Monthly Archives: September 2006

Global competitiveness

The 2006 World Competitiveness Yearbook highlights the backwardness of the Philippines and at the same time provides a general outline of immediate reforms to be undertaken if we want to be more globally competitive.

Competitiveness is defined as “the degree to which a country can, under free and fair market conditions, produce goods and services which meet the test of international markets while simultaneously maintaining and expanding the real incomes of its people over the long term.”

The competitiveness indicators are economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure. Out of 61 nations or economies, the Philippines ranked 49th.

The report noted the dismal economic performance of the Philippines. While the country boasts of having the best cost-of- living index, this is threatened by high consumer price inflation. Unemployment rate may be down this year since the government redefined what it means to be out of work but the percentage of the population which is actually employed remains low. Real Gross Domestic Product growth also declined.

The government was castigated for failing to curb bribery, corruption and inefficiency in providing services. The decision to increase the Value Added Tax rate was lauded but tax evasion still hampers business activity. Risk of political instability continues to be high as well as the meddling of politicians in public service. As expected, the country credit rating received a low score.

The Philippines is recognized for the flexibility and adaptability of its working people but an alarming number of skilled and well-educated professionals are leaving the country. Industrial disputes may be low but labor relations are not generally productive. Worker motivation is not high.

Value traded on stock markets is low. Investment risk is high.

The strong points of the country in the infrastructure indicator are the upsurge of high-tech exports as percentage of manufactured exports, high investment in telecommunications, cheap mobile telephone and internet costs and surprisingly, language skills are in fact meeting the needs of enterprises.

The weak points are inefficient distribution infrastructure of goods and services, inadequate energy infrastructure, low number of fixed telephone lines, computers per capita, internet users and broadband subscribers, small public (and private) expenditure on R&D, health and education, few published scientific articles and grave pollution problems.

The Philippines is challenged to make regulatory services more transparent, non-discriminatory and fair. Improving quality of basic education is encouraged to further promote human capital development. A coherent population policy is required. Lowering transaction costs can be achieved by improving distribution infrastructure and accelerating e-governance projects.

Competing with other nations is not just about the ability to speak and write good English. There should be significant improvements in the political, social, cultural and economic policies that determine the overall standing and prosperity of each society. Individuals must be able to expand their incomes in the long term. Therefore, making the Philippines a globally competitive economy demands effective leaders who have the vision, knowledge and concrete program to sustain economic growth, promote government efficiency and accountability, foster business efficiency, embark on a nationwide infrastructure improvement, and most importantly, improve the quality of living in the country.

Related entries:

Kamustahan sa EPZA. Hi-tech export, kawawang workers.
Labor as export. Lahat na lang umaalis.
Preserve mineral wealth. Inuubos ang ating yaman.

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Super cities

Most controversial military general, my blog entry for Global Voices Online. There is a new picture in my photoblog.

According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook, a city is competitive if it has the “ability to create and maintain an environment that sustains more value creation for its enterprises and more prosperity for its people.”

The Philippine Cities Competitive Ranking Project published its 2005 report early this year which covered 65 metro, mid-sized and small cities. Among the indicators used is the survey of owners and managers of small and medium enterprises on whether cities are friendly to investors; and more importantly, if they uplift the living standards of residents.

The project reported that “excellent delivery of services improves quality of life and effective leaders (italics mine) are needed to move programs for higher competitiveness.

In alphabetical order, the most competitive metro cities are Davao, Las Pinas, Makati, Marikina and Muntinlupa. (So sorry Mayor Belmonte and Atienza.)

The most competitive mid-sized cities are Bacolod, Batangas, Iligan, Iloilo and San Fernando Pampanga.

The most competitive small cities are Dagupan, Legaspi, Koronadal, Naga, Olongapo, San Fernando La Union, Sta. Rosa, Surigao, Tagbilaran and Tagum.

