The damage of liberal elitism to the Philippines

my Trade Tripper column in this 6-7 August 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

And I’m not talking about the wealthy oligarchy, a completely different topic altogether. No. Am focusing on this country’s so-called “intelligentsia,” of the academe and the professions, particularly of law (which I’m most familiar with), from those exclusive few universities convinced only they are entitled to influence others and make the decisions simply because (so they believe) they’re smarter than all of us.

Which is really annoying considering how utterly without basis their thinking is.

I remember one former Supreme Court justice pointedly (but quite correctly) telling a graduating central Manila law school class (and I’m paraphrasing here): “Be proud of yourselves, don’t be intimidated by the elite universities. Remember, at least your school hasn’t produced corrupt leaders, plunderers, and traitors that plague this country.”

So when I hear the self-congratulatory prattle of academics, lawyers, policy makers from those hallowed halls of learning, the humble bragging about their progressiveness (and they usually do describe themselves as “progressives” or “liberals”) supposedly making a difference to the country, I get baffled: have you seen the Philippines lately?

However, in fairness to the present administration, let’s agree it’s really too early days to tell how Bedans fair in governance. Full disclosure, I’m a Bedan.

In any event, beyond the corruption and mismanagement our intellectual class brought down upon us, the greater danger is the thought homogeny permeating our top schools.

This leads to two distressing consequences, both observable priorly from the United States, which we’re seemingly determined to copy.

The first is hostility to dissenting opinions: anyone with a conservative viewpoint will surely be labeled as “medieval,” “racist,” “bigoted,” or “uninformed.” And these occur in a range of topics: from sexual ethics to immigration to national security.

Thus, if you dare question the concept of “the other” (the latest buzzword favored by progressives), you are “xenophobic.”

If you ask about the merit of allowing transgenders their choice of restrooms, you are “bigoted.”

And God help you if you ever utter the word “God” in an “intellectual” conversation.

All this renders learning inutile.

As Nicholas Kristof (New York Times, “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance”, Nicholas Kristof, May 7, 2016) puts it, “the stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards -- and we all lose.”

Finally, we seem to be aping the US’ obsession (at least from the academic standpoint) with national guilt. In their case, it’s about race and slavery. In ours, the alleged historical baggage the Philippines has vis-à-vis the Bangsamoro concept.

There’s also the academic and social media “thought leaders” fashionable passion to seek out and help (again to use those words) “the other” (usually minority refugees), with nary a nod to national security or economic viability.

But intellectual elite actions also led to the (likely intended) consequence Janet Daley (The Telegraph; “The US elite abandoned the American dream -- Trump is the terrifying result”, March 12, 2016) decried as where “love of country is no longer instilled in the children of every generation as it once was.”

So with the Philippines.

Most of our so-called intelligentsia took post-graduate studies from foreign universities, many from the Ivy League, again usually “progressive,” and it’s interesting how naively oblivious they are about the damage the ideas coming from those schools wrought upon the rest of the world.

For example, the liberal freak-out over “Brexit”: “Over the past decade, elites broke the world, and were unrepentant about their failure. They created the conditions for the worst economic crisis in nearly a century, and made sure that their elite friends at the top would scoop up the post-crisis gains, stranding the vast majority of people. They decided their project of globalization and liberalization mattered more than democracy.” (The American Prospect, David Dayen, “Who’s to Blame for ‘Brexit?’ The Elites,” June 24, 2016)

Another: elites at the IMF fostering “groupthink and intellectual capture” resulted in unmindful cheerleading “for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.” (The Telegraph, “IMF admits disastrous love affair with the euro and apologizes for the immolation of Greece,” July 29, 2016)

This article, make no mistake, is not a call against experts. Rather, it’s a plea for people to be accepting of dissenting ideas and to be more democratic in the sourcing of varying thoughts.

For the Philippines, certainly expanding the bench from where we get our analytical input could only be helpful.

We know that because our continued insistence in narrow intellectual sourcing from an exclusive set of families and schools has definitely not worked for the country.

Deconstructive composition on current political discourse

my Trade Tripper column in this 23-24 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

It perhaps represents the inevitability of competing societal structures that the hegemonic inoperability of geopolitical necessities predicate a kinetic union, a polysemic space if you will, of the risks involved in resorting to binary prevarications with which social constructs are simultaneously articulated and textualized.

Even then, the probability of descending into absolutist historiography, highly questioned -- albeit not in frontal operative fashion -- by American pragmatists, be it James or Dewey, and finds renewed voice in their quite esteemed successor, the German Habermas -- seems to have disconcertingly found a heteroglossic frame in today’s paradoxically cacophonic auto-ethnographical narrative.

For indeed, the Other now represents the empiricist embodiment of the Kafkaesque, indicating progression away from the communitarian framework Hesse elegantly formulated: “Wenn wir einen Menschen hassen, so hassen wir in seinem Bild etwas, was in uns selber sitzt. Was nicht in uns selber ist, das regt uns nicht auf.

But that is neither here nor there.

For the problem lies in an anachronism: of the discarded but annoyingly resilient Westphalian view of nationalism, an über-nationalistic prism, that resists the pluralist universality by which the new cosmopolitan is tolerantly and freely engaging communities across the globe.

To frame aspirationally, the “Other” is the “We” from which an interpenetration, an intercourse within the “Self,” which between (or the “Between”) the dissonant undercurrents from which fascism or totalitarianism draws its élan vital, makes possible the creation of a true international community in a post-Westphalian modernity.

But is that really the case?

I remember the time, entangled in salubrious thoughts, essentializing caffeine into a bloodstream wearied by night that followed day, of the difficulty delineating heuristically the varying contesting leitmotifs of sucrose empirically possible in existence.

For my act of choosing constitutes an act of quotidian violence, mutually constitutive with other social issues confronting our consciousness. Critical pedagogy invites to the avoidance of discrimination. But exactly making a judgment (rationality is beside the point) effectively makes that particular sucrosic sachet a part of my individuality and the remaining unchosen now identifiable as the “Other?”

