Eat, drink, hell

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

My wife once said: "Hell is the impossibility of reason. That’s what this place feels like. Hell." Ok, not really. My wife didn’t say that. Charlie Sheen’s character in Platoon did. But she could also very well have said it considering what she’s been through when she tried setting up her foodcourt business recently.

You see, the little lady (at this point I shall refer to my wife, in imitation of those pretentious writers, mostly from the country’s leading daily who think they’re the print version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, by all sorts of inappropriate nicknames) is a lawyer like me. And, like any sane lawyer, particularly one who spent years in litigation, badly wants to get out of the inanity that is the Philippine legal profession. Inasmuch as her passion (secondary I hope) is food, then the logical avenue of escape for her seemed to be the food business.

So, when a new commercial building opened up along Sumulong Highway, just beside Fatima University, we decided "why not?" and enthusiastically plunged into our first foray as entrepreneurs (with the proper French inflection). It was then we realized that our training as lawyers was absolutely of no help in setting up our foodcourt business. For one, we were simply thinking rationally. A degree in business management from Welfareville, Mandaluyong, would have been better. Furthermore, we were also making completely unrealistic assumptions. One assumption is that the City of Antipolo would be quite glad for new businesses to come along. It wasn’t. Instead, our applications for mayor’s permits, health, engineering, etc. were treated suspiciously. Or, to be accurate, contemptuously. Several trips would always result in new documentary requirements that were never previously asked. People who were supposed to approve our applications were always on extended lunch break or anywhere but their desks. Baranggay offices were hidden in the most obscure corners of the town and kulang na lang may camouflage paint yung buildings.

The problem wasn’t limited to Antipolo, which, in all honesty, is a great place to live, it having the best air in the metropolis for the simple reason that it’s actually air you’re breathing. The DTI also gave the missus the runaround when she wanted to register her trade name. First, the wifey was told to research the name at DTI, then register in DTI Antipolo (which closed or transferred offices for some reason), and then await DTI Makati’s decision. The BIR wasn’t to be left behind, of course, in the runaround game. My babe had to go to BIR Antipolo, then told to clear something at BIR Atrium, which really meant BIR Buendia, and then back to BIR Antipolo for mandatory training on how the income tax system works (which sweetie really needed as she taught tax law and is an experienced banking lawyer).

All the foregoing just brought to vivid life what the International Finance Corporation (a member of the World Bank Group) found of the Philippines in its 2010 "Ease of Doing Business." Of 183 countries worldwide, the Philippines ranked 144. This was a demotion from its 141 ranking the previous year.

Good thing we didn’t know this when we started, but the Philippines actually ranks worse in ease of "Starting a Business." In this criterion, the Philippines ranks 162 (down from its 155 ranking in 2009). One reason for this is that the Philippines takes almost an extra two weeks to process applications, 23% more costly to start up, and takes as much as 10 more procedures than other countries. However, as a sort of perverse consolation, the Philippines did not deteriorate as far as the ease of "Closing a Business" is concerned.

In any event, my woman was able to set up her foodcourt business and so far she finds it quite rewarding. And my lady (pronounced "mah ley-deh") finds rather fun the process of costing, setting the inventory, refereeing personnel squabbles, and even the inter-stall gossip and intrigues. It’s also an invigorating treat for us to serve food to the nice students at Fatima, while at the same time introducing them to the various cuisines that my sugar bumps finds interesting. I’m sure they don’t care that an international trade lawyer, recent Bar examiner, and BusinessWorld columnist is serving them or clearing up their dishes on occasion. Which is fine by me and God bless those students and their teachers.

What is not fine is that Hollywood Mall, where our foodcourt is located, suddenly felt like having a blackout. For 20 freakin’ days now and running, all the stalls had to serve food to the students in the dark. Which is ridiculous (or baka katangahan talaga) as the Meralco training center for linesmen is a mere five-minute drive away. Then Antipolo City decides, at the start of the schoolyear and the rainy season, to dig up and reconstruct the road in front of Hollywood Mall, inevitably clogging up traffic.