Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Making lemonade

Business Mirror

SOMETIMES the obvious is overlooked.

As individuals treading down the path of life, we learn at a very young age that there are no “magic bullets” in life. Every accomplishment takes effort and that there are no simple answers.

I remember that over 50 years ago, learning to tie my own shoes seemed an impossible task. I keep wondering and complaining why I could not just “know how to do it” instead of having to practice and fail and practice some more.

I know now that tying shoelaces is complex and complicated, involving finger dexterity, the logic of a knot, and a whole set of other factors that, when done properly, gets your shoes tied.

For some reason though, collectively, we still tend to seek a simple, complete, and effortless solution to problems.

We look to leaders in the government for solutions because we pay them to find answers while the rest of us work for a living. Political leaders do not have to “work” so they have the extra time to be solvers.

But the leaders are chosen because of offering simple one-shot solutions. To solve the socioeconomic problems of the Philippines, all we have to do is have better education. Or end corruption. Or change Filipino attitude and behavior as the foreigners always say.

Granted that no one really believes there is a single answer to the Philippines’s problems and we all know that realistically, many improvements must be made to make the nation better.

However, my thinking is that if your problem-solving process is based on an incomplete foundation, you will never get to where you want to go.

You do realize that the Philippines is the most unique country in the world.

Because of that uniqueness, that singularity, it would make sense that virtually every economic decision starts with that fact. Sometimes the obvious is overlooked.

The Philippines is a large archipelago country stuck in the middle of the ocean. That is what is unique about the Philippines; its geography.

The only country that comes close to our situation is Indonesia, which has its own unique situation, as Indonesia is about five times larger than the Philippines in both population and size. And the Indonesian island province of Sumatra is a 30-minute boat ride from mainland Asia.

The last and only time the Philippines was a major economic player because of its geography was 400 years ago during the time of the Manila Galleon. And geography affects every aspect of the Philippine economy.

Take tourism, for example. There is nothing wrong with the Philippines as a tourist destination. So why does Thailand—a place where no one speaks the universal language of English, a population that is sometimes hostile to foreigners, and has too many polluted beaches—get four times as many tourists as the Philippines?

Thailand is easier to get to by air. Spend two days in Thailand and you can also use the rest of your week’s vacation seeing Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and even Ho Chi Min City.

So maybe, any tourism policy should start with the idea that the government needs to do any and every thing to get tourists into our airports. Maybe even an “Open Skies” policy while figuring out how to protect Filipino air transport. Government policy can initiate reclaiming all of Manila Bay and building 100 five-star hotel/casinos and it will still be easier and cheaper to go to Macau, Singapore, or Malaysia.

There is a lot of discussion about the 60/40 rule for foreign ownership. I am not sure that it is as big a problem as it is made to seem. Adjusting the “Negative Investment List” would probably make more sense. The Philippine “economic zones” have been successful in attracting foreign direct investment.

However, the one sector that is fairly investment-friendly—mining—is not at the top of the government priority list. Foreign money does not need the Constitution changed to invest a few tens of billions of dollars. Mineral wealth is also part of Philippine “geography.”

I know that these are simplistic examples. But the point is, like the saying goes, “If you have lemons, make [and sell] lemonade.”

The call-center industry is a good example of how starting with the foundation of what you have, in this case, an English-speaking, educated and Western-cultured work force, can become an economic powerhouse.

On a personal note; are you prepared for the coming Philippine stock-market boom? Or are you worried about your investments? Either way, the information and analysis you need is at mangunonmarkets.com. Browse by and check out samples of the PSE Strategy Guide and the audio Daily Market Updates.

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

Monday, 10 October 2011

Values dear to Filipino people

Manila Bulletin

MANILA, Philippines — It is only a slight exaggeration to refer to Filipinos, especially the ten million of them who are spread out all over the world as overseas workers, as the Chosen People (as former Secretary of Finance Roberto de Ocampo did in a column he wrote for The Inquirer).

In more than one hundred countries in both the developed and developing world, Filipino workers and professionals are making an important impact on homes, offices, factories, schools, hospitals, ocean going vessels, hotels and restaurants, business establishments, and Churches. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are usually a cut above most other foreign workers in terms of quality of service and work attitudes.

In 2009, the worst year of the Great Recession that hit the global economy, the foreign exchange remittances from OFWs to their home country continued to increase. These OFWs were usually the first to be hired and the last to be fired in all the economic sectors in which they were employed.

