Thursday, October 27, 2016


That is borrowed from the column of [and thank you!] Fr. Jerry M. Orbos, SVD [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 23rd Oct 2016.] “The Pharisee in our parable had an entitlement problem, feeling that he deserved better treatment because of his righteousness.”

It’s the human condition and dates back to Adam and Eve: they thought they were entitled to the “Tree of Knowledge.” And we would all have our own examples: Western bankers thought they were entitled to fat bonuses – with the rest of world paying the price for the Great Recession (of 2008); the Bush-Cheney team felt entitled (aka American exceptionalism, if not hegemony or imperialism) to upend tyranny and deliver democracy to the Iraqi people; Putin pines for the Soviet Empire and wants to undo its collapse. And not surprisingly, Georgia and Ukraine had to come under fire.

What about Juan de la Cruz? Do we feel entitled – and deserve better treatment from Uncle Sam? Trump won’t acknowledge the outcome of the upcoming US election unless he is the winner – being the poster boy of narcissism? While Duterte and his administration claims the US failed us. So why not pivot from the Americans and into the arms of China and Russia?

There is reality and there is reality. Take China or Vietnam. We seem to be looking up to China today and could only feel worse off compared to Vietnam? Yes, it is the Vietnam that was bombed back into the Stone Age by the Americans.

China and Vietnam would confirm how the Asian tigers pursued rapid economic development. On the other hand, Russia represents despotism and oligarchy. Having lived and worked in Central and Eastern Europe for most of the last 13 years, the writer has found his ears full from firsthand recollections of friends. And to put things in perspective, they find doing business in Iraq more conducive today than Russia. Ditto for Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine, for example. 

In the meantime, the Philippines still carries the label “regional laggard.” No longer the basket case of Asia to be sure – thanks to the over 10 million OFWs and more recently the BPO industry – but still unable to break away from underdevelopment.

And as the blog has argued, we can’t seem to see through beyond our myopia? That’s harsh but harsher still would be the reality of millions of hungry and destitute Filipinos?

Let’s go back to China and Vietnam and our neighbors that the rest of the world looked up to as model economies or Asian tigers. As some would know, the writer had a regional role with an MNC during the period these countries demonstrated their hunger in the pursuit of development and embraced Western money and technology. Even India followed suit. 

The writer traveled to China every month over an 8-month period while negotiating a joint-venture deal. The Chinese were tough negotiators but displayed pragmatism to the surprise of the writer, who became friends with the general manager of the state-owned enterprise. [Who was unceremoniously banished; the whys explained to him in a courtesy call by the successor.]

They must have realized that the foreigners had a much grander vision that in the end they agreed to take a lesser equity. “Our resources are limited. We cannot match your investments even if we wanted a greater share. But our country needs your technology. And you opened our eyes beyond what we could see today and would rather be a party to a bigger undertaking despite a reduced equity.” And the experience paved the way for the next joint-venture agreement; the Chinese expressing profusely that the partnership was indeed working from their standpoint.

What about Vietnam? “We will walk away from the deal if you cannot produce the proper accounting books. There is a third-party that will walk you through the valuation of your enterprise. We want to be honest-to-goodness partners where transparency rules. This is not the first experience we have working with foreign partners. We operate in over 200 countries and our reputation is something we don’t hide.”

The Vietnamese opened up and explained that they simply wanted to make certain that they were getting the best deal. And they admitted learning a great lesson in transparency.

India manifested their new openness to FDI that the writer’s old MNC company made a couple of major investments that included a technology center. While Thailand and Malaysia clearly had better infrastructure than the Philippines; and no different from the Chinese or the Indians, they opened their arms to foreign investment.

And what about us? Sadly, the dots connect and complete the vicious circle back to poverty: parochialism . . . insularity . . . hierarchy . . . paternalism . . . political patronage and dynasties . . . oligarchy . . . poverty.

And back to Eastern Europe. “We are poor Bulgarians. We don’t see how better products would sell in our country. Or even in former Soviet satellite countries.” And to this day the writer would remind them: “In a globalized and highly competitive world, we cannot survive and thrive if we can’t see beyond the horizon. It takes investment and technology to learn the ropes of innovation – which is defining the 21st century. We must be able to convince the market that we are for real.”

What is the object of the writer’s spiel? That we are pivoting to China because they are an economic and a military power? They were not until very recently. While we chose to celebrate OFW remittances and value political patronage and oligarchy, China begged for Western money and technology.