The drivers of city competitiveness are the following:

1. Cost of doing business – profitability of doing business, non-existent informal fees (bribes) for securing business permit, cost of power for industrial use. Surigao is number one in this category among small cities because of its low business fees and cheap power rates.

2. Dynamism of local economy – tourism is a vibrant sector, rising revenues, access to financing is available, average household income, local inflation rate, market size, population vs. fastfood chain locators. If there is a Jollibee in your town, it means you are probably living in a dynamic local economy. Gloria Arroyo could be correct when she boasted the presence of Jollibee in Basilan as proof of her sound economic policies.

3. Linkages and accessibility – raw materials and production inputs are located near from the city, efficient transportation system for moving raw materials and finished goods, availability of business support services. Cebu, Batangas and San Fernando La Union are leaders in this category.

4. Quality of human resources – skilled labor is available, workers are eager to develop skills, IT training programs are available, number of tertiary educational and vocational institutions. Dagupan leads in this category among small cities perhaps because of the numerous colleges operating here.

5. Infrastructure – traffic management, well-maintained road network, reliable electricity power, abundant water supply, adequate cellular phone signals, reliable internet service providers, waste management program, number of banks and lending institutions, vehicle density. As expected, Marikina is ahead in this category. Ormoc is the leader among small cities because of its relatively good infrastructure system built immediately after the flashfloods more than a decade ago.

6. Responsiveness of LGU – effective investment promotion center, honest and transparent government transactions (right, Mayor Pewee?), fair administration of justice (PIATCO will be the first to complain), reasonable business taxes (is this the reason why Quezon City did not make it to the top 5?), reasonable land-use regulation, existent online services, program to assist unemployed constituents. The winner in this category is Marikina – kailangan pa bang i-memorize yan?

7. Quality of life – clean roads and open public spaces, clean open bodies of water, air quality, adequate rest and recreational facilities, security environment, incidences of theft and murder, number of hospital beds and health workers. Surprising results: Mandaluyong bags the second highest quality of living indicator in Metro Manila next to Marikina. Oroquieta has the cleanest streets, water and air in the country but is only number 23 in the list. Tagbilaran leads in this category among small cities.

Curiously, General Santos was adjudged as the most competitive city in 1999. During that time, there were rumors that it would be a hub for visiting US military ships and troops.

Read more at the Asian Institute Management policy center blog.

Related entries:

Iloilo impressions. Babalik ako.
Open the gates. Divine right to privacy?
Travelogue. Bad zoning.
North triangle. Dalawang mukha ng urbanisasyon.
PC games and Gloria. Sim City.

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I planned to watch a Korean film at the UP Film Center but I was discouraged since the screening will be in an AVR which could only accommodate a hundred viewers, plus the room has no aircon. Meanwhile, the real cinema house was used by a youth worship group with lots of divine cash to pay the UP Film Center.

Marcos as scapegoat

More or less an English version of my Tinig column: Hindi lang si Marcos ang Salarin….

Almost every nation boosts its superego by claiming to have a glorious past. The Philippines may not have an Angkor Wat but just the same it does not lack myths about its ‘greatness.’ One narrative which is echoed by many senior citizens is the alleged supremacy of our country in Asia in the post-war era until the declaration of martial law.

According to this fabled story regarded as solid fact, the Philippines was the second richest country of Asia next only to Japan. We regressed into the sick man of the region only during the reign of President Ferdinand Marcos. We were told that our country never recovered from the destructive leadership wrought by the late strongman.

It would be beneficial if we would stop fervently believing this story. For one thing, it may be inaccurate. Why was there a popular support for the Huk movement if we were indeed a rich country? Why did the activists of the 60s receive a broad following if there was bountiful living during that period?

Nobody complained when Marcos delivered his inaugural speech vowing to make our nation great again. In fact, there seemed to be a consensus that poverty, injustice and hopelessness were prevalent even during that time.

That the Philippines enjoyed a higher quality of living than its neighbors in the 50s and 60s may be correct. But the claim that we were the second richest nation of Asia may be an exaggeration in the same way that we are insisting today that we are the texting capital of the world.

