Thursday, May 26, 2016

A rolling stone gathers no moss: Problem-solving 101

This blog has outlived the Aquino administration. It had high hopes when the then new administration took office especially with the JFCs “Arangkada Philippines” all there for the taking. A journalist-friend from Cebu even asked if this writer was pro-Aquino. “He is a cacique,” the friend would add.

Economists today would see import-substitution and “Filipino First” as the beginning of our economic isolation. Unlike our neighbors, we’re not competitive because we haven’t gained as much experience working with the outside world – e.g., in attracting investment and technology.

And sadly in agriculture we’re in a worse predicament. Industry and agriculture may not be alike yet there are underlying elements that are common beyond investment and technology, economies of scale being one of them. And the other is the primacy of competitive products that can find overseas markets.

Investment. Technology. Economies of scale. Competitive products. Overseas markets. They are the critical elements of competitive trade be it industry or agriculture. To underperform in these metrics means for PH to make do with our biggest trade: OFWs and the BPO industry. And that is the root of our failed economic development efforts and, by definition, our failure in nation building?

We can’t be a rolling stone that gathers no moss? And must learn from these stark experiences? For instance, our default thinking process could be linear (not surprising since it presupposes logic) as opposed to lateral thinking (which feeds creativity.) And we could be activity-oriented instead of outcome-oriented. They are critical to problem solving. And can help us develop visionary and strategic thinking. Plus, beyond reactive become proactive.

For example, despite our inability to be competitive in agriculture, land reform continues to be the battle cry of certain sectors. Because thinking-mode or orientation-mode is not foremost in our minds – but compassion is? Did we not say that land reform was the be-all and end-all to lift our farmers from the bondage of poverty?

Should we wonder why we continue to be confronted with problems after problems? In the vernacular, “sapin-sapin” will describe our myriad challenges? Power. Infrastructure. Airports. Industry. Agri-business. The list is endless.

On the other hand, we celebrate oligarchy, political dynasties, rank and its privileges. And we seem not to have any notion of urgency? We’ve been in this same boat for over a hundred years? What are we waiting for?

What about the multiparty system? It was also to be the be-all and end-all after Marcos – together with the parliamentary and the federal systems? We now know the multiparty system in fact raised the costs of legislation with or without the pork barrel and/or its misuse and abuse? Because we ignored the imperative of establishing the outcome that must be the object of problem-solving? And fortified crab mentality to boot and, by definition, poor governance?

Problem-solving is not intuitive despite how we Pinoys like to give credit to our native intelligence. Worse if we stubbornly keep to our inward-looking bias. The world has . . . long . . . left us behind. Now we will even have rebels in the cabinet? It sounds cute. At the very least we risk being geared to sub-optimization, a characteristic not of winners but of losers, no different from crab mentality. Our challenge is to develop the sense of community and the common good. Can these rebels agree and embrace that North Star? Sadly, time and again, major initiatives we had fancied would do otherwise. If we truly believe that to be parochial and insular within our narrow interests is what we are and shall be, not only Vietnam will leave us behind. Cambodia and Myanmar will follow suit. 

Given our oligarchic economy, even our tycoons didn’t have to develop the competitive instincts demanded by the 21st century. The evidence? They do seek market overseas but who is their target? OFWs! In fairness, Oishi is the exception. They invest and compete outside our shores, they’re not confined to targeting Pinoys overseas.

As far as the public sector is concerned, ours is a culture of impunity? Need we say more?

Back to the federal system – which we will debate for some time given the agenda of the incoming Duterte administration. For example, we want to democratize Juan de la Cruz especially outside Metro Manila? Wasn’t that the object of the party-list system? And of land reform? And in both cases the void created had to be appropriated by vested interests? And why we’re more fragmented?

We have yet to appreciate that linear thinking is not the be-all and end-all? Problem-solving demands lateral thinking – and connecting the dots. Even more, it demands defining the desired outcome not simply jumping the gun on the obvious activity. Land reform is the activity; the desired outcome is competitive agriculture otherwise the land input goes to waste – and worse, poverty hasn’t gone away. The missing links and why we can't seem to connect the dots? Investment. Technology. Economies of scale. Competitive products. Overseas markets.

