THE tragedy Haiti found itself in after an intensity 7 earthquake leveled to the ground almost every building in its capital, from cathedrals to homes and hospitals, is of apocalyptic proportion.
The rescue of a teenage girl and a young man from the wreckage two weeks after the tragedy, was the bit of uplifting news in a city reduced to ruins, littered with corpses and the maimed, and where thousands of homeless walked aimlessly on the streets or cramped in makeshift refugee camps?a city without electricity, scarce safe water and little food. The devastation and sufferings in Haiti flashed on TV are too graphic, the temblor is now seen as the worst disaster of the decade.
Over and above his appeal for urgent relief aid like medicines, clean water, food, clothing and shelter, the country?s Prime Minister has begun crying for international help to create jobs for his people gone idle.
Those who are familiar with that small island-nation in the Caribbean, however, say that the recent earthquake was just the last straw that has broken the back of that ?weak? state.
Haiti has had a long history of misery. A Spanish colony soon after Columbus saw it in 1492, it was ceded to France and made a slave territory in 1697. Rebelling bravely against France for 13 years, Haiti earned its independence in 1804. But for over 200 years on its own, Haiti had the misfortune of getting misruled by a succession of characters more intent at personal aggrandizement than working for the nation?s welfare. Among the more colorful ones were: the first head of government, a former slave, Jean Jacques Desalines, who assumed the title Emperor, and of late, a voodoo doctor turned dictator, Papa Doc Duvalier, and his son, Baby Doc who promptly declared himself President for life.
For a while in the last century, it was occupied by the United States like the Philippines.
Even before the tragedy, Haiti has become a global symbol of lack of governance where rulers cared little, if any, at harnessing its potentials for progress and competitiveness in the areas where it has potentials like tourism, SME manufacturing and agri-business. It was a social volcano moving towards a perfect formula for disaster waiting to happen.
The debilitating effect of grand scale graft and corruption is seen right away when one visits Haiti and the Dominican Republic that share borders in the same island. In the Dominican Republic, one enjoys the lush vegetation in well protected forests which bolsters its thriving tourism industry. When one crosses the border to Haiti, he notices that the forests are gone.
The Philippines is much better off in the area of governance and competitiveness. This has been painstakingly nurtured by both the government and the private sectors to ensure that the country can provide economic opportunities to its 90 million people.
For instance, Transparency International rated Haiti number 168 in rank out of 180 countries, or very close to the bottom in its corrupt perception index (CPI). On the other hand, the Philippines landed on the 139th slot.
In the field of competitiveness, the World Economic Forum ranked the Philippines 71st. in a list 137 countries last year. Haiti was evidently out of the list of the 134 nations vying for investments and trade.
In a recent issue, Time magazine described Haiti as a public health disaster even in its best day, citing that nearly 200,000 of its citizens live with AIDS and HIV virus. Surprisingly, it made a bigger per capita investment on public health last year than the Philippines as measured by the ratings agency.
Despite Haiti?s deep-seated culture of corruption, the New York Times has appealed that this should not be made a reason to delay the assistance needed by its people to rebuild their lives. It was further pointed out by Bill Clinton, the special UN envoy to that country, that the people of Haiti are industrious, inventive and bright as demonstrated by migrants to the United States, Canada and Europe. Remittances from Haitians working overseas contribute a major share of the national economy.
The same could be said of Filipinos who are all over the world.
On the geological side of the equation, Dr. Alfredo Mahar-Lagmay, in an article in the Jan. 24 issue of the Inquirer, said that the Philippines equally lies on a similar tectonic fault plate as Haiti. A geology graduate of Cambridge University, Dr. Lagmay says that if an earthquake as strong as that which hit the Haitian capital hits Metro Manila, the ensuing devastation may reach the same magnitude. He urges a high degree of vigilance by both the public and government sectors in preparing disaster preparedness action programs. Earthquake drills the likes that schools do by getting school children to put their notebooks on their heads while running out of their classrooms just will not be enough.
Culture of safety
He urges the development of a culture of safety and good governance.
In our assessment, the Philippines is certainly not going the way of Haiti especially since an effective action program on competitiveness and governance is being fine-tuned by both the private sector and the government. For their part, leaders of business and academe are drawing up an economic roadmap to bring the Philippines to NIC status in the next few years and bridge the unemployment gap to a range of 2 to 3 percent.
What is needed is the ?sustainability? of such a program, owned up and adopted by the alliance of business chambers, accepted by government career officials and embraced by the next administration.
The continuing Haiti tragedy should drive us to greater urgency, strong resolve and sustainability in our efforts to provide fresh impetus to governance and competitiveness, then the Philippines can be a Newly Industrializing County (NIC) sooner than can be extrapolated from its track record.
(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 present private-sector Co-Chair of the National Competitiveness Council and former Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous articles, please visit www.map.org.ph.)