As a long time student of the phenomenon of OFWs, I have maintained that Filipinos are among the most desirable of workers from the developing world to fill the gap in the labor forces of countries suffering from demographic winter, especially in Europe and Northeast Asia, because of their unique culture that is a product of the last five hundred years of its close encounters with cultures from the West (Spain and the United States) and its neighboring countries in North and Southeast Asia. What are the characteristics that endear the Filipinos to the host countries in which they work?

In more than a dozen countries where I have personally observed the OFWs in Europe, Northeast and Southeast Asia and North America, the first quality that stands out is the perennial cheerfulness and optimism of the typical Filipino. It is easy for him to smile. In fact, this propensity to smile can get him into trouble from time to time when he smiles at the wrong time.

All in all, though, this characteristic is a distinct asset in such service-oriented occupations and professions as medicine, nursing and other health services; restaurant, hotel, and other hospitality industries; entertainment; caregiving; retailing and customer services, including the Business Process Outsourcing sector, etc.

This cultural which he imbibes from his upbringing can be attributed to a happy combination of being Malay (which he shares with the equally cheerful Indonesians) and Christian (which can partly account for his being as happy-go-lucky as the Italians).

The innate cheerfulness of the Filipino can explain why in most comparative studies of the "happiest peoples in the world," the Philippines is usually among the first four or five. It has a high Happiness Index. This index is highly correlated with other data like low rates of suicide, of marriage breakups, of psychologically disturbed adolescents, etc. What is baffling to outsiders is that smiling faces can be found even in the most economically depressed communities. Only Christian hope can explain joy in the midst of physical deprivation and suffering. In contrast, there are very developed countries that also rank high in the Happiness Index, such as Norway and other Scandinavian countries. What is puzzling is the high rate of suicides in these womb-to-tomb countries. As the whole world watched in horror, a country whose per capita income exceeds $40,000 per annum saw more than 90 persons killed in cold blood by a religious fundamentalist. It is clear that neither material wealth nor religion alone can prevent extreme errant behaviour if other cultural elements are absent.

Another cultural advantage of the Filipino in moving from one country to another is the ease with which he can adapt to different cultures. Unlike many ethnic groups working overseas, the Filipino does not need to be surrounded by other Filipinos to be comfortable in any city of the world.

They stand out because they do not generally live in ghettos or enclaves as many other immigrant groups do. They rarely have their own restaurants, laundries, groceries, etc. Filipinos are among the most multiculturally enabled people in the world, thanks to centuries of close interactions with Spaniards, Americans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, South Koreans, Mexicans, and others.

As one of the most brilliant Filipino writers of the last century, Nick Joaquin, wrote in Culture and History, the last five hundred years of a colonial past, intermingled with close contacts with the neighboring Asian countries, developed a Filipino culture that is distinct from the rest of Asia. The resulting culture was both Asian and Western.

To understand better this interaction between history and culture, let me quote Nick Joaquin: "The Philippine condition in pre-West Asia (before 1521 and 1565) can be summed up in two words: Unknown and unknowing; while the attitude of our neighbors to us can likewise be summed up in two words: Ignorant and indifferent; and these ignorance and indifference are exemplified by their supposed maps of us. We were a veritable terra incognita.

Certainly, with the Spanish epoch, what a change in Asian attitudes towards us! Suddenly we are no longer terra icognita. Suddenly this land fit only for snakes and savages becomes, for the Chinese and Japanese, a good place to visit, to settle in, even to covet. Suddenly this land so ignored by Asian progress finds its neighbors come crowding with their produce and manufactures, for the galleon trade dealt not only in Chinese silks but with the entire gamut of Asian commodity, from the stuffs of jewels of India and Cambodia to the pearls and herbs of Japan and the Indies; and Manila, which gathers in all the wealth of the East for export to the world, becomes, as the port of Asia, an Asian city at last!"

The most obvious cultural advantage of the OFW is his working knowledge of English and his knowing many Spanish words incorporated into Tagalog and other Philippine languages. Whatever valid criticisms we may have against certain colonial practices of the Americans during their four decades of rule here, it cannot be denied that the English language they left with us is one of our greatest assets in deploying our workers abroad.

There are many other poor countries that have larger populations like the Philippines. But, with the exception of China and India, these more populous countries are unable to capitalize on their surplus labor by sending them abroad because of their language handicap. Moreover, the multilingual environment with which our colonial past endowed us makes it relatively easier for Filipinos to learn other non-English languages.