Faced with the ethically indefensible, I opted instead to take the café in the plainest of noir. And yet, even then, such singular iteration is a metonymic positionality which Foucault reveals to us as a catch-22 problématique, the opposite of reconceptualizing civil society within imperialist patriarchal or phalocentric performatives.

And so it goes.

Verily, a post-colonial model avoidance of gender dislocation presents a nexus of contestation with public administration theory. It is vaguely Weberian, even Gramscian. Hegel himself was wont to say:

Eine Idee ist immer eine Verallgemeinerung, und Verallgemeinerung ist eine Eigenschaft des Denkens. Verallgemeinert Mittel zu denken.

But the phenomenology of Hegel perhaps breaks down into a series of post-industrial dialectics. But is that what he is really saying? And is that what we really want?

For if nation states are to transcend the postulated Westphalian thinking, this occludes the need for shared interests there being no Self to rearticulate that interest. That, from the cosmopolitan viewpoint, would be the ideal, leaving as it does the outdated Kirkian or Buckleyian ideas of statehood, which certainly has no place left in the post-modern world that we allege to inhabit.

But what of the new normal that is terrorism? The answer lies in the fact that such does not exist. There is merely the idea of terrorism, a product of potential social reality that canonically creates all categories of human contact.

Here, Derrida (as well as Lacan) demonstrates such to be a residue of the coercive neo/post-realism of Huntington. Of course, he cannot be right. Tautology (along with Marxist, feminist, and queer transnational studies) tells us categorically there is no “clash of civilizations.” Because there isn’t. Period.

The deontologicalism of metaphorical thoughts, Kantian as it may seem, is actually challenging in an intersubjective cognitive sense. Thus, the shootings in Dallas, the coup attempt in Turkey, “Brexit,” the tragedy in Nice, all calibrate a collective redefining, perhaps remapping, of diasporic democracy.

Indeed, a nuanced post-humanist reading of the varying multiplicity of diplomatic, legal, conflict resolution, or remedial options constitute a post neo-liberal line of inquiry addressed as a uniformly paradigmatic schema depending on the hermeneutic: a politico-historical approach or at best structural realism? Or post-post-structural modernistic realism?

Perhaps what is needed is an alter/meta-narrative to the nation-state, one that offers a systemic diffusion of the temporality and modalities of belonging.

Indeed, a precision-based model grounded on institutionalism is radically affective towards governance if tempered with the rejection of the bellicosal, substituted by overlapping subjectivities, cultural diplomacy and integrated soft power.

The foregoing would then result in the positive redefinition of Kant’s hardline philosophy of morals, whereby society’s desires and ends are categorically subjected to imperative criteria. Here, John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle” serves as a lucid guide, although not more so when normatively considered in the Popperian sense of societal openness contextually understood...

And... I ran out of crap to write.

50 years of Miranda

my Trade Tripper column in this 23-24 July 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

It’s a familiar movie scene: a fugitive running from the police. After a thrilling chase, he is apprehended, pinned violently against a car, and then someone, the usual maverick detective hero, would swaggeringly mutter: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?”

Those words expressly embody the “Miranda rights” and last June 13, 2016 was the 50thanniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling that instituted those rights into law.

The whole thing started on March 13, 1963, when 22-year-old laborer Ernesto Arturo Miranda (already possessed of a rap sheet that included including robbery and sex offenses), pointed out by a witness, was arrested by the police for the kidnapping and rape of Lois Ann Jameson.

After two hours of interrogation, Miranda confessed -- freely giving details, identified his victim and the victim identified him back. He was promptly convicted and sentenced to 20-30 years imprisonment.

On appeal, Miranda argued that he had no lawyer at the time he made his confession and was therefore unaware of his right to remain silent. According to his lawyer, this amounted to an invalid involuntary confession.

This despite the fact that the 5th and 6thamendments of the US Constitution never mentioned the requirement to inform a suspect:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

There is, after all, also the rule of “ignorantia legis neminem excusat.” Even our 1935 (and 1973) Constitution didn’t require informing a culprit. Hence, Article IV, Sec. 19 of the 1935 Constitution merely provides that: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved, and shall enjoy the right to be heard by himself and counsel, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him, to have a speedy, impartial, and public trial, to meet the witnesses face to face, and to have compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses and the production of evidence in his behalf.”

Nevertheless, Chief Justice Earl Warren pointed out that, due to the coercive nature of “custodial” investigations, for a confession to be admissible a waiver of the right to remain silent should be made by the culprit only after he was informed of his rights.

The Philippines would embody Miranda expressly in Article III, Section 12 of the 1987 Constitution: “Any person under investigation for the commission of an offense shall have the right to be informed of his right to remain silent and to have competent and independent counsel preferably of his own choice. If the person cannot afford the services of counsel, he must be provided with one. These rights cannot be waived except in writing and in the presence of counsel.”

Note that Miranda rights apply only during the “custodial” phase of a criminal proceeding, described in Philippine jurisdiction as beginning when “the investigation ceases to be a general inquiry into an unsolved crime and direction is then aimed upon a particular suspect who has been taken into custody and to whom the police would then direct interrogatory question which tend to elicit incriminating statements.” (People vs. Dela Cruz, 1997).

As for Ernesto Miranda himself, he would be retried and convicted after the 1966 ruling; the police dropping his confession and (along with other evidence) relied instead on the testimony of a woman Miranda was cohabiting with and who claimed he admitted to her of committing the rape. After being paroled in 1972, Miranda -- aged 34 -- would be killed four years later in a bar fight.

Suggested changes to the Constitution

my Trade Tripper column in this 16-17 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Almost two months after the last elections, perhaps now may be a good time to start exploring and assessing the merits of amending the Constitution. Some of the following suggestions have long been made by myself (naturally, with many others), although a number have been brought about by the peculiar circumstances of May 2016, and still others by taking advantage of the experiences of other democratic countries.

Constitutionally, the president and vice-president should be voted together as a team, with the choice of the vice-presidential candidate left to the presidential candidate. Yes, the reason for the voting separately rule is to ostensibly make the process more “democratic,” the people being allowed to directly elect the top two officials of the land. The problem with that, as we’ve seen repeatedly, is it just results in too much conflict and politicking. The executive branch already has the two other branches to contend with, why add another source of hostilities within the branch itself? Besides, the choice of a vice-president would be a good first indicator of the presidential candidate’s decision-making abilities. And by choosing someone he likes, the vice-president will presumably be in the loop for many of the administration’s programs, thus making that vice-president better prepared to assume office should something indeed happen to the president.

