Strengths, Weaknesses

11 May 2012

MANILA, Philippines - A READER had asked me to explain further what I meant when I cited the definition of "culture" (by the Conference on Nation and Culture) - which is the "integration of nationalism and cosmopolitanism... a careful balance between local identity and adaptability to the modern world." It is being "inclusive" or having the capacity to work and live with various cultural groups. I suggest that this should also be in the agenda for future intersectoral dialogues and that this be fleshed out in terms of literacy skills needed by every Filipino - the capacity to develop literacy on the social, cultural, economic, political and technological aspects.

Perhaps, as a take-off for this discussion, let me give as an example how the "balancing" can be done by examining a recent Financial Times article by David Pilling on our current economic landscape. The writer makes a positive assessment of the strengths of our economy while at the same time pointing out our weaknesses which I've summarized herein:

"The Philippines is now resembling a fast-paced Asian tiger or llama.. It is finally getting our act together, and the signs include the following: Its external position improved from years of indebtedness to becoming a creditor. Overseas remittances from 8 million OFWs grew from $7 to 8bn to 20bn, nearly 10% of the gross domestic product. The deficit had narrowed from a 5-6% to a mere 2%. Rice-self-sufficiency has been restored. Successful public-private partnerships in roads, power, and railway projects have been forged. A healthy banking and stock exchange system exists and there are visible gains in the political situation."

But, on, an online TV news portal, Noel Reyes says it might not be that easy to take off for several reasons. He goes back to former President Fidel Ramos' time when we could have done that due to effective leadership, but however failed to do so due to the Asian financial crisis. Leadership is not the only factor, as most of the barriers are primarily cultural (these, we have discussed in an earlier piece), as well as institutional. We lack an inadequate institutional framework (which we have also assessed in earlier columns - lack of "fit" between our educational system and the needs of industry and the global community, weak law enforcement institutions, poor system of incentives, and residues of political patronage, graft and corruption, human rights abuses).

Our antiquated economic structures - where the majority ownership of land and natural resources is in the hands of Filipino citizens - is perceived to have discouraged foreign investment. He likewise criticizes our "myopic" worldview and the lack of a long-term vision. The last two are also criticisms of our "mercantilist" policies which are seen as slow in adapting to the needs of an open economy. While we have brought down our deficit, maintained low inflation and interest level, as well as managed to keep the peso from rapid appreciation, our investment level had been quite low at 15%.

The above, as well as earlier analyses, regard P-Noy's matuwid na daan (anti-corruption strategy) as a crucial factor in putting the country in a positive light. One describes it as a "one-trick approach" that has been done to perfection. These candid assessments of our economy should spur the government and other sectors of society to address these concerns with a sense of urgency. "The will to develop," and commitment to a long-term vision - attributes of successful economies, should guide our efforts in enhancing local productivity while adapting to the requirements of the global community. My e-mail is