And so did Vietnam – and Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and India as well.

China and Russia seem to be our newfound friends. But even China embraced something new, that is, capitalism. While Russia remains frozen in time. The common denominator they share though is the value of transparency or the lack if not the absence of it.

And . . . surprise, surprise . . . President Duterte likewise puts no value in transparency? And it explains the barbarism that characterized his first 100 days? Consider: man is made in the image and likeness of his Creator, i.e., human and divine. “Who am I to judge,” so says Francis. And President Duterte wonders why he is getting flak?

Transparency is what’s behind good governance – and freedom and democracy. And growth and development – and the liberation of people. Are we too backward a nation to brush human rights aside?

It is not enough to say that we shall eradicate poverty. Poverty in an underdeveloped country is a function of development or the lack of it, not of the promise of politicians. Nor is it about entitlement!

The blog has consistently discussed that our inability to benchmark makes us unable to appreciate what and why we’re missing out. For example, our BOI has aggressively advertised our openness to grant incentives. But none of the examples discussed above was driven by such incentives.

What about American imperialism and global structural injustice? “The United States Probably Has More Foreign Military Bases Than Any Other People, Nation, or Empire in History: And it’s doing us more harm than good,” David Vine, The Nation 14th Sep 2015. “[T]here are now around 800 US bases in foreign countries. Seventy years after World War II and 62 years after the Korean War, there are still 174 US “base sites” in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea, according to the Pentagon. Hundreds more dot the planet in around 80 countries, including Aruba and Australia, Bahrain and Bulgaria, Colombia, Kenya, and Qatar, among many other places. Although few Americans realize it, the United States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation, or empire in history.

“Although the United States has had bases in foreign lands since shortly after it gained its independence, nothing like today’s massive global deployment of military force was imaginable until World War II. In 1940, with the flash of a pen, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a “destroyers-for-bases” deal with Great Britain that instantly gave the United States 99-year leases to installations in British colonies worldwide. Base acquisition and construction accelerated rapidly once the country entered the war. By 1945, the US military wasbuilding base facilities at a rate of 112 a month. By war’s end, the global total topped 2,000 sites. In only five years, the United States had developed history’s first truly global network of bases, vastly overshadowing that of the British Empire upon which “the sun never set.”

That would probably confirm the notion of American imperialism. But notwithstanding, how do we explain the success of our neighbors? Try interdependence.




“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]

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Clueless or in denial?

Either way, the Duterte administration is starting off on the wrong foot. And to those who want us to move to a federal system, imagine if an Ampatuan and a Duterte will be amongst the regional leaderships, how much more fragmented PHL would become?

But do we Pinoys see President Duterte as a demigod?

“The most grievous thing about the daily killings in our midst is not just the body count. It is also the fact that, when the public becomes desensitized, there will be no serious demand and no real effort to investigate these crimes. That is when an entire society begins its descent to barbarism.” [When cops turn into masked killers, Randy DavidPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 16th Oct 2016]

“It should also be pointed out that, while the ICC is always the last resort, the Court can also take preventive measures. If it is convinced that in fact three million people are about to be slaughtered in the Philippines, no doubt it will act. No doubt.

“Will no one in this government be brave enough to tell the President that this is coming? There are many good lawyers, seasoned diplomats and wise senior officials in the Duterte government. My hope is that they give the right counsel to the President and that he will listen to them. The sad thing here is that it does not require rocket science to know how to avoid this.

“The truth is that this is not about the facts on the ground mainly: it’s about his language and that of his officials. All of them are constantly implicating themselves; what President Duterte and his officials actually thinks or intends is immaterial. It’s their objective words and its link to the situation on the ground that matters. I have scanned the international legal expert opinion on this and while there is academic debate about the appropriateness and timing of a case against Duterte, the condemnation for the Duterte’s words and the killings is universal. I doubt whether the Philippines can find good international law experts who will side with the President and his officials when the case is filed.

“The fact that the ICC prosecutor herself has stated that she is considering launching an investigation tells us that the words and actions of President Duterte have now crossed over to the more formal stage.” [Can Duterte avoid international criminal prosecution (?), Tony La Vina, Manila Standard, 15th Oct 2016]

And what is the track record of President Duterte? That Davao is among the 10 richest cities in the Philippines? Is that the best measure we want for the Philippines – as an economy, as a nation and as a people? This is the 21st century where even the United States is not at the top of the competitiveness rankings – despite its advances in innovation and technology, and being the largest economy on the planet.