Presidents should be constitutionally required to have a majority of votes cast, with a run-off election if need be. One way of minimizing the need for runoffs is to have the two parties with the highest number of votes in a preceding election be the only ones named in the ballot (the rest falling under category of “others”). This encourages the institutionalization of parties while avoiding the Comelec’s unconstitutional act of disqualifying candidates possessing the qualifications contained in the Constitution.

The Vice-President currently has a monthly salary of P100,000 (plus other benefits), so it’s ridiculous for this public official to not have any specifically designated work. Constitutionally make the VP, at least, the Senate presiding officer, with voting power available in case of ties. This makes sense as the Senate currently has an even number of senators. Or at least reserve a Cabinet position, preferably Finance (as that would be a serious training ground for one who should be ready anytime to assume the presidency).

The elections for the Senate should constitutionally be converted to a regional or provincial (including autonomous regions) rather than national basis. That reason of trying to make the Senate have a more expansive outlook clearly doesn’t work in reality. It just makes the Senate a petulant body unaccountable to no one. At least by electing the Senate on a more localized basis, greater equal representation is effected. And to make the Senate even more responsive to their region (or province), it’s suggested further that Senate members be appointed by the respective Provincial Boards; thus, making the senators accountable to that Board (and, hence, region or province) directly.

Local government units can be further strengthened by simply amending the Local Government Code (not necessarily through the Constitution). The power to make investment regulations should be devolved to a per provincial basis, rather than centralized through the Board of Investments. International trade (and customs) can be a coordinated program between the national government and the LGU, with revenues proportionally shared between the two; provided, that the LGU be the main accountable entity for attracting and processing importations (tariff setting could arguably be delegated by Congress to the LGU’s), with security being the responsibility of the national government. Prime responsibility for exports and identifying market access should be with the LGU, with the Department of Trade being merely coordinative (including processing trade remedy complaints).

As it is now, all earnings of the LGU should still remain with that LGU but with the consequence of no longer being entitled to any further share in the national budget. The latter would be now left to the discretion of the national government. Additionally, the LGU’s should also be made primarily responsible for all education, welfare, and health functions, with the national government merely giving assistance, and the Departments of education, welfare, and health relegated to mere coordinating agencies.

The structure should be amended (and this can be done through revising the civil service code rather than constitutional amendment) so that only department secretaries can be appointed by the president, with the rest (i.e., undersecretaries down) being permanent employees of the government. This has the advantage of a more stable, professional, and politically neutral civil service system with better institutional memory.

Finally, the Congress can legislate to have the different divisions of the Court of Appeals assigned jurisdictionally and physically to different regions or provinces. There really is no reason to bunch up most of the CA in Manila.

So let change come indeed.

Trump and the continuing ignorance on trade

my Trade Tripper column in this 9-10 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

You know how messed up the Left is when it’s getting what it wants and yet remains angry.

After all, last week brought forth finally a global figure willing to say what Leftists have been saying for so long:

“We do not need to enter into another massive international agreement that ties us up and binds us down.” We have a “leadership class that worships globalism.” And finally, “globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very, very wealthy... but it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.”

This personality promises to keep jobs domestically (rather than being shipped abroad), to apply protective tariffs so that local industries are freed from foreign competition, and to keep his country away from signing into new trade agreements.

And yet the Left has been strangely silent as far as Donald Trump’s trade policies are concerned.

After railing for so long against international trade, globalization, and multinational corporations, one would think that Donald Trump is the change the Left has been looking for -- the one who speaks truth to power.

It’s an interesting study in politics and psychology really.

In the end, there’s the bind, with the Left forced to contradictorily respond to Trump’s trade pronouncements by relying on the fallacy of lack of charity (akin to ad hominem): since Trump said it, then something must be wrong.

But the thing is, no matter who said it, such criticisms of trade (and globalization) are just plain mistaken. Period.

Such ignores the benefits of trade in a globalized economy: lower prices, improved quality products, greater transparency in government procurement and investment rules, increased resources for environmental protection, better labor standards, as well as larger market access for developing countries (like the Philippines), thus translating to higher incomes and more jobs.

And Trump is utterly ignorant, as David French (Free trade isn’t a burden, March 17, 2016, National Review) points out, of the fact that the US “largely embraced free trade not for the sake of the few but because it has benefited the many. Families benefit from less expensive goods. We enjoy affordable access to technology unthinkable ten short years ago, with even poor families owning smartphones and televisions that couldn’t be bought for any sum of money even last decade. By virtually every measure of material progress, we have access to more for less than ever before -- so much so that our primary national spiritual challenges include consumerism and materialism.”

The great thing about trade is the utter democratic attitude behind it: people run trade, not governments. Governments rarely buy and sell with each other. If ever, governments buy from the private sector, whether local or foreign. And international trade helps put a spotlight on such transactions by applying transparency rules present in most trade agreements.

It’s the people themselves that trade: from the multinational to the local cooperative to the small home business, exercising their freedoms to buy and sell goods and services with each other, except this time the exchange is done not merely amongst neighbors within a village but on a much bigger scale.

And the benefits of trade are enormous, extending beyond the simple numbers of economics. Countries get to know other cultures, bring peoples together, and -- quite notably -- provide a disincentive for resorting to armed conflict.

But sadly, if it can get away with it, government hinders trade through tariffs, quotas and non-tariff measures.

As I pointed in a previous column, Jonah Goldberg (Arguments against Free Trade are Deeply Flawed; April 2016) nails it: protectionists are “wrong philosophically. Countries don’t trade with other countries; businesses and consumers transact with other businesses and consumers. Protectionism is corporate welfare by other means.”

What it means is that every time regulations are imposed on trade, it is never the ordinary citizen that benefits. Prices go up (because tariffs and license fees essentially make up additional costs), the choices (and quality) amongst available products go down, and the incentive to create and produce is dissipated (thus lessening opportunities for more jobs).

