DTI roadmap

Much was made about the DTI roadmap released last week. This, however, (from an article in the Inquirer) caught my eye:

"Trade Undersecretary and Board of Investments managing head Cristino Panlilio said it was not enough to set targets. All targets should be backed by hard facts and empirical data to make them attainable.

Most pronouncements made by the (National Economic and Development Authority) are qualitative. We will try to be as quantitative as possible in our analysis of how we can attain our growth targets,'he told reporters. 'We need to be sure that our assumptions are well-founded. There should be empirical data to support what we want to achieve.'"

Why do these guys sound as if they’re competing against each other? Aren’t NEDA and DTI supposed to be working on the same goals?

Ironically enough, when one looks at the DTI roadmap, the same still leaves a lot to be desired. I’ll save my comments on the roadmap for later. But for now, the roadmap still looks like any previous roadmap: full of untested, unexamined assumptions.

Some rules on leadership

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

I once watched a CNN show hosted by Fareed Zakaria on leadership. He interviewed a wide range of leaders from different backgrounds and it was obvious that his intention was to portray leadership as un-singular by nature, highly changeable depending on the different contexts in which leadership is being exercised. In short, Mr. Zakaria wanted to show that leadership differs depending on the situation or organization. What was funny was that, despite trying so hard to elicit confirmation of his theory, the answers were quite the opposite of what he wanted.

Rather, contrary to the belief that leadership varies according to differing conditions, a commonality actually was undeniably present in all great leaders, whether it be the head of state or the manager of a small company. Also, unlike the fantasies of those obsessed with political correctness and the democratization of governance (infatuated as they are with leading by committees), individuals do matter. And leadership by an individual is a significant thing indeed.

Here is my own personal list of rules that, in my own observations, true leaders follow. None of these are original and most can actually be attributed to common sense. Even more, a high degree of that contained in the list would be quite familiar to anybody who has had experience running an organization or, at the very least, worked for a living.

First on my list is that leaders should "Know clearly what they want to achieve." I’ve always found memorable Charles De Gaulle’s opening line in his memoirs: "I have always had a certain idea of France." That alone says a lot about the kind of man De Gaulle was and the kind of leader that France had in him. These leaders exactly knew where their country was and where they want to bring the country to. However, indispensable to this is that the leader knows himself as well and comfortable with who he is. Positions of leadership are not the time to start learning about oneself. One should have done that a long time ago. While it is true that one can grow into leadership through time, it merely works on material that is already present. A man who does not know who he is will not know what he wants and definitely will not know what they want to achieve as leader.

Another is that leaders should "Communicate clearly but keep communications to a minimum." Admittedly, one of the reasons for this is that leaders should keep a certain distance, maintaining detachment, preserving a mystique for his office. However, an even more practical reason is to avoid confusion. A person who needs too many words to convey something is a person who has not mastered his subject. And, related to the first rule, if a person is himself confused then his own pronouncements will be confused.

A third rule is "Leaders surround themselves with smart people and are very careful who they choose." Leaders are never so insecure as to hire those who are better than they are in some aspects. They have egos healthy enough to deal with the super smart. Among the functions of a leader, this has got to be one the most important. To those who argue that leading is essentially a team function, Jack Welch has this to say: " ‘A’ players hire fellow ‘A’ players; ‘B’ players hire ‘B’ players."

This is complemented by Rule 4: "Leaders respect, encourage contrary opinions." Particularly in today’s complex world, no single person can have all the necessary information and skills to arrive at a reasonably intelligent decision. I mean, Harvard graduates or those with Phds will still need to have the humility to know that there are other co-workers out there with the insight and expertise to get the job done. All the more so those who don’t have the same credentials.

The following rule is really a no-brainer: "Leaders never ask others to do what they themselves aren’t willing to do." People, if they’re well adjusted and normal, know instinctively hypocrisy when they see it. Nobody wants to follow a hypocrite. People would be happy to make sacrifices for a cause but only if they saw that their leaders are sharing in that sacrifice. Look at Britain’s leaders during World War II. Leaders could have flaws but being perceived a hypocrite could never be one of them.