It is valid to blame Marcos for all the sins he committed against the Filipino people. But we should be candid to admit that not all defects of our nation-state today can be faulted against Marcos. There should be an honest evaluation of every government before and especially after the term of Marcos.

Blaming Marcos for everything that has gone awry for our country can distort our understanding on the political and economic system dominant in 1946-72 and restored in 1986-present. We should not only be alert towards the Marcosian tendencies of our leaders. We should be more critical towards the support given by leaders in the political and economic system which favors the rule of the oligarchs.

There is a difference in making the people remember the dark years of martial law and that of using our memory of Marcos to conceal the deficiencies of succeeding governments since 1986.

Some commentators aver that human rights violations under the present regime are not as alarming during the Marcos years. We are reminded that corruption today is not as rampant during the conjugal dictatorship of the Marcos couple. They said poverty cannot be eradicated easily since it took Marcos two decades to reverse the economic growth of the country.

Does this mean that cheating, lying and stealing are acceptable as long as they do not reach the level practiced by Marcos? We should stop using Marcos as the benchmark for all evil regimes. This prevents us from removing inefficiency and immorality in the government.

Hollywood comedy flicks can be instructive for Philippine politics. There are TV sitcoms and films which feature a middle-aged loser who blames his overbearing mother for all his failures in life. Then his friends would tell him to stop blaming his mother and start blaming himself.

Marcos has been dead for almost twenty years. We remain impoverished, divided and miserable. Marcos and the leaders after him are all equally liable for the destitute situation of the country today. Its time to assign blame not only on Marcos but also on the structural foundation of Philippine politics and economics.

Related entries:

UP Student Council during Martial Law. Lumalaban pa rin.
UP student movement in the 80s. Kasama si Mike Defensor? 
Gloria and Cory. Not so good Tita Cory. 

Numbers and politics

There are important numerical figures in contemporary Philippine politics. Let me cite a few of them….

Popular uprisings are known as EDSA One, EDSA Dos and EDSA Tres. They are also identified as People Power I and People Power II – few people ever mention People Power III.

Batasan 6 refers to the leftist partylist Solons holed inside the Batasan Complex for more than two months since the police threatened to arrest them for rebellion. One member of the group is still in detention in a government hospital. (So don’t complain Mr. Sabio, ilang araw ka pa lang naman diyan eh)

Hyatt 10 stands for the Cabinet members of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who resigned last year and asked their boss to step down as well. There is still speculation whether the group is still intact.

Tagaytay 5 represents the five activists who were arrested and denied of due process after they were accused of being communist rebels.

Erap 5 refers to the supporters of former Pres. Joseph Estrada who were arrested and tortured by the police. Their case made us realize that we still do not have a law against torture.

Pasay 12 – The suspended local officials of Pasay accused of graft practices. Watch out Mayor Binay. There might be a Makati 12.

Sagada 11 – The unlucky young backpackers who were accosted, jailed, tortured and forced to make a false confession by the police that they are NPA rebels.

Toyota 21 – The local workers of this company who were dismissed after leading a labor strike.

Before, there was the Gang of Four which terrorized the Caloocan underworld in the 60s. Marcos counted on the loyalty of the Rolex 12 Generals. We saluted the courage of the Magnificent 12 senators who rejected the US bases treaty.

Imelda has 3,000 pairs of shoes. Cory survived nine coup attempts. Ramos won by 200,000+ votes. Four million people trooped to Luneta to see the Pope in 1995. Workers have been demanding a P125 wage increase since 1999. A million people trooped to EDSA on January 2001. Three months later, the same number of crowd was counted by the police to be around 25,000. PGMA wanted to win by a million votes in 2004. She was able to accomplish this by calling Garci 15 times.

The poor becomes a minority of the country in the following cases: There are only 26,000 people affected by the Petron oil spill in Guimaras and only 2,027 individuals in evacuation centers in Sorsogon due to Mt. Bulusan’s volcanic activity.