Instead, who benefits are government bureaucrats squeezing businesses and consumers to shell out more money, entrenched interests (including elite families) that can now do whatever they want because they are babied away from competition, and the corrupt because regulations strongly provide incentives for those cheating the system.

In short, stopping international trade helps the old rich, prevents the creation of new wealth, and hurts the poor.

Arguably, there would be some dislocations or problems that accompany trading between countries but “the solution isn’t to rip up trade agreements or impose barriers that could trigger a trade war. The solution is to help workers maintain their standard of living through retraining, relocation or retirement if necessary.” (Counting the Ways That Trump Is Wrong on Trade; Paula Dwyer, Bloomberg, March 23, 2016).

Hopefully, the new Duterte administration brings a consistent, effective policy on international trade.

‘Brexit’ and the progressive mental meltdown

my Trade Tripper column in this 2-3 July 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

Progressives make it sound like “sovereignty” is a bad thing. But if they’re right, then efforts by the Philippines to protect our territory against China, reject hazardous wastes from Japan, or protest alleged political interference by the US are therefore -- all logically -- wrong.

As it is, the very Filipinos in social media and academe that previously screamed “freedom,” “democracy,” “vox populi, vox dei,” and “sovereignty” now urge -- in robotic conformity with the rest of the international progressive community -- that the British people’s vote to leave the European Union be disregarded.

Instead, it’s suggested -- and again this coming not only from supposedly cosmopolitan liberals but also their clones from the local academe and media -- that the sovereign British people follow unquestioningly the dictates of politicians, the elites, academics, and foreign bureaucrats.

To see how ridiculously odious that is, try imagining the Philippines being dictated upon -- on matters including taxation, immigration, and agricultural policy -- by Indonesian, Thai, Malaysian or Singaporean bureaucrats in ASEAN.

Stop claiming national sovereignty if you find that acceptable.

What progressives try to ignore (and any one who loves reason has to really relish this part) is that the British essentially spoke truth to power. Since the Left loves nothing more than “sticking it to the man,” the fact that they’re so bitter and angry at “Brexit’s” electoral success is bizarrely ironic. Probably because “the man” (i.e., the EU officials) are progressives themselves.

Indeed. “Brexit” revealed the authoritarian mindset of those in the academic or political class: thinking they’re better than others, quickly labeling anyone disagreeing with them as xenophobic, stupid, uninformed, shortsighted, selfish, or intolerant.

Hence why writers like Olivia Goldhill pontificate that “Brexiters” didn’t really understand the philosophy of freedom, forgetting all the while that the right definition of freedom is what conservatives have been encouraging liberals to understand during the debates on same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and abortion.

So, as Ian Tuttle (“Liberal Cosmopolitans Lash Out at the Shattering of Their Worldview,” June 25 2016) points out, “both sides of the Atlantic are dominated by liberal cosmopolitans who are no longer able to acknowledge the validity of any other worldview than their own. The anti-‘Brexit’ crowd cannot acknowledge that those who voted to leave may have done so out of legitimate concerns about sovereignty or economic opportunity or security -- that is, that they may have drawn rational conclusions and voted accordingly.”

But, “if ‘Brexit’ critics are right, the European Union should be glad to be rid of the United Kingdom.” Instead, the anger of EU anti-“Brexit” people is so thick you can spread it on bread like Marmite.

And it’s really hypocritical at how easy progressives feel about rejecting the democratic process, concluding it hijacked by “populists” or “demagogues,” and instead advocate for the rule of a small, thinking elite (i.e., themselves). Simply because they didn’t get their way.

Hence you have academics and commentators desperately suggesting that the British people’s vote be ignored, hold another plebiscite, another general election, or wait for something terrible to happen. Anything. Except admit that the British people have the right to chart their own destiny.

Michael Sandel is correct: Much of the energy animating the “Brexit” sentiment is born of the failure of elites to speak directly to people’s aspiration to feel they have some meaningful say in shaping the forces that govern their lives.

The fact is, despite their intellectual pretensions or “credentials,” the anti-“Brexits” just cheapened public discourse, making the opposing sides dig deeper into their positions.

Ivory tower academics make much of the idea that there should be no “others.” Which is naive. There will always be “another” to “others”. That is reality.

Rather than imposing the idea of peoples or countries having no separate identity or differences, acknowledgement instead should be made of that “otherness,” allowing us the space to embrace it and respect it.

Not forcing people (as self-proclaimed “real experts” want) to make our individual existences uniform and, thus, inconsequential and meaningless.

The favorite game now, of course, for progressives is predicting Britain’s doom. But no political scientist or commentator can foretell how “Brexit” will play out. Anyone doing that is a fraud.

The thing is, if history taught us anything: no small select group can ever handle people’s lives better than the people themselves. “We can’t predict what will happen. But one thing I do know -- history never truly had a ‘side.’ Instead, it is the story of action and reaction, and no outcome is inevitable.” (David French, “Brexit and the End of International Progressive Inevitability,” June 25 2016)

Finally, any parallel between “Brexit” and the secessionist movement in Mindanao is completely without basis. The former is about an independent sovereign State being demanded that it allow itself to be dictated upon by unelected foreigners.

Of the so-called “Bangsamoro” issue, simply stated, international law does not allow secession or self-determination rights for religious, linguistic, cultural, or ethnic groups within a sovereign State.


Go south, grow Mindanao

my Trade Tripper column in this 26-27 June 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

If ever there’s a set of numbers Filipinos should know it’s this: Mindanao -- blessed with so many resources that it provides 60% of our agricultural exports, not to mention minerals and fisheries -- has a land area of 135,627 km2 Singapore has only 719.1 km2, with practically no natural resource whatsoever. And yet, the latter beats the former on a GDP per capita basis of around 60:1.

Ironic, really.

Set aside agriculture, Mindanao also represents the Philippines’ biggest reserves in gold, copper, iron, and aluminum. Yet to be verified is Wikileaks claim of Mindanao’s untapped $1 trillion oil and mineral reserve.

There is also Mindanao’s strategic position, businesswise: unlike Luzon (separated from the Asian mainland by huge amounts of sea), Mindanao is practically next door neighbors with Indonesia and Timor-Leste, with Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand just further down, then New Guinea.