Then this very important rule: "Promote merit, have no tolerance for incompetence, demand accountability." Bottom line, a leader is there to get results. There are just simply two kinds of people: those who get things done and those who don’t. Friendships, personal loyalties are important, but if these are hindering the achieving of results then sacrifices must be made. Because that’s what leaders do.

Finally, leaders should have character, competence, and integrity. Without these three, anybody can have all the popularity and good intentions in the world, but, frankly, it wouldn’t matter.


A cloudy open skies

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

There’s a line from CNN that goes somewhat like this: "do you go with those who got it right or with those who got it wrong?" Because, frankly, in relation to the ongoing debate on the open-skies policy, do we give credence to those men able to build business empires from scratch, as well as the men and women able to effectively run local airlines for the country, or do we believe the promises of some guy who spent a considerable amount of money just to come up with "Pilipinas kay ganda"? I know what I’d choose.

Look, I don’t know Lucio Tan. I don’t know what he’s like. But I do know what he did and what he did is all around us. From beer to banks to airlines to cigarettes, this is a man who knows business. And when you have guys like that who can actually get things done, I would think we should instinctively help them or their endeavors. Apparently, we’d rather do the reverse.

Because at a time when a lot of people are predicting uncertainties for the global economy this year, with the concomitant unpredictability of our own economy, why we should be making it harder for the Philippines’ very own PAL (as well as Cebu Pacific and Zest Air), at this particular time, is beyond me. We shouldn’t be making it harder for them, we should be helping them.

Considerably, our tourism industry needs more than additional plane seats to get going: they need better airports and an efficient infrastructure. Both of which, we don’t really have. Such also needs careful and coordinated planning. None of which is being done effectively. We have a Category 2 rating from the International Civil Aviation Organization due to deficient aviation infrastructure and safety standards. All these are beyond the purview of local airlines. But they do fall squarely within the responsibility of the government. Traffic, peace and order, pollution, sanitation? These are not the responsibility of the local airlines. These are government’s. So why put the burden squarely on the shoulders of our airlines?

Besides, what does "pocket open skies" even mean? How different is that from a mere open skies? I suspect it’s one of those terms some policymaker cooked up to obfuscate matters, like "calibrated trade liberalization." They have no practical meaning. It’s either you open or you don’t. If one is going to be selective about it, then there better be good reasons for the selection. And if the selection turns out to be opening almost all air travel anyway, then that is not "pocket." That is open skies. Period.

Some people argue from the perspective of the expected benefits of "liberalization." Let’s not be simpletons about this. This column obviously is partial to liberalization. But there’s a difference between being partial and blind. As in all matters, we need to be smart about this. Look, US skies won’t open unilaterally. And it’s done very deliberately. Liberalization entails competition, which entails we step our game up, which means all of us, which means the government and private sector. If one of those factors or players is missing from the equation, then we just made people lose their jobs for no purpose. We can’t just open our skies up and hope that a "trickle down" effect ensues. We simply cannot gamble with people’s livelihoods.

Government assistance is particularly crucial for the airline industry. I don’t know of any successful foreign airline that made it without government support. Aside from airports, infrastructure, security, and safety, government help, particularly in economic crunches, is significant. The ability of the government to open up markets for our airlines is vastly important as well. To open up our skies without getting reciprocity from the other countries is to place an undue handicap for our companies. It’s not only unintelligent, it’s unconstitutional.

Besides, the nature of the market doesn’t seem to support the idea of open skies. People sometimes rail against our airlines for being monopolies, but we may have to accept that a "natural monopoly" may be necessary as far as airlines in the Philippines is concerned. That’s because the market could perhaps support only two or three players. That being the case, I’d rather have those two or three to be Filipinos. It then follows that we support such Filipino airlines as to be able to compete against those better-funded and larger foreign airlines.

The importance of Filipino carriers goes beyond economics. There’s also "transport security" (similar to "food security" arguments), particularly to ensure the safe return of our numerous OFWs during international emergencies. Finally, there’s also national pride. I rather like the idea of having Filipino-owned planes flying around. I like the thought that we have a flag carrier. And, despite (or because of) our difficulties, I’d really like to still be able to lift my head up and see the Philippines soar.