Then the poor becomes a majority in these cases: 9-10 million people signed the Peoples’ Initiative to amend the Constitution. Millions have been provided jobs and philhealth cards.

Only 20,000 families are displaced by the Northrail project while millions will benefit from it.

Meanwhile, economists continue to blame overpopulation or the high birth rate or the breeding speed of the poor for the endless cycle of poverty in the country.

There are 745 cases of extra-judicial killings since 2001. But the military claims there are thousands of victims of recent communist purging.

The use of statistics in politics can never be a neutral endeavor. There is always a political agenda. I have my own, and I don’t hide it. But there are many who insist that what they write is not for political partisanship but for the sake of objective truth. Beware of these truth-seeking middle-class good citizens of Manila Standard, este of the Philippines pala.

Related entries:

Name game. Oust Gloria groups circa 2005
Independent crowd estimate, anyone? Turuang magbilang
Refugee nation. Lahat internal refugees.

Remembering 9/16

Politicians rush to change the Constitution is my blog entry for Global Voices Online.

“We in this Senate found the soul, the true spirit of this nation because we mustered the courage and will to declare the end of foreign military presence in the Philippines. I vote NO to this Treaty and vote Yes to the Resolution of Non-Concurrence.”

This was the speech of Senate President Jovito Salonga on September 16, 1991 when he affirmed the Philippine Senate’s decision to reject the bases agreement with the United States by approving Resolution No. 1259 of Non-Concurrence to “A Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security”

Salonga was joined by 11 other Senators namely Agapito “Butz” Aquino, Juan Ponce Enrile, Joseph Estrada, Teofisto Guingona Jr., Sotero Laurel, Ernesto Maceda, Orlando Mercado, Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Rene Saguisag, Victor Ziga and Wigberto Tañada.

That fateful day ended 470 years of foreign military presence in the Philippines.

One scholar described it as a “day of triumph for the Filipino people as the Magnificent 12 senators defied US attempts to bully and bamboozle the Senate into accepting an onerous bases treaty.”

The Senate stood by its principle of upholding national sovereignty even if President Cory Aquino broke tradition by leading a rally in front of the Senate building to demand the extension of the bases treaty for another ten years.

The rejection of the US bases treaty was welcomed by many people especially those who were looking forward to celebrate the centennial celebration of the country’s independence without the presence of foreign troops in the land.

September 16 or 9/16 represents the desire of the Filipino people that its ‘special relationship’ with big brother US “should be a healthier, more normal relationship, based on justice, fairness, and a common adherence to basic human rights.”

9/16 signifies a striving towards a “policy of self-reliance, self-respect and a determination to cut off our continuing dependence on the US through hard work and self-discipline.”

But the principles that gave life to 9/16 were ignored by our subsequent leaders.

In 1999, the Senate passed the Visiting Forces Agreement which allowed US troops to enter Philippine soil again. In 2002, the government invoked the global war against terrorism to justify joint military exercises with US troops in different parts of the country, especially in Mindanao.

Today, there are no longer any foreign military bases in the country. But there are US military warships docked in our harbors. US soldiers are also free to roam our land. They claim to share good deeds like giving medical assistance, training of local soldiers and constructing schoolhouses. But in one instance, a US soldier is accused of raping a young Filipina.

The government allowed US diplomats to describe southern Philippines as “a doormat of terrorists” or that the country could be the next Afghanistan. The threat of terrorism was in fact exaggerated to defend the continuing intervention of the US military in our domestic affairs.

When US military dictates are clearly being adopted by an obedient government, we deem it relevant to invoke again the spirit of 9/16. Our people, especially those in power, may have already forgotten the battles won by our elders.

Yes, terrorism must be defeated. But we should not compromise our cherished freedoms and values to deter terror. If we invite US troops to undertake military drills in our camps, we are actually courting terror attacks.

We are told to remember the lessons of 9/11. It is an important reminder. But we should bear in mind that to prevent a similar 9/11 attack in our country, we should relive the ideals of 9/16.