Which should therefore make every Filipino scandalized that 11 of the Philippines’ 20 poorest provinces are in Mindanao.

One reason is the woeful neglect in infrastructure, with Mindanao’s near daily power interruptions symptomatic of that.

But Mindanao should be the obvious choice for a marine transport system, what with trade and tourism opportunities that a fully functioning Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) could bring.

That, on top of the vaunted 600 million market population of ASEAN integration.

The island also proved, so long as it can keep its peace and order situation to a reasonable minimum, its export growth rate capabilities could be double of the country’s.

As it stands, the World Bank declared Mindanao presently needing a continuous P350-billion inflow annually in investments, particularly for agriculture, infrastructure, health, and education.

Of infrastructure (aside from roads, irrigation, potable water, power generation, ports, and airports), focus should be on constructing more police stations and judicial offices.

Again, this should not be treated as a hurdle.

According to a McKinsey report, most infrastructure spending has been down particularly for developing countries. Yet, as the Wall Street Journal commentary on the report says: “Governments don’t have to be the only source of new money for projects, the report found. Worldwide, banks and institutional investors such as pension funds and university endowments have about $120 trillion in assets that could be invested in infrastructure. Making it easier to connect that money with projects could close the gap, Mr. Jan Mischke [a senior fellow at the McKinsey Global Institute and one of the report’s authors] said. ‘It’s really a fundamentally quite solvable problem.’”

Another opportunity area would be on international trade.

Interestingly, most of Mindanao’s current top trading partners are not its geographical neighbors: the US, Japan, China, Netherlands, South Korea, Singapore, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Germany.

Here, the development of small and medium enterprises -- bolstered by easy credit and effective contract/property protection, as well as marginalizing the Armalite happy -- would be a big help.

According to the WTO: “Globally, SMEs make up over 95% of all firms, account for approximately 50% of value added and 60% of total employment. Micro enterprises, the smallest component of the SME sector, are increasingly the largest sources of employment in many developing countries, especially for women and youth.”

Unfortunately, SME’s are very much affected by trade barriers; hence the importance of arrangements like BIMP-EAGA, IMT-GT, and ASEAN.

Agriculture, while an obvious source of Mindanao’s pride, is actually illustrative of its present shortcoming.

Or its great potential.

The reason is that despite its stature, relatively speaking in terms of overall Philippine export trade, Mindanao agriculture is -- to exaggerate for effect -- actually quite pathetic.

This can be seen from Mindanao’s contribution to the country’s GDP: just meagerly above 14%, while desperately needing 12.7% of the nation’s budget (P380.9 billion) for its maintenance.

According to the World Bank, only 11% of its farmers can be considered producing for a marketable surplus, with 89% classifiable as “subsistence” (or “near subsistence”) farming.

Another is that most of Mindanao’s agriculture exports are in “raw” form. Which leaves the potential for value adding or processing, thus opening the possibility of greater income for its farmers.

“The value of farm products can be increased in endless ways: by cleaning and cooling, packaging, processing, distributing, cooking, combining, churning, culturing, grinding, hulling, extracting, drying, smoking, handcrafting, spinning, weaving, labeling, or packaging.” Accordingly, “value-added products can open new markets, create recognition for a farm, expand the market season.” (ATTRA, Adding Value To Farm Products, 2006).

Finally, there is taxation: there is no constitutional reason why Congress can’t make an income and corporate tax system allowing for special and differential treatment for Mindanao.

This should encourage more investments in the area and de-clog Luzon’s population of 50 million plus (in an area of just around 12,000 square kilometers more than Mindanao) vis-à-vis the latter’s 25 million.

Ultimately, whatever change comes to Mindanao could, should, and must be for the country’s unified good.

A conservative approach to anti-poverty

my Trade Tripper column in this 18-19 June 20 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

The cause célèbre obviously is poverty. Or to be more specific: income inequality. Unfortunately, the solution célèbre is always to redistribute income. Done by way of ever increasing taxes, then spread through welfare entitlement programs, it has nevertheless proven to be consistently ineffective one wonders at the sanity of it.

Consider: last year “marked the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty’, which has been the centerpiece of liberal anti-poverty policies for the past half-century. In boasting of these policies, liberals often talk about the public funds that have been spent. And there’s no question that money has been spent.”

Since it began, the US government spent “$22 trillion (measured in 2012 dollars) to Johnson’s War on Poverty. After adjustments for inflation, this represents about three times more than what was spent on all military wars since the American Revolution. Inflation-adjusted government transfers for social welfare programs soared more than tenfold between 1964 and 2013. And yet, despite all this spending, the present poverty rate is about the same as it was in 1967. The poverty rate is the highest in a generation, and deep poverty is near record highs.” All clearly illustrating “the ineffectiveness of the current federal programs.” (Patrick Garry, “The ‘Right Deal’: the Conservative Anti-Poverty Approach,” January 2015)

In the Philippines, the same scenario: the Conditional Cash Transfer program already spent around P300 billion before the further P64 billion allotted in the current national budget, and the World Bank recently approving a $450-million loan to be applied from 2016-2019. The foregoing continuing to bloat our budget from its present P3 trillion, which naturally has to be supported from taxes collected from employed Filipinos.

And yet: poverty remains above 25% (with 51% of Filipinos rating themselves “poor”). Meanwhile, the Ibon Foundation declares the Philippines as having “the worst unemployment in Asia,” those out of work up 6.1% (April 2016), underemployment at 18.4%, with around 1 million young Filipinos jobless (a rate double that of national unemployment).

The outgoing administration unfortunately has got it in the reverse: underspending on things that should be spent on (i.e., infrastructure, education, the military), while throwing money around welfare-wise.

It’s a disincentive for people to job hunt or better themselves. It induces taking the easy way out whenever a problem occurs.

Many welfare programs are also unjust: rewarding those exerting minimal intelligent effort, while ignoring those that decently strove to have a high school or college education or started their own business.

Even at the international level, to give aid without demanding commensurate effort is now recognized as dodgy.

