By Romeo L. Bernardo
ON Oct. 23, my three co-authors and I launched our book titled Momentum: Economic Reforms for Sustained Growth.
Our book editor, noted veteran journalist Roel Landingin, explains what it’s all about: “In this collection of newspaper columns published from 2008 to 2019, five of the country’s leading economic commentators — Romeo Bernardo, Calixto Chikiamco, Emmanuel de Dios, Raul Fabella and the late Cayetano Paderanga — put forward observations and recommendations on some of the most intractable problems facing economic progress in the Philippines. But the essays do not always dwell on economic analysis and prescription: they also delve into broader themes ranging from motorcycle riding, US China rivalry; Mark Twain, basketball and working in government among others.“
Why the title Momentum?
In the welcome remarks of the evening, Foundation for Economic Freedom President Toti Chikiamco explained on our behalf:
“Truth to tell, we kicked around a few ideas. Prof. De Dios suggested ‘Wokenomics,’ derived from the current urban slang, ‘Woke,’ which means to be awake and always conscious of perceived injustices. However, after a few discussions and several late night dinners, we settled on the more prosaic but more apropos ‘Momentum,’ with the subtitle ‘Economic Reforms for Sustaining Growth.’”
“The word is appropriately ‘Momentum’ because the Philippines has broken from its boom and bust cycle in the past. It’s cruising along at 5-7% GDP growth, which is among the fastest in the region, and no doubt due to reforms in the past. The big question now is: how to sustain and even accelerate economic growth?
“We hope this book supplies the answer. It’s a curated collection of the author’s articles in BusinessWorld, which they wrote as members of the board of IDEA, or the Institute of Development and Econometric Analysis, the economic research organization that the late Dondon Paderanga founded and where he invited us to be board members. This book is also a loving tribute to our late friend Dondon.
“This book was made possible by friends and supporters. I don’t have to cite them, but they know who they are. They may not exactly espouse the same ideas as the authors, but they share with us a love of country and desire to keep the momentum of economic growth. Thank you again. We promise to distribute the book as widely as possible, perhaps enter it into the public domain after a certain period, to enrich the discourse on the economic direction of the country.”
At the launch at the Fairmont Hotel in Makati, we were most honored by the attendance of such public sector luminaries as former President Fidel Ramos, former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, Central Bank Governor Ben Diokno, Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, Monetary Board Member Philip Medalla, Representative and Professor Stella Quimbo, Competition Commission Chair Arsenio Balisacan, Senator Serge Osmeña, former Secretaries Gerry Sicat, Roberto de a Ocampo, Gary Teves, Romulo Neri, Popo Lotilla and General Joe Almonte; and business leaders and executives such as Endika and Montxu Aboitiz of AEV, Oscar Reyes of the MVP group, MAP President Riza Mantaring, ECOP President Serge Ortiz Luis, SHEDA Chair Jeff Ng, Bulletin Chair Basilio Yap, BusinessWorld Editor-in-Chief Roby Alampay, Harvard Alumni Association President Anthony Abad ( who kindly and superbly emceed) and others too many to mention.
The book enjoyed generous advanced praise — well deserved for 80% of the book — thanks to my four co-authors, in whose brilliance I happily bask.
Here are excerpts from some of our “reviewers”:
From Chief Justice Panganiban: “If ever there would be a Supreme Court for economic matters, I think the authors of this book easily constitute its members (or at least, some of the more sagacious) and the book would contain their landmark ponentias to be read, re-read and obeyed not only by lawyers and economists but more importantly by the policy makers of our country and the general public as well.”
From Cesar Virata: “Can we present the writings of these ‘raging incrementalists’ before the Executive and Legislative Branches as their certified agenda in July 2019? I encourage readers to adopt advocacies prescribed in this compendium of ideas.”
From Stella Quimbo: “Dear policy maker, do the country a favor. Read this book. It contains the roadmap to economic Shangri-la.”
From former President Ramos’ National Security Adviser, Jose Almonte: “The nation is grateful to the talented economists who are the authors of this book. Their thoughts and writings in the last decade have helped form an intellectual consensus that paved the way for reforms to address the root cause why this country is among the least developed in this part of the world.”