Related entries:

Terror in the city. Age of foiled terror plots?
Who is the real meddler? I love America!

Can you invent a hero?

UP celebrated the centennial anniversary of Philippine independence by publishing more than 100 books. This made the UP Press a reputable publishing house again. I remember skipping lunch in order to save money and buy the books of Teodoro Agoncillo, Cesar Adib Majul, Pacifico Agabin, Epifanio Matute, Remigio Agpalo, Jose Abueva, Kelvin Rodolfo and Ismael Amado.

Professors from the arts and sciences suddenly became productive by publishing more than the usual number of researches. The Department of History was able to produce a book regarding the conference of historians on Philippine historiography. Even the Miranda and Sons bookshop published Zeus Salazar’s book narrating the Katipunan’s offensives in Manila.

New magazines proliferated which published interesting stories of the 1896 revolution. I was able to buy Filipino Magazine’s (Filmag) issue on the Bonifacio Centennial and Sulyap Kultura’s second quarter issue of 1996 about the Katipunan.

I skipped classes in order to attend various symposia on Philippine history and literature. There was a debate between two professors on who should be the national hero: Rizal or Bonifacio? It was also fascinating to hear Agoncillo’s disciples explaining the controversy behind the real cry of Balintawak.

While preparing for the centennial celebration, a book published in 1997 by New Day provoked a ruckus in the academe. Glenn May’s ‘Inventing a Hero: The posthumous re-creation of Andres Bonifacio’ became a very very controversial work. Professor May asserted that our knowledge on Bonifacio’s life may be inaccurate since historians conspired in manufacturing historical documents to project a different image of the plebian hero. The American scholar insisted that ‘nationalist’ historians exaggerated Bonifacio’s heroism to become a rallying symbol of a struggling people.

UP historians quickly issued a rejoinder by publishing a small booklet: ‘Determining the Truth.’ Dr. Mila Guerrero described the book as the latest in the multiple murder of Bonifacio. E. San Juan wrote that like Prof. May, western scholars are also skeptical on the authenticity of Rigoberta Manchu’s stories.

‘Inventing a Hero’ failed to change my views on Bonifacio. But I credited the book for leading me to read the works of Epifanio de los Santos and Reynaldo Ileto. Since I was an ardent student of Agoncillo’s works during my freshman year, I have been ignoring Ileto’s ‘Pasyon and Revolution.’ Thanks to Prof. May, I found a reason to read this must-read scholarly work. By the way, Ileto’s ‘History and criticism: The invention of heroes’ is the best review of Prof. May’s book.

Prof. May attempted to discredit nationalist historians and remove the radical image of Bonifacio. He failed. Agoncillo’s Bonifacio, the working-class hero, prevails in the consciousness of the people.

Related entries:

The cry of Bonifacio. Bastusan na.
Aguinaldo and Imelda. Revolt of the Masses.

Beyond the nursing brouhaha

Last June, the public was stunned when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo insisted there was no classroom shortage in the country. The media took this opportunity to highlight the deteriorating conditions of our public schools. It helped in convincing more lawmakers to increase the funding for education.

The reported leakage in the nursing board examination, which further tarnished the country’s image, exposed the complicity and ineptitude of some civil servants. But sadly, the discussion has been reduced to whether we should require our new batch of nurses to retake the nursing examination.

We may be missing the opportunity to underscore the fundamental flaw of nursing education, if not Philippine higher education in general: the commercialized character of our schools.

Big business is quietly invading our schools. Profit-oriented institutions dominate the tertiary level taking advantage of every Filipino’s dream to earn a college diploma. Many schools charge exorbitant fees and require graduates to enroll in review centers while giving substandard education.

We may be incensed that cheating took place in the nursing board exam. But why are we not outraged over the low number of board passers? Shouldn’t we be alarmed that many students who hurdled more than fourteen years of schooling and paid excessive fees would fail the ultimate test before they become professionals?