As The Economist (“Misplaced charity,” 11 June 2016) reported: “By almost all of these measures, foreign aid is failing. It is as co-ordinated as a demolition derby. Much goes neither to poor people nor to well-run countries, and on some measures the targeting is getting worse. Donors try to reward decent regimes and punish bad ones, but their efforts are undermined by other countries and by their own impatience. It is extraordinary that so many clever, well-intentioned people have made such a mess.”

No. As The Economist rightly concluded: “aid is best spent in poor, well-governed countries.” The same goes for people.

This column recommends a shift in the way we approach poverty, emphasizing democracy, freedom, and -- most importantly -- personal accountability.

Accordingly, any poverty program implemented must have correct, objective, practical measures, and objectives.

It simply won’t do to provide assistance to those pleading poverty, claiming scarcity of work and savings, and yet possessing a flat-screen TV and indulging in videoke and selfied weekly drinking sessions.

Our anti-poverty program must demand eventual work (particularly those of employable age), cash dole-outs must have clearly defined and short cut-off periods, tax structures must not penalize married couples for having children (but at the same time not rewarding irresponsible child-bearing), parental liability for truants, greater credit facilities and tax benefits for those with a reliable work history (or business, particularly SME’s), and more tax incentives for private charitable organizations.

No across the board tax exemption should be given to any social class. Simply because no one respects anything they have no actual stake in. Reasonable tax rates, with highly simplified collection procedures (and periods) must be applied for those in the bottom rung of society.

The foregoing must be coupled with the stoppage of the inflow of illegal aliens, more effective property protection, and harsher sanctions for repeat criminal offenders.

Finally, federalism or not, the welfare program must be made the responsibility of local government units.

A corresponding proportional contribution may be made by the national government but only with the up-front budgetary layout primarily taken from the local government unit’s earnings. This would place greater emphasis for local government units to generate revenue, while encouraging fiscal restraint. Clearly, this will also mean that the bulk of the income they earn should remain in their hands.

Bottom line: our anti-poverty programs should focus on equalizing opportunities, not entitlement.

Our China policy: separating movies from reality

my Trade Tripper column in the 11-12 June 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

An interesting phenomena common enough in politics is the difficulty people have with differentiating reality from wishful thinking. True and without fault, everyone would like the world to be something better. But it is one thing to work towards an objective, and another mistaking a hoped for ideal as the present state and then proceeding as if the illusion were true.

The same goes for foreign policy.

Because no matter how developed our talent for imagination may be, we simply do not have the capability and resources, including military strength necessary, to back up our declared policy objectives.

Our aerial territory is open to any foreign plane whizzing by (detected or not), the waters we claim are plugged with enough holes that to declare archipelagic sea-lanes is almost comical, and our official borders are so dysfunctional that drugs, other contraband, and even illegal aliens can go in and out at will.

These are some of the parameters hedging the Philippines in when dealing with China, which the US military recently described (US Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016) as having improved: “its ability to fight short-duration, high-intensity regional conflicts at greater distances from the Chinese mainland.”

Furthermore, “China demonstrated a willingness to tolerate higher levels of tension in the pursuit of its interests, especially in pursuit of its territorial claims in the East and South China Sea.”

Unfortunately, the excessively belligerent attitude (frankly, by all sides) raised the possibility of armed conflict all too sadly real.

The US Council for Foreign Relations (Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 14, April 2015) thus warns of a possible “conflict between China and the Philippines over natural gas deposits, especially in the disputed area of Reed Bank, located eighty nautical miles from Palawan. Oil survey ships operating in Reed Bank under contract have increasingly been harassed by Chinese vessels. Reportedly, the United Kingdom-based Forum Energy plans to start drilling for gas in Reed Bank this year, which could provoke an aggressive Chinese response. Forum Energy is only one of fifteen exploration contracts that Manila intends to offer over the next few years for offshore exploration near Palawan Island. Reed Bank is a red line for the Philippines, so this contingency could quickly escalate to violence if China intervened to halt the drilling.”

Simply put, “the United States could be drawn into a China-Philippines conflict because of its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines.”

Publicly, the US has been declaring repeatedly its refusal to take any side in the ongoing territorial dispute in the region.

Couple that with the US Defense Department’s recognition that “China still seeks to avoid direct and explicit conflict with the United States.”

Unfortunately, not many in the Philippines are taking the hint regarding this, a foolishness ironically forcing everybody’s hand in the matter.

So, despite the US’ utter good sense, perception-wise its “failure to respond would not only set back US relations with the Philippines but would also potentially undermine US credibility in the region with its allies and partners more broadly. A US decision to dispatch naval ships to the area, however, would risk a US-China naval confrontation.”

A quite key consideration is that China’s ambition to be the respected primary world leader hinges on possessing secure economic dominance. Which, had there been no problems, needed a half century more of peaceful co-existence with other countries.

Note that trade in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea region is almost $6 trillion, nearly a fifth of that generated by the US.

Certainly, the Philippines may have its allies, particularly in trumpeting the virtues of the “rule of law.” But also do remember that our ASEAN partners, as well as Japan and South Korea, are getting closer to economic dependence on China than they have ever been before.

Unfortunately, China’s economy is suspected of being on the back heel.

The Economist (The Coming Debt Bust, 7 May 2016) pointing out that “the country’s debt has increased just as quickly over the past two years as in the two years after the 2008 crunch. Its debt-to-GDP ratio has soared from 150% to nearly 260% over a decade, the kind of surge that is usually followed by a financial bust or an abrupt slowdown. China will not be an exception to that rule.”

So to put it mildly: the possibility of China’s dreams being dashed because of an economic cock-up could motivate the latter to induce everybody into a scenario that no sane country could want.

All the more if a country (i.e., the Philippines) is nowhere near physical and mental readiness for it.

What’s interesting about the foregoing is that you can be sure both China and the US know this. And you can also be sure that both countries know there is a one in four chance things could go deadly wrong.

Gratifyingly, the incoming administration seems to know it as well.

For a Philippine policy of greater international trade

my Trade Tripper column in this 4-5 June 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

In news that quite likely caused the Left to undergo gleeful paroxysms (rather than their usual outraged convulsions), the IMF was said to report (via a paper, “Neoliberalism: Oversold” by Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri; June 2016) that “instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality, in turn jeopardizing durable expansion.”