Ten rules of leadership

1) Know clearly what you want to achieve
2) Communicate clearly but keep communications to a minimum
3) Surround yourself with smart people, be careful who you choose
4) Respect, encourage contrary opinions
5) Never ask others to do what you yourself aren't willing to do
6) Praise in public, reprimand in private
7) Promote merit, have no tolerance for incompetence, demand accountability
8) Check emotions, remove drama or intriguing
9) Have humility to learn from everybody or everything, and learn specially from your mistakes
10) And always: true leaders credit success to the team but take sole blame for failures. Never equate what is right with your ego.

Overall: character, competence, and integrity. Without them nothing else matters.

(note: none of the above is original. i just compiled and made my own personal list. but anybody who has actually worked for a living or has experience leading an organization or simply has common sense would know or be familiar with all of it.)


The devil, exorcism, and faith

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

An interesting thing about Catholics is that all went through an exorcism. The sacrament of baptism is actually its basic form, a rite in which renunciation of the devil is made. This was memorably portrayed in the climactic scene of The Godfather, when Michael Corleone was attending the baptism of his nephew. Interspersed with scenes of mayhem, the priest would be seen asking of Michael: "do you reject Satan?"

Unfortunately, as the poet Charles Baudelaire once wrote: "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing mankind he didn’t exist." In fact, for a time, due to the influence of liberation theology and the attempt by some members of the Church to keep up with modernity or science, a mistaken belief spread that the devil does not exist. Or is a mere presence. Or that the world is the actual hell. All are incorrect.

There is a devil, not a mere presence, but one with a distinct identity, personality, and agenda. And the agenda is simple: to hurt you, put you in despair, separate you from God, and join the devil in hell. And there is a hell, an actual place where damned souls are condemned to spend eternity. These are articles of faith for Catholics. Simply put: if you don’t believe the devil exists you don’t believe in the Gospels. As taught to us in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 391): "The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing." Or, as wryly put by Keanu Reeves in Constantine: "You should [believe in the devil]. He believes in you."

The devil, being a mere creation of God, is inferior to God. The devil’s powers and knowledge are limited, only God’s is limitless. The devil cannot read minds or perform miracles. And the devil can only do something to the extent allowed him by God. Now why God allows the devil to do what he does on mankind is a mystery. We believe, however, that it’s all ultimately for our own good. Because God is good. We just need to keep the faith (Catechism No. 395).

It’s a mistake to believe that if one is prayerful then one is immune from attacks of the devil. As Matt Baglio writes, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John Vianney, to name a few, were all attacked by the devil. One of the saddest accounts of demonic possession that Baglio recounts was of a young nun suffering since childhood.

Fr. Gabrielle Amorth, one of the Church’s chief exorcists, writes that the devil’s attack comes in two forms: ordinary temptations (which God allows to test us and, hopefully, leads to a strengthening of faith -- even Jesus was tempted) and the extraordinary activities. The latter could take the form of physical pain, possession, oppression, obsession, infestation, or diabolical dependence. Kids may find this annoying but drugs, illicit sex, and certain types of music actually increase the likelihood of demonic possession. So do fortune telling, sorcery, occult and new age practices, wearing amulets, making curses, and a deliberate life of sin.

Priests are actually the most skeptical when it comes to claims of demonic possession. Their first instinct would always be to refer the matter to psychiatrists. But once in a while, a case would come that could not be categorized as depression, psychoses, epilepsy, or anything scientifically explainable. In which case, the exorcists come in. As stated in No. 1673 of the Catechism, major exorcisms (unlike simple exorcisms that is baptism) "can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of a bishop. xxx Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness." To those unfortunately in need of an exorcism it’s important to go only to bishops or authorized priests. Needless to say, manghihilots are out. You could wind up dead. In the Philippines, a group of authorized exorcists can be found at the Manila Archdiocese.

Exorcisms normally take a few minutes and are usually quiet affairs. But there are dramatic cases and the scenes in the movie The Exorcist have happened. Exorcists have seen levitations, heard demonic voices, witnessed superhuman strength, and strange things like people vomiting nails or live frogs.

Interestingly, rather than fixating on the devil, all this actually emphasizes the importance of faith in God. The devil is cast out not because of the priest’s abilities but of God’s. Hence, Max von Sydow’s memorable movie line: "The power of Christ compels you." For sure, only God can save us if we but let Him, making ourselves a sort of anti-devil, ridding ourselves of our pride, obeying His Church’s teachings, and trusting completely in Him.


