Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Once again, be glad you are Filipino

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

While most of the rest of the world looks to the future with fear and hesitation, here in the Philippines, the economic situation grows better and better.

The economic fire has been lit and as each month passes, it becomes more and more self-sustaining. As corporations and individuals make more money, they use that profit to create more and more wealth and that is what is happening in this country. From BusinessMirror: “Firms operating inside the Philippine Economic Zone Authority [Peza] generated 721,588 new jobs during the first nine months of the year, up 22 percent from the 592,257 recorded during the same period a year ago.”

Look at that number: 721,588 new jobs in nine months. And each of those new jobs creates more jobs and more wealth. Moreover, the Philippines is at the beginning of the wave, not the end. From the Philippine Star: “A survey conducted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas [BSP] showed an increasing demand for loans by corporate and individual borrowers due to a stronger than expected growth in the economy for the first half of this year.” That is part of the self-sustaining idea. Making money encourages business to find ways and fund ideas to make more money and the process goes on and on and grows and grows.

But you know what? It is not about the money and not about the numbers. It is all about attitude. One of the important reasons the numbers and money are growing is that people are, even secretly and quietly, glad to be Filipino.

Through 2008 and 2009, Filipinos were very cautious waiting for the worst of the global financial crisis to hit, like waiting for the next Typhoon Milenyo. By contrast, US corporations are holding back spending and investing some $2 trillion. But they are scared and worried, unlike in the Philippines.

Let me illustrate my point from a column in the New York Times: “India and America are both democracies, a top Indian official explained to me, but emotionally they are now ships passing in the night. Because today, the poorest Indian maid believes that if she can just save a few dollars to get her kid English lessons, that kid will have a better life than she does. So she is an optimist. “But the guy in Kansas,” he added, “who today is enjoying a better life than that maid, is worried that he can’t pass it on to his kids. So he’s a pessimist.”

Do you see the difference that attitude can make? We laughed and cried at the same time to the silly statement that the Philippines was down so low that there was no place to go but up. Yet in a sense, it was true. The moment people lose the belief that there is an “up” and that it is possible, even remotely possible, to reach “up,” then things start falling apart. That is where the US is right now.

Contrary to many negative comments you read about the Philippines and Filipinos, in fact, Filipinos do quite a bit of self-examination, at least on a national perspective. This is a very important quality. Filipinos have a realistic view of personal and public corruption, neither exaggerating nor underestimating. More important, the Filipino has a belief that corruption can be reduced. Witness the Aquino election.

While the “experts” throw large quantities of mud on the wisdom of the Filipino voter, that criticism is not really fair.

Based on résumés, Aquino was the least experienced candidate. The same was true in the 2008 US election that brought Obama to the White House. Obama ran on “hope and change” as did Aquino, to a less distinct extent. But the difference in public attitude and perception to “hope and change” was completely different.

America’s hope and change is best embodied in the Obama supporter, Peggy Joseph, who cried out at a political rally, “I won’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. If I help him [Obama], he’s going to help me.”

The Filipino, like the Indian maid, has not lost the belief that things can be better in the future and that is a critical component to economic success. It is not an easy road to travel but it is the path to victory.

In the US, “hope” was being hopeful the problems would go away and “change” meant “We’ll try anything different.”

Compare to the Philippines. “Hope” for local voters was the belief that conditions could improve in the future. “Change” was the idea that a person with political experience, but not too much as to be considered a traditional politician, could achieve what the people needed.

No one expected miracles like free gas and housing. All the voters wanted, even demanded, was that the next president be serious, for example, about addressing corruption. Hoping for miracles is a sign of desperation and lack of realism. Expecting positive change shows maturity and common sense.

It is not so much about looking at where you are but about looking at where you came from. But more important, it is a matter of believing that you can go to where you want to be. That is one reason those who complain about poverty are not helpful. It is always about “enough progress has not been made reducing poverty.” Yes, thank you. We know that. But do we believe that we can move in a positive direction?

The Aquino administration’s plan to expand the Conditional Cash Transfer Fund has generated both controversy and discussion. But the important thing is, beyond all the political ranting, is the belief that something positive can be done. The issue is how to work it out to make is successful.

Be glad you are Filipino. The tools and conditions are coming into place for progress, substantial and sustained progress. What must not be lost is a firm belief that the Philippines can and will make it all happen successfully.

E-mail comments to mangun@gmail.com. PSE stock-market information and technical analysis tools provided by CitisecOnline.com Inc.

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