It is not about understanding federalism. That is important, but federalism is the activity. The desired outcome is good governance, an imperative if we are to create the building blocks of a wealthy and a competitive economy. Systems are inanimate, people make them come alive. It is like big data and analytics. People drive analytics and problem-solving. And in fact we have this big data related to our current centralized system and we must go through the analytics instead of prescribing federalism as the cure all.

Our current system is undermined by poor governance or simply endemic corruption. And it’s not confined to the three branches. Political dynasties rule both national and local governments. Ergo: either system is no magic wand to eliminate the cancer of poor governance and endemic corruption. To simply democratize Juan de la Cruz failed with land reform and the multiparty system. 

If we are to be a wealthy economy and nation, we have to work on getting to that desired outcome. It starts with good governance that must then pursue investment, technology, economies of scale, competitive products and overseas markets. But that will not happen if we value oligarchy, political dynasties, rank and its privileges. Ergo: Villar, Marcos, Binay must be a no-no. South Korea had to neutralize oligarchy before it was able to accelerate industrialization. That is why freedom and democracy demands the right leadership and the maturity of the people. Again, people not systems.

If we do something as basic as benchmarking against our neighbors, federalism is not what made them economic miracles. Nor was it land reform per se. But we want to benchmark against the US, Canada or Germany? If we don’t have the temperament of Asians and keep ignoring their successes instead of learning from them, what more of well-developed Western nations? Don’t we always say that Western-style democracy doesn’t suit our temperament to justify our inability to progress and develop? Like ours is a culture of impunity not the rule of law?

Given the Duterte agenda, it appears we shall be debating federalism – e.g., defining the powers to allocate amongst national, state and local governments, etc., etc. – as well as the issue of FDIs. The key is for us to rigorously benchmark against our neighbors. They have done what we seem unable to do.

And we can pursue the question in different ways. Will we solve the power crisis by a federal system? What about infrastructure? We call it Imperial Manila yet its infrastructure makes it the gates of hell? And what about industry, will federalism move us beyond OFW remittances and the BPO industry?

And will we be able to move to competitive agriculture? Competitive agriculture demands a massive agribusiness undertaking like our neighbors have done, i.e., economies of scale. We can't sweep them under the carpet and assume federalism will wipe them away.

And let’s take another example: coconut. It’s our biggest agribusiness yet our farmers remain poor. We need to pull the entire enterprise together to make it truly world-class instead of fragmenting it. And with economies of scale we will be in a better position to attract investment and technology as well as develop a portfolio of products and move up the value chain and thus win an even bigger overseas market. It is not federalism that will get us there. It is Philippines Inc., no different from Japan Inc. or Singapore Inc. Not politics but economics. Remember Deng?

Another example has been kicked around. And that is, creating an industrial zone from Calabarzon to Tarlac. It will be a model mega region way beyond current regional boundaries (the template we are looking at in a federal system?) that can be planned to leverage economies of scale. To get there we need good governance at the national level, not fragmentation.

The bottom line: let’s problem-solve and not sentimentalize democratizing Juan de la Cruz. Land reform didn’t get us there. The multiparty system didn’t either. Nor will federalism be the cure all. 

And we can even start driving the economy faster if we follow through with the JFC’s “Arangkada Philippines” and get the 7 industry winners cranking the sooner the better. In other words, let’s get down to business, roll up our selves and do something productive, not run around in circles. Even as we debate federalism.

And we must look beyond the annual GDP growth rate to solve our pressing poverty problem. It feeds the human need for good news . . . and worse, shortsightedness. Juan de la Cruz is no longer in high school Economics class. GDP growth will take us a generation. We need to add to OFW remittances and the BPO industry fast, pronto! That is what we must problem-solve not how to democratize Juan de la Cruz. We have to toss crab mentality not fortify it.

“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]

“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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