How the Philippines can compete globally

Zoilo ‘Bingo’ Dejaresco IIIPEOPLE no longer laugh when we claim the Philippines can become a first-world country in 20 years. We are so used to being the basket case in Asia, courtesy of martial law, we sometimes die laughing at the thought.

But we can be a first-world country if we collectively do a number of things first.

The Bulong Pulungan hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands, with President Jose Yulo Jr. at the helm, allowed us to distill and refine some of their thoughts on the so-called five pillars needed for the country’s economic ascendancy.

Woefully, the nation had a free fall from being No. 1 in per-capita income (average income per Filipino) in the 1960s to No. 5 by 2015. Vietnam, a victim of a recent civil war, is about to dislodge us.

How do we improve per-capita income? Today, Malaysia has per-capita income of $8,000 and the Philippines $3,000. Yulo argued even if Malaysia grows by only 4 percent and the Philippines at a 6 higher percent, this will still result in Malaysia having a new per-capita income of $8,320 while the Philippines has only $3,120.

It will take years, therefore, before the country can overtake Malaysia. But even that calculation ignores the fact that the country has one of the highest population growth rates in Asia. It is worth noting that population is the denominator in computing GDP per-capita income. What catching up must we do?

Education is key. Yulo says we should aim to have 25 percent of our students coming out of high quality K to 12 and college education taking postgraduate courses. Filipino, ideally, should also speak in three languages in English, a dialect (perhaps Tagalog) and one more language (Chinese, we dare say).

The country should open schools to full foreign ownership and give incentives for learning institutions to focus on science and information technology. We already have too many lawyers and accountants.

To prepare ourselves for first-world status, every Filipino should strive to be the best in his field—best plumber, carpenter, driver or graphic artist or make-up artist—so that we can be paid as handsomely as are workers in countries like the United States. Dignity of labor must be brought back.

Yulo argues the country should try to emulate Singapore, which pays its brightest talents the most to work for government. Of course, it goes without saying that personal integrity, patriotism and diligence are critical requirements. In this country, government jobs are not competitively paid, which leads to corruption and moonlighting. President Duterte, however, will be the first to shoot down the theory of poverty as an excuse to commit crime.

Many would disagree with the theory that the business-process outsourcing sector is merely a “stop gap” measure and that the “real deal” is to go manufacturing.  Which brings us back to the issue of power costs, with the country having the most expensive electricity in Asia.

We cannot even manufacture ballpoint pens due to high cost of manufacturing (from 1 to 40 percent of production costs) is the argument used on why we should reconsider reactivating the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.  Nuclear power is safe and inexpensive, and should cost only $1 billion to bring the facility back in shape.

There are too many add-on costs to our current electric bills and you can just check this out yourself.

On the matter of infrastructure, there is unanimity in voices stating the Philippines must rev up its investments. The government has allotted 5 percent of local output for infrastructure from only 3 percent just to catch up with our Asean neighbors.

More than quantity is the quality of our infrastructure that should proceed from the assumption that we are within the so-called typhoon belt and ring of fire, and therefore susceptible to disasters like earthquakes.  Cities elsewhere in the country should learn from the ecological and congestion nightmare that Metro Manila has become.

We are also an archipelagic country and the Marcos government did the correct thing by connecting the islands of Leyte and Samar via the San Juanico Bridge. Connectivity by land transport is the answer to the relatively high cost of sea travel.  Much has to be done, however. The proposed Cebu-Bohol Friendship Bridge is a step in the right direction.

Yulo argues there has to be a paradigm shift in mining, where raw ore exportation should now be replaced by 80 percent value-added derivatives and only 10 percent of the ore is exported. It goes without saying mining firms must observe all the environmental do’s and don’ts.

Finally, old-fashioned nationalism should be brought back.

Control of industries must be pro-Filipino first and last. The chamber cited the case of Malaysia, whose government mandates foreign investors to reserve a couple of seats in the board for its nationals under the concept of bumiputras. In the covenant, the bumiputras control 51 percent of the firm after 15 years. Will this work in our effort to attract foreign direct investments?

Finally, Yulo called for a mind-set that ushers Filipino-owned companies successfully into the global market, citing fast-food firm Jollibee as an example.


Bingo Dejaresco, former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and political strategist. A lifetime member of Finex, his views here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex.




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