The anti-intellectual State

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

One of the impressions that really stuck with me looking back on the past year is how our people seemingly are against intellectuals or any form of genuine intellectualism. This prejudice is actually quite subtle, disguised as it is indeed by the numerous public discussions being held in every form of media now available in the country. But the bias against is certainly there and responsibility for this lies with our so-called "intellectuals."

Last year’s national elections had a very anti-intellectual bias. Academic credentials were either a) taken against the candidate or b) immediately disregarded due to some imaginary or unproven personal failing of the candidate. This was quite interesting for so many reasons. In a world where information is created and travels in speeds previously unimaginable, to now consider learning as something unnecessary is incredible. A sizable number of national leaders in other countries have quite respectable academic credentials. Obama, Cameron, Vejjajiva, Lee, Merkel, Medvedev, Singh, to name a few, all had top-level world-class educations. Admittedly, not all are doing really well in office, but that is the point: considering the difficulties of the job, then all the more reason to seek even better, more prepared, more learned individuals for public positions.

In our case, the twisted reasoning goes like this: since bar topnotcher Marcos or Georgetown educated economist Arroyo were seen as unsatisfactory by a certain group of people, therefore we should seek leaders that don’t have the same academic caliber. Which is stupid. Accepting the argument that Marcos and Arroyo, with their experience and education, were unable to do the job well, then the proper (and sane) thinking would be to seek individuals with even better experience and training, plus other attributes necessary in a national leader: integrity (including having respect for our history and institutions), competence (which includes the ability to select able people), and a clear vision (and know-how) of where he wants to take the country to. To say that no Filipino like that exists belittles the Filipino and is offensive. It only means that we weren’t willing to seek hard enough and are content with the easy, albeit myopic, choices.

But going beyond the elections, why the anti-intellectual bias? I talked years ago to a successful liquor businessman who bragged about his refusing to read the classics (through time I’d discover his attitude to be shared by many Filipinos). Rousseau? Drucker? Aquinas? De la Costa? Who cares? For him, they’re irrelevant to his business. Instead, he expressed eagerness to getting advice from elder businessmen friends ("kasi practical daw siya"). Obviously, to learn from one’s elders is good. But to disregard the actual pieces of wisdom from the known giants of humanity is absurd, shortsighted, and idiotic. Undoubtedly, good advice is good advice, whether it be from the neighborhood barber or Pope Benedict XVI. But to proudly disregard the wisdom of men who made themselves immortal through their stupendous achievements in favor of the opinions of people who just happened to possess wealth (which is but a mere pittance compared to the wealth of businessmen from our neighboring countries) out of companies that will no longer exist 30, 50 years from now is profoundly bizarre.

But indeed, the reason for this anti-intellectual bias lies with our "intellectuals" themselves. I mean: do we even have real intellectuals? There’s this well-known management professor (later government official) who lectured constantly against oligarchs only to spinelessly end up covering for their corruption. A columnist happily namedrops Rawls or Chomsky for no useful purpose except to release hot air. He once analyzed a recently elected public official (acknowledged of humble origins) and weirdly concluded, due to etymological reasons, that he’s an "ilustrado." Even assuming that’s correct, what was the point? Then there’s this economist whose idea of public debate is to screech and scream against those who dissent from her views. It’s ridiculous to lecture as if one is the fount of infallible knowledge when, after all those years spent in government or academe giving economic advice, the Philippines is still in its economic quagmire.

Intellectuals are there to encourage the greater populace to think critically and objectively, to think calmly and methodically, to discuss politely, to like thinking (and learning), and to think for a purpose. Not paralyze people into inaction or scream loads of esoteric data in order to shut them up. In the end, our people have no respect for intellectuals (as well as politicians) because those who pretend to being it are merely into one huge ego trip and treat being an intellectual as a performance for people’s entertainment. They serve no purpose other than as a diversion during coffee breaks or cocktails. Intellectuals should exhort people to unify their actions with their thoughts, demand responsibility and accountability, all rooted in realistic and doable considerations. Above all, intellectuals should practice what they preach. Otherwise, they’re just encouraging the country to be basket cases like them.