL a ‘boon’—Belmonte, Gil CabacunganPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 7th Feb 2016.

“[British Ambassador Asif] Ahmad said that in the case of the Langogan River in Palawan, it took the government more than 20 years to decide to tap into the province’s river systems for its power needs. ‘The sad fact is that it had to take some 23 years since a British company first said [the project] was feasible. Effectively, that delay deprived one generation of children. That is the price of indecision,’ he said.”

The price of indecision? We’ve been on this boat for over a century? We are a resilient and people of faith? Are we giving ourselves too much credit? Are we our own worst enemy?

“The negotiators of the peace agreement, from the side of the government as well as the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, however, expressed disappointment that the BBL did not pass in Congress.

“The Palace, which had lobbied strongly for the passage of the BBL, had hoped a peace settlement ending over 40 years of secessionist war in resource-rich Mindanao would be one of the highlights of President Aquino’s presidency.

“It was the second negotiated agreement with the MILF to be thumbed down—the first in 2008 when an agreement for redrawing a Bangsamoro homeland negotiated by the Arroyo administration was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“Many senators said the new BBL still contained unconstitutional provisions tantamount to creating a state within a state.  Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., chair of the committee on local government, submitted in August last year a substitute draft of the BBL which reportedly revised 80 percent of the original measure endorsed by Malacañang.

“Senate President Franklin Drilon also announced recently that the upper chamber would not be able to take up the BBL . . . A new president and Congress will step up in June after the May elections. The BBL will have to be refiled in the two chambers of the next Congress, and go through the legislative mill all over again.”

Can we already spell peace that we like to talk up patriotism and loyalty to country? But what about our sense of community and the common good? Parochialism is not only narrow and confining, it is closing on us to scare us of our own shadow?

What is our worldview? And what about our neighbors? And so with TPP – like in FDIs – we find ourselves left out again? And it’s one more confirmation of our worldview – that we’re not geared to respond beyond our parochial confines? But TPP is not perfect? As though the UN is, look at Syria, among others?

Yet our most critical income streams come from the outside and with PH as a third-party provider: (a) OFW remittances, and (b) the BPO industry. Sadly we haven’t moved up the value chain, not from the days of the garments industry and more recently, electronics. And that value-chain gap comes from our failure in industrial development – which demands investment, technology and innovation as well as people, product and supply chain and market development.

And to make matters worse we all want to take credit for the outcome – i.e., our healthy forex reserves and lower debt levels – of such suboptimal efforts that we fall prey to “pwede na ‘yan”? And we want to beat the drums of optimism while silent on what lies beneath? There is business as usual and there is discontinuity. There is superficial and there is structural. There is short-term and there is long-term. There is reform and there is reform.

We need a bigger mind to overcome our version of the “Dutch disease – and see through our jaded lenses? “We should hold our presidential candidates accountable and ask them to clarify their views on the BBL and the peace process as a whole. Who is playing demagogue and merely whipping up prejudices for political gain? The stakes are extremely high for resolving the Bangsamoro question, given urgent social and economic needs, on the one hand, and a swiftly changing geo-political landscape, on the other.

“As my Mom said over dinner the other night—and here I paraphrase—‘what is clear is that we need leaders who have humility, not bluster and bravado, religious and cultural tolerance, a talent for negotiation, a concern for equality and inclusive growth, and, finally, the courage to remain steadfast in pursuing peace.’” [Where do our candidates stand on the BBL (?), Lila Ramos Shahani, CONJUGATIONS,, 8th Feb 2016]

And beyond our supposed resiliency – and being a people of faith – what about Caesar? Do we give him his due? Basic and vital infrastructure like electricity – and a strategic industry base – are imperative in erecting a platform for a sustainable and competitive economy. And we can rant and rave and kick and scream against poverty but without that platform we are indeed destined to be the regional laggard? 

And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel! We rail against the unfettered free enterprise of the West yet are blind to how the Asian tigers did it – first with Japan Inc. and then Singapore Inc. and then China Inc.?

“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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