In fact, in the hospitality industry in Spain, where I was able to observe more closely the work of Filipinos, their learning of the language is almost instant in their trade because they already have as part of their vocabulary such "Tagalog" words as baso, silya, lamesa, kutsilyo, tenedor, kutsara, servilleta, and botella; and not to mention dishes like camaron rebosado, paella, tortilla de patata, etc.

What struck me most in Barcelona, that has some of the best restaurants in the world (like El Bulli), was the predominance of Filipino waiters. In fact, in some of these restaurants, the policy is to hire only Filipinos as waiters. The explanation that I received opened my eyes to another trait that we take granted among Filipinos, even among the poorest of the poor. This has to do with a habit that we share with most islanders as those who live in the South Pacific.

I am referring to the almost compulsive custom of taking a bath every day or more than once a day. This great hygienic advantage can partly explain why Filipinos are preferred in personal services that require close physical contact. Through no fault of theirs, workers from countries that are land-locked or are surrounded by desserts hardly acquire the habit of showering daily.

For obvious reasons, this poses a handicap for them in the personal services that are in greatest demand in the aging countries of the West. They usually find themselves in manufacturing, construction work and janitorial services.

Culture is defined as a distinct way of living, acting, and behaving of a group of people. Enshrined in culture are traditions, customs, values and virtues that have been products of the physical environment and common historical experiences of the group.

As we have seen above, Filipinos have in common certain traditions, customs, values and virtues that have resulted from the archipelagic nature of their geography and the historical events of at least the last 500 years. It is up to the present and future generations to preserve whatever cultural traits can help Philippine society attain the integral human development of each Filipino.

For comments, my new email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.

Filipina is Asia's first woman commercial jet pilot

 Brooke Castillo, Asia's first woman commercial jet pilot wears makeup but more than holds her own with male colleagues in the cockpit after scorching a path into the macho world of Philippine aviation.

Niña Corpuz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA, Philippines - It's rare to see a woman emerge in a captain's uniform but there she was, standing tall amid the crowd of people at the airport.

At 5'7" and blessed with Filipina good looks, she could be a contestant for a beauty pageant.

But Capt. Brooke Castillo is in command, and today she has two flights, taking about 200 passengers via Cebu Pacific's Airbus to two destinations, Cagayan De Oro and Hong Kong.

"It's just a regular thing that I do every day," she said when asked how it feels to have all these people's lives in her hands.

But "regular" is the last word to describe her.

"Providential" was how she put it when she accompanied a friend to take the entrance exams at Philippine Airlines.

"Maybe it's my destiny. I'm here for a reason," said Castillo who finished Business Administration at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

She wasn't planning to enter aviation school but since she was already there, she took the exam anyway.

Her friend failed the height requirement but Castillo went on to become the first Filipina to captain a commercial jet in 1996. Since then, she has been flying planes for the last 20 years.

She is also one of two pilots sent to France in 2007 by Cebu Pacific for training to be an Airbus type-rating instructor, certified by Airbus. The other pilot is Capt. Manny Osias who was awarded the 2011 Airline Pilot of the Year by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Philippines (AOPAP).

The most challenging thing about being a pilot is making the right decisions all the time. "The hardest part is deciding every time when to take off, when to touch down. There's no room for wrong decisions," said Castillo.

Never intimidated

Having grown up with three brothers made her so used to being around boys, she said. It also helped that she is a "low maintenance" kind of girl.

She loved sports. In high school, she was a member of the Basketball Youth National Team. She was also a member of the Philippine Junior Bowlers in college. After college, she became a member of the Taekwondo Philippine National Team.

When she was training to be a pilot, she was never intimidated with the men around her.

"I worked my way through this. I was never like, 'Tulungan mo ako kasi 'di ko kaya.' From the start, I respect the men and they respect you. Respeto lang. You don't have to prove anything. Kung ano man ang kaya nila, kaya ko rin. No big deal," said Castillo.

Cebu Pacific now has 14 female pilots, and four of them are captains like Castillo.

At 41, Castillo is still single and admitted her job is her priority. "Ang hirap kasi to give up work lalo ngayon."

Castillo is also an instructor to Cebu Pacific's pilots-in-training.

"I also find a lot of fulfillment in teaching," she said.

On her days off, she is busy organizing her alma mater St. Scholastica's big homecoming scheduled for February next year. She chairs the organizing committee.

But despite her busy life on air and on the ground, she said she also dreams of having a family someday.

If you ask her what her ideal man is, Castillo has a ready answer: "Confident pero hindi mayabang."