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]

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