Why the wrong foot? A president cannot delegate – even when the cabinet says he is fully engaged – the economy to the economic managers while he acts the tyrant. With due respect to NEDA and its “Ambisyon Natin 2040.” As well to the Anti-Poverty Summit convened by Vice President Leni Robrero.

Are we clueless about growth and development or in denial? The world has left us behind. And here we are clinging to our ways – aka “Pinoy abilidad”? How many economic blueprints have we had over the last several decades? And how many anti-poverty programs?

What is the NEDA-articulated long-term vision? “Our peoples shall live long and healthy lives, be smart and innovative, and shall live in a high-trust society.”

How many have died via EJKs? How much zarzuela is going on in Congress? If the PNoy administration was vindictive, how about the Duterte administration? What else is new? As we would call it, “weather-weather.” Whoever is in power has the franchise to abuse this nation and its people. Not surprising given what Rizal saw in Juan de la Cruz over a century ago? It’s simply a vicious circle that perpetuates tyranny!

A vision comes from the top, not from NEDA. Because it is the leadership that must lead the nation and its people. And it must be founded on the common good and bought in by the people. But what we seemed to have bought in is tyranny? That will preserve our oligarchic economy – given the big boys represented in senior roles in the Duterte administration are party to our patronage system?

With due respect to our chattering classes, why can’t we embrace the simple platform shared with us by Lee and Mahathir, for example? Which they likewise shared with Deng, who followed suit? That the rapid economy development – which drastically reduced poverty – in their respective countries can be traced to their purposeful efforts to leverage Western investment and technology! But that would mean, when applied to PHL, elbowing out our elite class? And it goes against our definition of patriotism? Has sheer parochialism and insularity become our core value notwithstanding its outcome – PHL remains the regional laggard and comes with the poverty we wail about?

What about “global structural injustice”? The writer just gave his annual spiel to the top managers (and his Eastern European friends) to start the budget review process. By design the gathering was held in the newest manufacturing facility (in the middle of nowhere, the nearest landmark being the port of Varna by the Black Sea 100 kilometers away) still to be fitted with state-of-the-art equipment from the West that will produce a new innovative product for the Western market. With this bunch of ex-socialists born and raised under communist rule, global structural injustice is not in their vocabulary. They’re on a mission to subdue Western competition. And it’s not surprising that when the writer asked how many of those present come from Western MNCs, they practically outnumber the rest of the group. Thirteen years ago they were an MSME. 

Back in the Philippines we see MSMEs as livelihood undertakings too feeble to stand up to Western competition? And it comes from our mindset? And so despite the Duterte swagger, we’re still a beggar – not from the US but from China/Russia? Beggars don’t find their place in the sun? Rhetoric won’t liberate us either! See above re Lee, Mahathir and Deng. It takes doing – not “daldal, satsat, sitsit”!

“The discourse on poverty is sometimes limited to the shortcomings of poor people. This hides the fact that certain global structures actually contribute to the impoverishment of peoples in the Third World . . . Independence in foreign policy does not necessarily mean putting aside the interdependent nature of global trade. What it means is that we have to begin, as a matter of priority, to look after our own interests before those of the multinational entities that we are hosting . . . If the Philippines is to advance the freedom and common good of its people, then we are in that opportune time to be able to use the President’s bold resolve and political will in liberating itself from a global structural injustice that has impoverished millions of lives.” [Freedom from structural injustice, Christopher Ryan MabolocPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 14th Oct 2016]

“In a study conducted by IHS in 2015, it was estimated that the Philippines has the potential to become a trillion-dollar market by 2029, with a GDP per capita of $6,000 by 2024, subject to continued high levels of economic growth. 

“How do we get there? For the Philippines, it has largely remained a catch-up game with other Asean countries that have long benefited and continue to do so, from clever industrial policies and business friendly reforms, which have led to exponential growth in FDI in the past years.

“[T]o reach that potential, however, business as usual is not enough. Instead, there is a need for a dynamic and proactive approach toward addressing the factors . . . which need improvement and which have so far kept the Philippines back compared to its peers in the region.

“Infrastructure development . . . The private sector is willing to be part of that process, but first it is necessary to establish more dynamic implementation of public-private partnership projects. Equally, the creation of a level playing field for foreign companies will open the way for international standards and innovation to be applied to infrastructure projects across the country.

