MAPping the Future

A New Year’s wish

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We Filipinos are a patient people, often a tolerant people; certainly an almost always hopeful people. We typically give everyone the benefit of the doubt the first time around.

We have been all of the above with P-Noy and his leadership team these past two years. We took stock of their shortcomings and decided to focus on their strengths. We were aware of the problems but chose to place more value on the potentials.

The time has come for us to ask from and of them the kind of results we had expected from the first year but willingly delayed demanding—because of what we knew they were up against as managers and leaders and what we were all up against as a people. “Matuwid na Daan” has made much progress but we are keenly aware of how far we still have to go given the extent and depth of corruption in our nation; as well as what we perceive as good governance lapses by members of the P-Noy team that promised us the straight and narrow road of good governance.

Now, we need to build upon that 7.1 percent GDP growth we earlier posted, a growth rate that we seem to have come upon more by serendipity than design. Can we do it? I think we can.

Ben Diokno estimates that some P500 billion needs to be invested a year to maintain that rate. Designing these investments in the next three to five years to achieve these rates is not difficult. The nature and extent of the infrastructure challenges we face have been spelt out by several experts like Ben (and Ciel Habito) and think tanks like the UP School of Economics, the UA&P and the PIDS.

There are enough big infrastructure projects that, properly dispersed around the country, will result in a growth spurt in employment and then feed increasing ancillary and other economic activity. We will need these projects more in northern Luzon (especially northeastern Luzon—the Cagayan Valley), the Bicol Region, Mimaropa (yes, this sub-region), the Visayas (with emphasis on the poorer islands and provinces like Samar) and, very clearly, Mindanao. These will stimulate many local economies and spur the growth of ancillary services, relieving the pressure to migrate to metropolitan areas that can no longer bear the excess population.

We need to construct integrated water management systems for whole river basins, the kinds that will feature dams that generate much-needed and cheaper electricity while storing water for the dry season, serving to control water flows during the rainy season to prevent flush floods that cause the loss of lives, destroy assets and disrupt Life; that will allow the steady development of inland aquaculture to produce fish for local food supplies and exports; and that feature irrigation systems to make agricultural lands more productive.

The steadier water and power supplies we will need to spur agriculture AND manufacturing (where the rates of return are much bigger and would engage a lot of our higher-skilled Filipinos) will come from projects like these.

We have to build the internodal transport systems—road, rail, water and air—with the associated produce-processing and handling facilities to allow value adding as close to the production areas as possible, thus, giving people higher incomes than simply producing raw materials. These will then allow higher-value goods and people to flow and travel more easily and cheaply around the country. This will certainly encourage more local tourism with its associated benefits (which in my mind includes knowing and learning to love our country and its people). I would like to see Laguna de Bay cleared of most of the fish pens to allow ferries to once more travel between Rizal and Laguna towns, and Manila. This act of taking away most of the fish pens will help the process of cleaning the lake, which has begun to seem like a mud pool.

We further need to redefine our understanding of PPP (public-private partnership) projects to include truly complex projects that go beyond construction of hard infrastructure. We understand that these produce the most visible benefits—and of great use to people in power running for office, but we need projects that will not only propel a country to competitiveness, we need to build the capacity of nation to stand proudly on it.

The other benefit of PPPs is to limit the avenues for corruption in government. Clearly we need to realign our government systems and purge its bureaucracies of the greed that consumes many of its people. Making the private sector take over for a while by entering into PPP projects will stop the “faucet of corruption” within the bureaucracies and will encourage an environment of good values. And as we do this, the government can have the much-needed infrastructure be laid down faster and more efficiently at a more reasonable cost.

Propelling a country to competitiveness is elusive unless we build human and social capital. Education is more than building school houses and attendant physical plants. Health is more than clinics and hospitals. These mean investments in very good service providers—teachers, nurses, dentists, doctors, social workers, scientists, technicians and technologists.

These mean collaboration among Community, Government (at all levels), NGOs, Business and Industry in planning for our common future. The Triple Helix Project, which many progressive countries like Singapore have adopted, is a model we will do well to follow.

Where will the money to fund at least the first three years of these projects come from? We now have 12.2 months’ foreign reserves, estimated at $84 billion. We only need three months but we can leave it at the six months’ level. If we can find a way to use half of that reserve—to be replenished as the incomes from the projects impacts are realized—we will have P 1.6 trillion to work with.

The P-Noy Team has a lot of work to do in the economic front, but they also have a lot to work with. I see no reason for further delays. Our people need the break now. 2013 is the year to start.

Individually we are not required to be heroes to help in this great venture. We can take small, personal steps and do them in unison towards the same direction and guided by a powerful vision of a Philippines that is truly progressive, incorrupt and egalitarian. If we can do all these next year, I have no doubt we shall achieve what we want as a nation.

[I thank my best friend, Ma. Corazon Tapang Lopez, Ph.D, for helping me put my thoughts in order while enriching the original draft.]

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is the chairman of MAP Public-Private Partnership Committee and professor at the Asian Institute of Management. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, visit <map.org.ph>.)

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