Monday, 27 April 2009

Crisis as opportunity


‘Don’t find a fault, find a remedy” is a sound piece of advice from Henry Ford, the American automaker, that is as useful now as it was in the early 20th century.

Amid job losses caused by the global economic slump, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) is not taking things sitting down, and doing its part in easing the unemployment problem. Last week it launched the Special Visa for Employment Generation, or SVEG, created through Executive Order 758. SVEG provides special nonimmigrant status, multiple entry and conditional extended stay to foreigners, provided they are engaged in lawful and sustainable enterprises, trade or industry and employ Filipino workers on a full-time or regular basis. These privileges can be extended to the applicants’ spouses and dependents below 18 years old.

Those availing themselves of SVEG can also be exempted from paying special return and exit clearance certificates. The conditions set by the BI: the foreigners are “actually, directly or exclusively” engaged in a business, they have intentions of staying in the country, they are not risks to national security and they hire Filipinos according to labor laws.

SVEG can generate at least 100,000 jobs for Filipinos, according to Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan. “It’s a doable target that can be doubled,” and “its benefits will trickle down, with tremendous impact on the economy.”

Another good example of being part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem, is the approach taken by Peter J. Batt, an international expert on vegetable production and assistant professor at the University of Mindanao.

Faced with the deluge of cheap vegetable imports from China that threaten the livelihood and survival of Filipino farmers, Batt suggests that the government should help farmers increase their production and efficiency. “The capability of small-scale farmers to produce more should be improved to thwart the deluge of these vegetables,” Batt said. “What the government could do is to invest in programs for productivity enhancement, infrastructure and provide incentives—not only to multinational companies—but to small-scale vegetable growers, as well. Let us keep China as far away as we can,” he said.

The warning is timely, as China is currently the biggest vegetable producer in the world, accounting for 36 percent of the total global vegetable production with a total value of $73.85 billion. Half of the vegetables being sold in Southern Mindanao alone comes from China, according to the Vegetable Producers’ Council of Southern Mindanao. And the situation is likely to get worse for our farmers since the World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariff and Trades will go full swing by 2010. Thus, the advice for farmers to go into low-cost production so they could compete with China is sound.

Finding remedies for problems is precisely the approach that the government wants to take. Amid calls for a wage increase to help workers cope with hard times, Malacañang says job creation and job security are its priorities. Thus, we should not expect the President to announce any wage increases on Friday, Labor Day. Instead, decisions on wage increases would be left to the collective bargaining of individual companies with their workers and the tripartite wages and productivity boards around the country. But even if no wage increases are forthcoming, the government would continue to provide seed money for those seeking to put up micro, small, or medium enterprises. The microfinance program is the correct approach, from our vantage point, as it works better for long-term economic sustainability.

Adversity doesn’t have to lead to useless and counterproductive finger-pointing. If we want to turn crisis into opportunity, the obvious first step is to make sober and rational decisions.

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