“Global market integration . . . Trade facilitation, a proactive approach to bilateral and multilateral trade agreements and an economic policy direction that prioritizes international economic integration are key to the Philippines’s economic growth, not least due to the country’s membership of the Asean Economic Community, which the Philippines is chairing in 2017.

“Competitiveness as an FDI destination . . . Employment generation, especially among low skilled workers who are largely missing out of the country’s current economic growth, has much to gain from increased FDI in the country. How can the Philippines become more attractive to investors looking into the region? Lifting investment restrictions on foreigners, moving toward more competition in sectors saturated by few domestic players, providing competitive investment-incentive schemes and improving the ease of doing business across the country by adopting best practices applied in Philippine Economic Zone Authority zones, will all contribute to transforming the Philippines into a more attractive destination for FDI.

“A change of mind-set needs to happen in both the private sector and the government . . . There needs to be a cooperative approach, with the government making decisive moves to pass the necessary reforms and the private sector supporting the implementation of those reforms in a fair, transparent and effective way, in a mutually beneficial public-private partnership.” [Where does PHL want to be in Asean and beyond (?), Henry J. Schumacher, View From The 19th Floor, Business Mirror, 12th Oct 2016] 

No amount of recycling – of economic development plans and anti-poverty programs – can move us to Asian tiger status if we can’t see through our myopia. Are we clueless or in denial?

“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]

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Will we ever find our place in the sun?

Not if we act juvenile and infantile. Consider where Vietnam is today. The American air campaign during the Vietnam War was the largest in military history. The US contribution to this air-war was the largest. Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force Curtis LeMay stated that “we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.” [Wikipedia]

Fast forward to 2016. “Relations between the United States and Vietnam are at a historic high following the establishment of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership in 2013 and the celebration of 20 years of diplomatic relations in 2015. The President’s visit to Vietnam builds on this positive momentum to cement the progress of the last few years and propel our bilateral relationship to the next level. 

“Engagement with Southeast Asia has been a central pillar of the U.S. Rebalance to Asia. The return on this investment is clearly evident in our relations with Vietnam, where we have significantly increased trade and investment and expanded cooperation across the board.

“Our economic ties are strong and growing quickly. Trade between our countries has nearly tripled in the last seven years, and now tops $45 billion. U.S. exports to Vietnam increased by 23 percent in 2015, the largest increase of our top 50 trade partners, and only one of two markets with double-digit growth. At the same time, the United States remained Vietnam’s largest export market, growing 24 percent year-on-year.” [The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 23rd May 2016]

Let’s pause and ask: what is Vietnam like and what are we like? Did Vietnam say “America bombed us back into the Stone Age”? While we said “America failed us”! Vietnam knows how to find their place in the sun, but what about us? Who is short-sighted, we or Vietnam?

Man was not meant to be entitled, if Adam and Eve could speak to us? Man like any organism is meant to grow and develop – otherwise they’d go extinct?

Did we choose the world stage to display that we’re juvenile and infantile? We want China to help us? How did China become an economic power? We remember Deng begging the West for their money and technology – if we are to lift our people from poverty? And Lee and Mahathir giving us similar advice? You can hate the West but embrace their money and technology!

But should we be surprised given what we value? Parochialism makes us insular. And insularity emboldens hierarchy, to whom we become subservient. And what happens next is as certain as night follows day. We foster impunity and then turn a blind eye – because paternalism showers us with protectiveness. And in a roundabout way that explains why we cry “America failed us”?

Not surprising as well is our reaching out to Russia. What do we truly value? Is Russia an autocracy? Is it an oligarchy? Is its industry sector underdeveloped? Is Russia dependent on oil – and we on OFWs? As this writer’s Eastern European friends would sigh, “Have you flown from Moscow to Siberia? You can only shake your head because poverty is visible even up in the sky.” Why the lamentation? For decades the Soviets led them by the nose!

And where are we? Here’s a press release from NEDA: “Weak demand from major export markets pulled down exports by 11.4 percent in June 2016, its 15th consecutive month of decline, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

“The Philippine Statistics Authority reported today that total revenue from Philippine exports fell from US$ 5.4 billion in the previous year to US$4.8 billion in June 2016. This is due to lower sales in all commodity groups.

‘We must continue to improve our efforts in ensuring an enabling environment where industries can upgrade and improve their competitiveness,’ said Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia.