At a time when socialist and “progressive” ideas are poised to dominate the world, for the IMF -- which the British newspaper The Independent labeled as “one of the key international proponents” of neoliberalism -- to admit the foregoing seems to have put the proverbial final nail upon the hated free market.

However, closer study reveals the IMF’s verdict as narrower than publicized. The “assessment of the [neoliberal] agenda is confined to the effects of two policies: removing restrictions on the movement of capital across a country’s borders (so-called capital account liberalization); and fiscal consolidation, sometimes called ‘austerity,’ which is shorthand for policies to reduce fiscal deficits and debt levels.”

To emphasize: the point being made very clearly here is that at a time when protectionism is being lauded, international trade was not the actual target of the IMF’s confessional.

This is important because with a new Philippine government set to come in, the temptation to reverse policies on trade liberalization will predictably be there.

This amidst the bizarre politics within the very country everyone is looking for leadership in relation to trade and that is the United States. As described by Daniel Ikenson (“Trade on Trial, Again”; June 2016), its thinking on trade seems to have taken a turn to the surrealistically unfortunate:

“To cheering crowds, Donald Trump promises to slap duties on imports from China and Mexico and to use the tax code to punish US companies that outsource parts of their operations abroad. Bernie Sanders vows to tear up NAFTA and other free trade agreements, calling them ‘a disaster for American workers.’ Hillary Clinton, a co-architect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP), now opposes that deal, while promising to disregard certain US treaty obligations with China.”

Nevertheless, if Filipino demagogues against trade are correct, then they should be very happy right now.

Philippine trade performance so far has been dismal: preliminary figures as of March, our exports went down by 4.5% (to $4.61 billion), while our imports went up by a whopping 11.71 or $6.36 billion. This represents a trade deficit of $7.1 billion.

The foregoing within the context of final trade figures for 2015 of $58.83 billion, with imports at $71.07 billion, resulting in a trade imbalance of $12.24 billion. That amidst a foreign direct investment performance averaging for the past five years (ending 2015) at P41129.66 million.

Most of our imports come from Japan: $12.4 billion (21.1% of total Filipino exports), United States: $8.8 billion (15%), China: $6.4 billion (10.9%), Hong Kong: $6.2 billion (10.6%), and Singapore: $3.6 billion (6.2%).

Top export partners (using the 1st semester of 2015 as basis) are Japan (at top spot), followed by China, US, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

The problem here is that our trade -- both in terms of goods and identity of our partners -- is narrow in breadth, with 82.7% of our exports revolving merely around ten product groups, while our trading partners list is dominated by Asian countries (the latter accounting for 60% of our total trade). APEC itself constitutes 80%. On the other hand, trade with the EU hovers merely around 11%. And business with Australia and New Zealand leaves a lot of room for improvement.

But we know the protectionist lobby (i.e., the Left backed up ironically by the oligarchs) by railing against trade merely ensures the continued poverty of 51% of Filipinos (who think themselves poor), 26 million Filipinos (that are actually below the poverty line), and at least 12 million of our citizens (sadly living in “extreme poverty”).

The problem, as Ikenson himself admits, is that “the case for free trade is not obvious. The benefits of trade are dispersed and accrue over time, while the adjustment costs tend to be concentrated and immediate. To synthesize Schumpeter and Bastiat, the ‘destruction’ caused by trade is ‘seen,’ while the ‘creation’ of its benefits goes ‘unseen.’”

Indeed, trade, whether in the form of exports (whose benefits should be obvious) or imports (which “deliver more competition, greater variety, lower prices, better quality, and new incentives for innovation”) can only be good for a still economically developing country like the Philippines.

Global inequality there may be, along with domestic inequalities. But such could certainly be mitigated by rising incomes: poorer countries that traded saw per individual incomes rise 3.6% higher than closed economies; and Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner (1995) found that poor countries with more open trade grew six times faster than those resorting to protectionism.

In sum, the incoming Duterte administration would certainly do well to continue the trade liberalization policies that have helped sustain our drive for economic progress.

For a strategic, coherent Philippine foreign policy

my Trade Tripper column in this 28-29 May 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

For foreign policy, perhaps it’s time for a reset. And resets need a plan. And plans involve a consideration of where one is and going to. That is why international relations fundamentally should be conducted in complete unity with the identity and values of the Philippines.

Or put another way, our foreign policy should be but the mere extension of our domestic, also recognizing that these are matters strategically, patiently, and deliberately played out in decades, and that there is more to foreign relations than just facilitating the documentation and regulation of our overseas workers.

For a start, this means a healthy regard for the rule of law. This is particularly true as we are pushing that principle in relation to China and the West Philippine Sea. If extra-judicial measures are resorted to, even de facto, as domestic policy, we can’t reasonably expect the Chinese to do the same.

It also means respecting human rights, particularly freedom of expression and religion. Considerably so, when there’s around 2.5 million of our countrymen abroad who we do not want discriminated against for being Filipinos (or acting or speaking or believing as they do).

This includes not raising the issue of the death penalty at this time, with about 80 Filipinos on death row overseas. It’s simply incongruous to request clemency for fellow Filipinos when we are putting them to death ourselves.

Going back to China, the incoming administration’s declared policy of reaching out and focusing on the positives of our relationship with it is the correct step.

Discussions and agreements should be hashed out allowing for mutual exploration and use of the disputed areas and resources, without necessarily prejudicing sovereignty claims at a more opportune future time.

Enhanced trade arrangements should be raised, particularly with the Philippines supporting and joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement led by China. Along with the Silk Road aspirations of the latter.

Preferably, all that be at least initiated before the Hague arbitral tribunal releases its decision in our case against China.

As for Mindanao and the ongoing Bangsamoro issue, one fundamental change that should definitely be done is to overtly and declaratively categorize the same as a domestic matter. This includes having the Department of the Interior and Local Government leading negotiations from now on.

Further on that: revival of the BIMP-EAGA is a definite priority, along with a viable transport system among the trading countries. Long-term investment and tax incentives should be given, encouraging Filipino businesses from all over the country and overseas to set up in the area.

