Thursday, 14 October 2010

Fortune favors the bold

JOHN MANGUN
OUTSIDE THE BOX
Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/opinion/2458-fortune-favors-the-bold

Receiving e-mail saying how wonderful it is that I am so positive about the Philippines is very kind. However, it makes me feel a little silly. Maybe I am giving the impression that my analysis about the Philippines is similar to an old parish priest talking about how he sees the good in every person. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The average Filipino is an industrious person with a strong entrepreneurial drive, possessing a survivor instinct uncommon in many cultures. The Filipino is able to adapt and is creative and independent-thinking while still able to work in a cooperative environment. The Philippines is a country with a huge untapped natural mineral wealth. This is a much more balanced economy than most nations. Businesses in the Philippines are among the most profitable on the planet.

Aside from too many Filipinos being apologetic about the nation and the people’s normal shortcomings and human flaws, what is there not to like? What is so strange and out of touch about being positive about this nation?

However, the Philippines is a country that wasted so many economic opportunities since the overthrow of the Marcos government in 1986.

President Cory Aquino did not understand the leverage that the Philippines had at the time, particularly with the Americans, and her government never exploited and took advantage of the favorable climate that the Philippines had after Edsa. Her administration operated in seeming total ignorance about the geopolitical world at the time. Half of the Philippine national debt could have been repudiated and forgiven. The amount of long-term soft loans for infrastructure development could have been enormous.

But Aquino chose to convey a “business-as-usual but with a democratic/people-power face” to the world. The events of Edsa seemed to be much more extraordinary to the rest of the world than to the first Aquino administration and as a result, we never capitalized on that part of Philippine history.

President Ramos, on the other hand, well understood the world and firmly believed that if the Philippines acted like a competent and responsible global player, it would be treated that way. But that was not the case. As the Philippines responded to trade and economic issues as an “adult’ nation,” the ones that whined and complained like children were the countries that received the trade breaks and benefits. The Philippines was left behind in the era of globalization.

President Estrada tried to be the chief executive of a nation using the same skills and methods he had employed as the chief executive of a city. He seemed out of place and was never given the respect he needed, either here or abroad to be able to lead economically as the President of the Republic. We should have jumped ahead from the Asian crisis. Instead, the country was not taken seriously.

President Arroyo’s ascent to Malacañang was tainted and always left a slightly bitter taste, which was never fully washed away. Government economic policy, although sensible and prudent, was continuously hampered by the ghost of Edsa 2. Domestic and foreign investment could never quite fully embrace this quasiconstitutional transfer of power.

“Fortes fortuna adiuvat” (Fortune favors the bold)—Publius Terentius, ancient Roman playwright.

Perhaps with the exception of Fidel Ramos, the one quality that has been missing from the government and yet is naturally found in the individual Filipino, is the capability to act with courage, daring, with a risk-taker’s attitude.

Filipino children are taught the exploits of Rizal, Mabini, Melchora “Tandang Sora” Aquino, and others of the revolutionary period. Surely, these are proud Filipino examples of risk-takers, those who were brave and bold.

Yet, one does not need to look back a hundred years for that type of bold attitude and behavior that fortune may have smiled on for exceptional success. Contemporary Filipinos of extraordinary accomplishments, in part because of their courage, would certainly include Efren Reyes, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, Lea Salonga and, of course, Manny Pacquiao.

It becomes annoying to hear over and over that the Philippines could have, would have, should have been more successful if only “fortune” had smiled a little more brightly on it. Spanish colonization, American occupation, martial law, El Niño, an Asian crisis, or a thousand and one other events kept things from being different.

Ever played tong-its? Getting up from the table with a hand full of money depends more, not on the cards you hold, but the way you play them.

Only the ignorant or the foolish would believe that the Philippines is not in an enviable position in light of the global financial situation. A strong banking sector; a solid real-estate industry; good, steady foreign cash flows from remittances and outsourcing; attractive interest rates and currency; profitable businesses; a very manageable public and private debt load. This is the type of a firm foundation from which a nation’s economy can easily expand.

The country’s negatives, too-high poverty, a problematic education and health system, underemployment, massive wealth inequality and the like are the nation’s critical problems. However, these are not problems that must be solved before the economy grows. In fact, these are the problems that cannot be solved until the economy grows.

The contemporary national leaders who created successes for their countries were the bold. Mahathir of Malaysia reacted to the Asian crisis by doing exactly the opposite of all the “expert” opinions by imposing strict capital controls and saved his country from the worst effects. Korea’s President Park Chung-hee created Korea’s mighty manufacturing sector by getting the then-hated Japanese to invest in Korea. Deng Xiaoping led China toward the previously unthinkable market economy.

The Philippines needs policy-makers who are willing and able to show some creative, enterprising, even fearless, initiatives to take advantage of the times. This is not the time to simply go for the tie. This is the time to take the three-point shot, while being up four points in the last two minutes, to put the game away.



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