“He said that an example would be transforming the agriculture sector from traditional farming to a globally competitive agribusiness sector. ‘This can be done by effectively linking the agriculture sector to the local and global industry supply chain,’ said Pernia, who is also NEDA Director-General.

“Export of manufactured goods declined by 9.5 percent to US$4.1 billion in June 2016, a steeper decline than the 0.5 percent decline in May 2016.

“Almost all Asian countries, except for Vietnam and India, experienced weak, albeit improving, export performance. ‘With the slow global economic recovery, the country should identify non-traditional markets such as in Europe and within the ASEAN region, to reduce the external shocks from times of weak demand from traditional markets,’ the Cabinet official said.

‘We should also ensure that the programmed spending on infrastructure projects, particularly those related to transportation and logistics, to support the country’s growing industries,’ said Pernia.

And where is Vietnam? “Vietnam overtaking the Philippines,” Babe G. Romualdez, SPY BITS, The Philippine Star, 9th Jul 2016.

“Our economy seems to be doing well with an impressive growth rate at over six percent last year – prompting officials to say we could even hit nine percent this year. Everybody knows that a major contributor has always been the remittances from our overseas Filipino workers that amounted to almost $27 billion last year. But there is no question that we could do much, much better if we attract more foreign investments into the country by lifting the overly protectionist provisions in our Constitution. A report by the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) affirmed that the Philippines has one of the most restrictive policies compared to its neighbors. As a matter of fact, the inflow of FDIs was reduced to almost half for the first three months to $851 million compared to the $1.75 billion covering the same period last year.

“A recent report released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted the Philippines continues to lag behind its ASEAN neighbors such as Singapore whose FDI reached $67.5 billion – over 10 times more than what the Philippine managed to attract. Most of our neighbors are hitting double digits and even Vietnam has overtaken us with a steady increase in FDI inflows from $7.6 billion in 2009 to $9.2 billion last years. In contrast, the Philippines only managed to attract $6.2 billion in 2014.

“In 1990, the Philippines was way ahead of Vietnam with the latter’s FDI inward stock only totaling $243 million compared to the Philippines with FDI placed at $3.6 billion. By 2014, Vietnam’s FDI inward stock already reached $90.99 billion – a third more than the Philippines’ $57.093 billion.

“Businessmen are definitely concerned especially with the decision of Vietnam to lift ownership caps on listed companies – a move obviously designed to attract and encourage the inflow of more foreign business and investments.”

That’s not the first time we heard that. Yet we talk about how great our economy is and how good we are? And we wonder why we aren’t (a) synonymous to innovation and (b) globally competitive? In the 21st century, it’s called benchmarking; when we turned seven it’s called examination of conscience.

Will we ever find our place in the sun? Not if we act juvenile and infantile. Blaming everyone and his uncle for our failings? How much would we want to spiral down the abyss? Our one saving grace is we still have people that can call a spade a spade. Our inability to grow and develop as an economy, as a people and as a nation is what must be at the top of the national agenda. Not to justify killings because we have an action-oriented leadership!

Nor can we simply pursue populist initiatives that get politicians elected while failing to focus like a laser on the building blocks of an economy. And we have to discriminate between enablers and drivers – and prioritize accordingly. Not every idea is good nor every good idea a priority! Why are we “sabog”? We have yet to internalize Pareto’s 80-20 rule?

Take power or energy. What about the leadership taking charge of this critical challenge? Or are vested interests too powerful? The same holds true for critical infrastructure projects. With three senior people in the administration representing vested interests, it appears Congress is suspicious of the emergency powers sought by President Duterte? Likewise, the JFC's 7 industry winners are not front and center in the national agenda.  

This is a repeat but worth repeating. Development is not a cake walk. It is not one-dimensional; the right leadership has a repertoire of skills and the capacity to imagine and visualize the dynamics of the critical elements of development.

In the meantime, did we not trash capital punishment being inconsistent with our faith? And many are still vigorously opposed to the reproductive health legislation? Yet we are proud to justify EJKs? And we wonder why the international community is critical? Are we demonstrating to the rest of the world how backward we are – and why we’re the regional laggard?

And yet we want self-interest to be the be-all and end-all? Clearly, even families have self-interest but there is always the larger community which remains alien to us given our parochial and insular instincts? And why we gloss over political dynasties and patronage and the corruption they engender? Do we remember what the word catholic means? And do we expect perfection from others even when we aren’t? Can we distinguish democracy from despotism, for instance? And is our self-interest in sync with despots?

“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]