We need to strengthen our relationship with Russia. Trade between our two countries hovers around $1 billion, with around 4,500 overseas Filipinos working there (mostly in Moscow). Even adding tourism in, the economic aspect of the relationship is quite anemic considering that we are the closest tropical country to Russia (at least its eastern part) and pales in comparison with other APEC countries (of which Russia is a part of).

Nevertheless, the Philippines and Russia have always been generally in good terms: the former being the first democratic country to reach out to the then Soviet Union during the Cold War (the effort led by then Executive Secretary Alex Melchor and then Major Joe Almonte). In 2012, Russian naval vessels made a goodwill visit to the Philippines, signifying the potential for a deepening of relations between the two countries.

Also suggested are acquiring defense pacts with our longtime trading partners: Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea.

The Philippines and Australia already have a working arrangement on protection of our transport systems; we have an understanding with Japan on maritime security; and our military history with South Korea peaked with the 1950’s Philippine Expeditionary Forces to Korea.

Incoming president Duterte did well to reiterate the strong relationship the Philippines has with the United States. The shared political and cultural values are too embedded for us not to do so.

Though we should definitely join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we must also encourage the US to commit itself to leading a revived multilateral trading arrangement through the World Trade Organization.

Furthermore, we should also realize that historically and geographically, we have the potential to play a significant role similar to that of Great Britain vis-à-vis the US and Europe. Perhaps more so.

Our location in the Pacific is not only strategic but also freed us from the various intra-continental conflicts between Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. This makes us not only the perfect conduit for the US towards Asia but also a pragmatically objective mediator for our neighbors.

Finally, even in diplomacy, talk is futile unless one has the muscle and will to back it up. Our foreign policy must be partnered with a strong, robust military.

Indeed, increasing defense spending and reviving mandatory military service for all college-age students is ironically a good first step towards a coherent, strategic foreign policy.

Making ASEAN our neighborhood and our business

my Trade Tripper column in the 21-22 May 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

The best thing we could do now really is to set our sights a little bit closer to home. And our home is in ASEAN.

At the outset, let me explain that there is a difference between our government entering into further trade agreements without adjustment on the capacity of the bureaucracy (and by extension, the private sector) and private sector initiative to take advantage of already opened markets.

The latter is what we should be doing.

Most of our population isn’t even aware of the developments in ASEAN, much less their overall significance. So enmeshed are we with domestic politics that we fail to give proper focus to a region that forges on regardless of what happens in the Philippines internally but definitely significant impact the lives of its citizens.

ASEAN constitutes almost 20% of our trade: with exports at least $9 billion, while imports around $15 billion. The trade deficit of $6 billion should be seen as an opportunity for the Philippines and not a minus for ASEAN. Thirty-five percent of our ASEAN trade is interestingly with Singapore, a country of minimal resources but maximum talent.

As I’ve said before, trade may be perceived as global but geography is still paramount. Around 60% of our total trade is with Asian countries, with Japan and China leading the pack.

Competition from the other ASEAN countries shouldn’t even make Filipinos hesitate. ASEAN products have not obliterated Philippine business. And this is so even though tariffs for almost all products (except sugar and rice) have been down to nothing, true even way before the touted 2015 ASEAN integration.

If ever there’s a hurdle that needs to be overcome is the need to diversify Philippine product offerings.

If one looks at the top products traded within ASEAN, they consist almost of the same products that the Philippines primarily offers: mineral fuels and oils, electrical machinery, sound and television equipment, precious metals and jewelry; rubber and plastics; and chemicals.

Aside from foreign direct investment, tourism is positively one area for improvement, considering that the top five country visitors to the Philippines (i.e., South Korea, US, China, Japan, Australia), none are from ASEAN. Singapore comes in at 8th and Malaysia at 10th.

Another significant hurdle deals essentially with mind-set: that we do not consider ASEAN as “domestic.”

By this, I mean that we have not imbibed the thinking that ASEAN is our neighborhood, that we are part of this community.

This should change.

In terms of job opportunities, our co-ASEAN members should open doors for Filipinos. Consider that Singapore’s jobless rate is at less than 2%. Malaysia’s at around 3.4%, with a poverty rating of less than 1%. Indonesian unemployment is less than 6%, with poverty 11.3%. Even Vietnam registered unemployment of less than 2.5%, with poverty at above or high 12%.

The point is that the Filipinos, confronted with an unemployment rate of around 6.5%, (SWS surveys peg it somewhat at 22%) and poverty above 25%, could certainly do with a little bit more opportunities and those opportunities perhaps lie with ASEAN.

Furthermore, there is also the matter of taxes, with the income tax regimes generally amongst other ASEAN countries certainly more desirable now than that of the Philippines.

So with regard to Filipino employment, particularly with a population whose average age is around 23-years old, ASEAN could be key.

Most people look to Central Asia, Europe, or the US for work when ASEAN has an array of Mutual Recognition Agreements for licensed physicians, dentists, nurses, architects, engineers, accountants, surveyors, and tourism professionals that pass certain conditions.

With their talent, creativity, and training, comparative advantage of Filipinos seemingly lead to skilled or managerial positions, rather than the unskilled (of which there is an abundant competition right now admittedly from other ASEAN countries).

And quite excitingly, the opportunities don’t end with ASEAN but actually could be said to begin with it.

ASEAN already has free trade agreements with South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, and India. Combined, ASEAN and its trading partners offer Filipino products and services a market the size of almost half of the world’s population.

The trick though is not to think in terms of capturing the market singularly but rather in recognizing that international trade patterns have changed, and that Filipino companies have greater chances of slipping in the production chain rather than being the primary manufacturer of a finished product.

For Filipino companies in a position to be that kind of manufacturer, then a familiarity with ASEAN’s various offerings should allow for a more diverse sourcing of raw materials and talent.

It would definitely benefit Filipinos to learn more about ASEAN, the provisions and intricacies of the various agreements surrounding it, as well as the differing political and legal systems of each of the members.

Indeed, it is ironic that Filipinos pride themselves in being cosmopolitan yet are quite unfamiliar with the possibilities in their very own neighborhood.