In fact, we are surprised to learn that the passing rate in the board examinations in forty fields is below fifty percent. This is a basic indicator in measuring the quality of learning in the country. Why are schools producing half-baked graduates? Why is the government allowing the proliferation of second-rate schools?

Nursing is just one of the many courses supervised by the Professional Regulation Commission. Are there scams waiting to be exposed in other fields? What is the accountability of higher education officials?

It seems the bankruptcy of Philippine education is not limited to the inferior basic education infrastructure. The nursing scandal must be used to pinpoint the negative repercussions of a market-driven and commercialized education system. Public uproar should be directed as well to the policies of the government promoting the wholesale privatization (read: commodification) of higher education.

Instead of debating the pros and cons of the ‘retake’ or ‘no retake’ position, we should question and rethink the goals, values and practices promoted by our schools. Do they advance the interests of the nation or of profit-seeking school owners? Do they really uphold high standards of academic excellence?

If we fail again to implement substantial education reforms, we will jeopardize our bid to become an industrialized country in the next decade.

Related entries:

Labor as export. Umaalis na ang lahat.
Indian doctors in RP hospitals. Migrating health workers.
When education becomes business. Beware of corporate donors.

Sports idols

* Inspired by Andre Agassi’s last hurrah in the US Open.

Paeng Nepomuceno is the greatest Filipino athlete that ever lived. In fact, he is the world’s greatest bowling champion of all time. If Manny Pacquiao is being encouraged to run as vice mayor of Manila, then Paeng should run for president.

In the 80s, almost all of my grade school classmates wanted to run as fast as Lydia de Vega. In the 90s, my high school friends wanted to run away from Nancy Navalta (my apologies to Nancy).

I do not regret that Hollywood distorted my appreciation for sports. I wanted to be a BMX champion like Cru Jones from the film RAD. I didn’t know Flash Elorde was a local boxing great since I was so much overwhelmed by Mike Tyson, Rocky Balboa and Mr. T. I equated wrestling with WWF’s Wrestlemania. I do not know any professional wrestler but I would easily recognize the trademark moves and costumes of Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, Undertaker and Superfly.

Of course basketball has always been the country’s most enduring national pastime. I started to love the game during that seemingly distant era when Benjie Paras was an overpowering rookie and not a slapstick comedian we know today. Robert Jaworski was still a true living legend and not a disappointing politician. Ramon Fernandez was PBA’s most successful player and not a wife beater.

My other PBA idols were Samboy Lim, Allan Caidic and Nelson Asaytono. In the NBA, my idols were Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Spud Webb and Michael Jordan.

I ceased to be a fan of PBA when Fernandez retired in 1994. I stopped watching NBA when Jordan retired in 1998.

During high school, I became an admirer of Andre Agassi while the rest of my classmates chose Pete Sampras. Agassi’s career was almost over in the mid-90s but he bounced back and became the top player of the game again. Sampras has long retired from tennis while Agassi became the respected elder statesman of the game.

In 1996, I bought a bike and dreamed of becoming a cycling champion like Renato Dolosa and Carlo Guieb. I even joined friends every Sunday in a cycling marathon towards Antipolo church.

During college, my PE subects were volleyball, duckpin bowling, Philippine Games and badminton. During my sophomore year, I joined a fitness club in order to gain weight.

Efren Bata Reyes deserves to be called the ‘magician.’ Leila Barros inspired many Filipinos to watch volleyball games. Eugene Torre and Bobby Fischer are great chess players. In swimming, the names I remember were Eric Buhain and Akiko Thompson.

I also learned to be a mountaineer. But that’s another subversive story.

Today, my sports are limited to texting, mouse-potato syndrome, washing the dishes, playing peekaboo and hide and seek with the police during some rallies. I also practice meditation in order not to hear the everyday sermon of my wife.

Related entries:

Sports for all. What we need.
Altar Knights. Childhood heroes.

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Philippines’ worst marine disaster, my blog entry for Global Voices Online.