Monday, February 1, 2016

Vietnam’s prospects . . . and what about PHL?

“Foreign firms and investors are cheerful once more about Vietnam’s prospects.” [Gold stars: Vietnamese companies, The Economist, 23rd Jan 2016.]

Should we be looking out to our friendly competition like Vietnam? Beyond assuming that we’re doing fine – with accelerating investments in infrastructure projects and increasing FDIs on top of our mainstays, OFW remittances and the BPO industry, that are giving us healthy forex reserves – do we need to acknowledge our reality? That we lag: (a) investment-wise; and (b) in average economic output?

For the 5-year period 2010-2014 while we had an uptick in FDIs in 2014 of 66%, Vietnam accumulated $33.9 B, over 2.2 times ours and finished 2014 – our best year – almost 50% ahead of us. And combined with our deficits in infrastructure development and industrial development, our Achilles heel versus the rest of the region is only magnified.

“[A] new law on investment and enterprise, passed in 2014 but only implemented last summer, has cut red tape. Vietnam ranks mid-table in the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index but is inching upwards. Foreigners often find it easier to operate in Vietnam than in China, and its recent reforms compare favorably with those elsewhere in South-East Asia.

“In part the country has benefited from its neighbors’ weaknesses.” The Economist would point out to China’s higher wages, Indonesia shrinking back to protectionism and political scandals in Malaysia. “All this reflects renewed optimism for Vietnam, a country of 93 million with a median age of 30 and an economy expanding by nearly 7% a year. Its consumer sector is particular appealing.

“There are plenty of frustrations nonetheless . . . Analysts worry that the pace of liberalization could soften, but few expect the direction of reform to reverse. For one thing, Mr. Dung’s trade deals mean that once-vague party promises have now been written into international treaties . . . The only way is forward.”

What is PH to do? First is to truly examine our worldview?

Is it about time – given Rizal’s admonition over a century ago – that we put “tyranny” in our vocabulary and take it to heart? It is where the sufferings of Juan de la Cruz start – and CCT is not the way to dismantle tyranny? In fact it feeds on our parochial-paternalistic-hierarchical-political patronage-oligarchic psyche – like we’re riding the back of a tiger – that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

We have to restate our problem if we are to navigate beyond the status quo – and “pwede na ‘yan” – and not be taken down the abyss.

Likewise, it’s time we recognize that “logic” is overrated – that is, creative thinking and problem-solving is best approached by lateral thinking beyond linear thinking.

And while corruption – and imperfection – is worldwide and universal, it doesn’t give us an impunity license. Losers may appropriate the notion but winners know better. 

And so that we don’t feel inferior but see ourselves equal to every nation, it’s important that we deal with our self-image and identity. A friend in need is a friend indeed! While the way we’ve been conducting ourselves vis-à-vis America is childish as though we’re the only nation that is host to the US military? And that can’t be healthy?

Of course we can opt to be in bed with China. The reality is powerful nations have their own self-interests; ergo, which is the better option, a democratic superpower or a communist one? Perfection is not of this world so the choice cannot come down to: who is the perfect friend?

We ought to move up to the higher level of discourse, that is, of wisdom beyond law? Because Juan de la Cruz pays the price for our juvenile tendencies. The evidence? Underdevelopment is not a curse or a given. It is the outcome of a people’s foibles? Translation: let’s stop our “pa-pogi”!

What about our faith that seems to power our resiliency? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result isn’t faith but insanity – so says Einstein?

“In my forty-five years as a priest, I have found that one of the best things we can do to remove people's ingrained inability to experience grace and mercy is to first clear away their toxic image of God. As I see it, there are two major obstructions that need to be removed. One is theological and one is more psychological.

“Poor theology has led most people to view God as a sometimes benevolent Santa Claus or as an unforgiving tyrant who is going to burn us in hell for all eternity if we don't love him. (Who would love, or even trust, a god like that?) Psychologically, humans tend to operate out of a worldview of fear and scarcity rather than trust and abundance. This stingy, calculating worldview makes both grace and mercy unimaginable and difficult to experience.” [Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, 26th Jan 2016]

And when all is said and done, should we make our politics an excuse to perpetuate the status quo or the starting point to pursue honest-to-goodness reforms and nation-building?

For example, we don't need a populist leadership but one that is mature and dedicated to community and the common good – and skilled enough to demonstrate visionary and strategic leadership? If we have no one in the horizon then it’s going to get worse before it gets better for Juan de la Cruz? As The New York Times public editor raised, “Should The Times have been a tougher watchdog in Flint?”

Vietnam has been poised to leave us in the dust. And that may happen sooner than later? And if we look at a more developed neighbor – Singapore – we would be blown away by their worldview. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t benchmark against Singapore.

“World has changed and Singapore needs to change with it: MPs,” The Straits Times, 26th January 2016. “Singapore needs to evolve to keep up with the changing world and cannot cling tight to the old ways that have brought the country to where it is today, said MPs in Parliament . . .

“As the country enters its next phase of development, it should relook its economic growth strategies and style of making decisions, said Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung.

“Mr. Ong, first of the next-generation leaders to speak in the debate on the President's Address, added: ‘Evolution is absolutely necessary because no city stays successful by standing still. Animals develop sharper claws, longer beaks and harder shells in order to survive.’

“Likewise, Singapore must develop new traits to survive in a more complex and competitive world . . . But as it evolves, it should hold fast to some principles, and he cited three: integrity, meritocracy and an openness to the world.

“‘We must be able to understand, bridge, and operate across different cultures. We must have depth in know-how and skills, so that wherever we go, our expertise is valued,’ he added . . . Amid these shifting sands, Singapore must make the right judgment calls. Mr. Ong urged the Government to exercise greater discretion and adhere less strictly to rules, as ‘the world is now too complex to be reduced to rules and numbers.’“

Our challenge isn’t getting any easier and if it isn’t obvious yet, we have a lot – a mind-boggling lot – of catching up to do.  For example, take these news reports, 27th Jan 2016: Serious corruption problem plagues PHL, TI survey says; Philippines given poor marks on innovation-friendly policy – ITIF; NCC bares projects to push PHL global competitiveness; PHL to wield competition commission so business gains may reach more poor.

We like to talk about techniques; but what about a sense of purpose and principles – through which man has demonstrated greatness since time immemorial? Do we wonder why Juan de la Cruz is yet to develop the sense of community and the common good?

“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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