Blogger Ben Kritz in his Four Principles for Improving the Philippine Economy highlights some key areas where the potentially hardest hitting solutions lie as far as our economic aspirations go. They point to aspects of our economic landscape where flawed thinking has for so many decades prevailed and where the interests of the handful of traditional oligarchs that rule Philippine industry most heavily bear down on to crush any effort at reform.
While Kritz, like only he can, makes very succinct and straight-to-the-point recommendations on each that have clear implications on the macro approach that needs to be taken to deliver results (and therefore provides an in-your-face articulation of the challenge to anyone who aspires to lead the Filipino at an executive level), I began to form a few questions in my mind around how Filipinos at an individual or micro level can support our march towards these strategic directions.
Below are the four principles Ben lays out. If you want the detail behind these from a macro, strategic, and primarily economic perspective, Ben’s article steps up to that plate. Here I attempt to identify the cultural roots of challenges we as a people need to surmount if we are to face the challenges implied in these principles in a real manner (as opposed to the flaccid approaches we have been so renowned as a people to take).
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1. Develop and enforce a meaningful labor code.
As employers of household servants, how do we fare? Are our household servants clear on what their roles, responsibilities, and scope of work are, or do we deliberately keep them in the dark about what they are expected and not expected to do as part of their responsibilities? Do we respect their right to kick back and relax at the end of a day’s work or do we expect them to be on call 24 hours a day? Do they report only to the person who signs their paycheck, or do we allow our kids to bark orders at them willy-nilly?
The last one is most relevant to how we see ourselves grow in character as a society. Do we impart on our kids an egalitarian ethic, strong empathy and a respect for the personal space of an individual? I believe one’s true character shows in the way one treats people who they have power over — the waiter taking your order, a person whose health or well-being depends on you doing your job properly, or less educated people who look to your credentials with trust. Do we regard, relate with, and treat such people the way we can or the way we should?
2. Put an end to tenant farming.
The basic principle of most land reform initiatives is to provide an opportunity to disadvantaged Filipinos (in the conventional sense — tenant farmers) to own and manage capital and see a clear and direct relationship between how hard they work and how much they stand to earn. In that same sense, do we strive to equip our kids with the ability to think for themselves, make sound judgments, and go out there and make it on their own in their way? Do we train them to rely on their intellect or merely to defer to what is traditional.
The ability of a society to be truly resilient and responsive to challenges lies in the ability of its people to continuously evaluate options. That is the whole point in us aspiring to be free and democratic, for it is only under democracy where we enjoy the privilege to be free that choices become available to us. And with that availability of options comes the need to apply a deep and robust intellectual capital to evaluating it. It means owning up to our own accountability for the thinking we apply to our decisions. Indeed, how well we think (as opposed, say, to how hard we pray or merely “hope”) has a direct relationship on how good the outcome.
3. Nationalization of, or at a minimum, providing strong, non-political, public oversight for critical infrastructure businesses.
In The sort of nation the Philippines should have been, I made an observation of how Filipino logic seems to make sense at small scales, but then starts to break down when we begin to apply it at larger scales. So the logic, for example, of multiplying wantonly like rabbits may make sense at a small rural community level where each offspring represents an added unit of labour to the farming effort (specially considering rice is a particularly labour-intensive crop to cultivate), but becomes an obsolete idea in the setting of an aspiration to become a modern capital-intensive and individually affluent society. Even the tradition of subsuming an individual’s personal aspirations to the goals of the family enterprise — which is essential to the survival of a small community — becomes a liability in a globalised economy where creativity, imagination, and innovation (over deference to old customs) is critical to remaining competitive.
Consider then the cultural baggage that predisposes us to building small and thinking narrowly. This reality about us becomes relevant to the challenge of developing and running modern infrastructure at the scales required to support our aspirations of becoming a modern nation. Perhaps we have ourselves — our character — to blame for how we’ve left the building of what should be the backbone of a strong nation, the public infrastructure, to the devices of the direct descendants of our colonial masters. As such it is in that inherent character of ours where a change should come to ensure that a truly national approach to developing world-class infrastructure is supported by the society in a sustainable manner.
4. Allowing foreign ownership of businesses and property, and liberalizing the restrictions on investment outflows.
Time and again Filipinos, despite the noise we make, have proven to be a dull and utterly unimaginative people. Given a sack of gold, we’d rather bury it than invest in an audacious adventure to double or triple its value. So given our aspirations to be a “great people” we have not earned the right to be sole custodians of the wondrous natural assets our land is (or was once) “blessed” with. Left in the unimaginative hands of the Filipino, our natural resource troves have been pillaged and exported raw (or turned into quaint but unimaginative artifacts). Rather than turn them into assets yielding recurring income, we killed the geese that could’ve continued laying us our golden eggs.
In my book, I cited noted columnist Ambeth Ocampo’s observation of how high-quality Romblon marble was succumbing to the famous imagination deficit of Filipino industrial sensibilities:
What did the people in this sleepy town do with their marble? They made them into tombstones, mortar and pestle. As a tourist, I asked myself: How many “lapida” [tomb markers] and “dikdikan” [pestle] do I want? How many lapida and dikdikan do I need? Come to think of it, how many lapida and dikdikan do they sell in a year? Here is a region that has skilled manpower and an almost inexhaustible natural resource, but their products are unimaginative. If culture comes in to introduce new designs and new uses of Romblon marble, that would go a long way in developing the industry and the province.
In short, we must ask ourselves this question: Do we deserve to be the sole exclusive owners of our physical assets and resources? If we have so far shown such a sorry track record of sweating our assets optimally, then it’s high time we re-consider the flawed concept of “protecting the national patrimony” that politicians have been shoving down our throats for decades.
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More imporantly, we as voters need to ask ourselves — do our politicians think in the way we have demonstrated above. Do they insiqhtfully approach our challenges both from a strategic top-down perspective (in the way Kritz lays out in his article) and from a tactical or grassroots bottom-up perspective as shown above?
As responsible voters, we need to think in this manner. The campaigns have so far shown that our politicians — specially the leading “presidentiable”, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III — will not do that sort of thinking for us. And if we are looking to the “experts” that inhabit the Philippine Media — that supposed citadel of The Truth that we’ve worshipped since their rise to “hero” status on the back of 1980’s Aquinoism, well, all I can suggest is that we think again.