I recently went on a trip to the Cordillera (someone told me it should be in singular, not plural), not Cordilleras as many people mistake it to be.
We were hosted by University of Cordillera’s Vice-President Leonarda Onie Aguinalde and her efficient team. We went to visit Tublay, Benguet for our Quest for Love mentoring project. Though Tublay is easily reached by car from Baguio, a mere 45 minutes ride, we still found it new, surprising and interesting as a possible tourist destination. It has the Bongaongao Caves similar to Sagada and a nice road network to take you.
What we noticed as we met Mayor Armando Lauro, a buffed 43-year-old Ibaloi tribe descendant, is that the elders still figure in the running of the town’s local government. Noticeable was the absence of bodyguards and only the presence of the official police detailed to escort us around the villages. And there is a good reason why.
Town officials run unopposed so they can perform their 9-year reign (3 terms of three years each) without worrying about security. And that gives local officials plenty of time to plan and execute programs without fear of an opponent blocking your way. This is a stark contrast to a town in Cavite where I felt cold metal on my feet (read: guns ) as we rode the mayor’s vehicle. Two private trucks, escorts of the mayor, sandwiched the mayor’s car just to be sure no one blocks our way or attempts to ambush any car.
And this is where my realization starts: in the olden days we only need elders to run our villages, our towns and maybe even our country. I’m no historian but I’m starting to see the difference between culturally accepted and appointed leaders versus elected officials (Western style of democracy).
A lawyer friend told me that these tribal practices do not even require courts as disputes are settled by elders, not by lawyers and not by court judges. How I wish we could adopt these good features of our culture. It is probably still in our DNA.
Fast forward to colonization and what happened to us? We adopted Spanish then American law, we educated lawyers to specialize in these dispute resolutions and now we have courts and judges and lots of conflicts.
So it must be in our DNA to respect elders and what they tell us to do. And it still works if we let it work like what I saw in Benguet.
Now let’s go to Economics. I recently met a senior economist from the World Bank and asked her very simple questions on why we have not moved forward. “Your poverty line is sticky” she says. She means it’s not moved down as it should if GDP is moving up. So what are we to do?
She suggests we explain to every citizen about micro and macro economics so they will understand why politics and economics will have to go together. And that until our youngest school child and community leaders understand economics, they will not support or vote for a leader who supports economic theories towards progress.
That’s it. I am convinced that we entrepreneurs must just continue to innovate to be able to survive. We have no country “model” to pattern our development from. We will be subject to high labor and high rentals in the city and still it will not make poverty go down.
That’s economics. Mix it with our cultural confusion (tribal DNA with Western education ) and what you see is what you get.
So what is the country’s competitive advantage?
1. It used to be our command of written and spoken English. Used to be.
2. Our beautiful islands. But we lack infrastructure for tourism.
3. Agriculture. It’s risky because we are in the typhoon path and, with climate change, we cannot do scale.
4. Our Filipino hospitality. That is the one giving us 10% of GDP. Human exports.
5. Our unique culture.
Which of these will make us turn the corner and finally bring our poverty line south?
I now believe and realize, maybe we should go back to what’s in our DNA — we are obedient by nature. We listen to elders.
Next, we can grow our own food rather than invest in large scale agriculture.
And third, we can use our creativity for innovation.
And finally, we must build infrastructure, educate our people to understand simple economics, disperse our urban citizens to the suburbs, and continue to grow our economy using creativity through INNOVATION.
Innovation is not just high tech innovation but any innovation that will change the way things are.
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.
Chit U. Juan is the president of Philippine Coffee Board, Inc., adviser of ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN) and trustee of Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PHILWEN).