From House Ways and Means Committee Chair Joey Salceda: “A choice selection of illuminating columns from BusinessWorld written in the last decade by five of our country’s most distinguished economists whose counsel I seek before providing advice to Presidents or House Speakers, or more so when I push legislation in Congress.”
From Johanna Chua, Citibank Head of Economics for Asia: “What I find refreshing in these essays is that ardent partisan politics has not obfuscated the clarity of economic arguments. The most seasoned intellects of this country can look through the longer historical lens of experience to form a pragmatic assessment of policy trade offs, regardless of who is running the country.”
From Arsenio Balisacan: “Founded on decades of experience in policy advocacy and rigorous economic thinking, the ideas contained in this book show the way forward for the country to realize its development ambitions. Policy makers, program managers, reform advocate, practitioners, and teacher and students of development and the Philippine economy would do well to pay attention — and act.”
And from Ben Diokno, himself an economics professor and opinion writer-leader, who spoke during the book launch: “The book Momentum, authored by some of our brilliant economists, will surely provide us with insights on the significance of economic reforms for sustaining growth… As I’ve always considered myself a reformist, I laud all the people involved in this book. May we keep the momentum going to achieve sustained, strong, balanced, and inclusive growth.”
Our comrade-in-arms in the Foundation for Economic Freedom, former Finance Secretaries Bobby de Ocampo and Gary Teves, and former National Economic and Development Authority Secretary now Monetary Board Member Philip Medalla, wrote similarly glowing endorsements way of an insightful extended Foreword.
The closing remarks of National Scientist Raul summed the evening and the book: “On behalf of the authors of Momentum, Romy, Toti, Noel, Dondon, and myself, let me express our deepest thanks to all our donors and patrons; to our families; and to the dear friends who took the time to read and comment on the volume… Our thanks go as well to BusinessWorld, the op-ed home of our revolving column, ‘Introspective’; to Roel and Neil who shepherded the publication of the book; to the collective Fellowship of FEF who by joining the often strident policy debates forced us to clarify our own policy stances; and to Dondon’s baby, IDEA, of whose Board we remain members.
“This has been quite a journey, and I am extremely lucky to have had the company of Romy, Toti, Noel, and Dondon while undertaking it: Romy of the boundless curiosity; Toti of the principled pugnacity; Noel of the serene profundity; and Dondon the visionary who roped us more or less willingly into the ‘Introspective’ family.
“Contrary to impression, however, we are not woven of the same ideological fabric: Noel is the committed liberal democrat; I am more of the Deng Xiaoping pragmatist; Toti and Romy are raging incrementalists. Noel’s baccalaureate is Atenista, Toti’s and Dondon’s are La Sallista, Romy’s is Maroonista and mine is Seminarista. Dondon, Romy, Noel, and I but not Toti are bound in the UP School of Economics. Still, the collective light of reason that we seek and that shines on us together is stronger by far.
“A few principles make up the collective light that guides us: that the market and the rule-of-law together can work miracles; that government is best that enables the market; that it is silly to trifle with long-run sustainability; and finally that the Philippines can do much better than recent history suggests.
“Once more, therefore, our profound thanks to all of you, friends and fellow travelers, who joined us in this milestone moment. With you, the journey, if still littered with more failures than triumphs, is itself already a reward. Together, we will continue — to quote Dylan Thomas — to ‘Rage rage against the dying of the light.’”
P.S. The Foundation for Economic Freedom, a co-publisher of Momentum, won the 2019 prestigious Templeton Prize from the Atlas Network — a competition involving think tanks and public advocacy organizations worldwide — on Nov. 7 in New York City, for its work on the removal of restrictions on agricultural patents. The removal of restrictions on about 2.5 million agricultural patents is the subject in one of Calixto Chikiamco’s articles in Momentum.
To order Momentum, call 3453-2375 or send an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Romeo L. Bernardo is Vice-Chairman of the Foundation for Economic Freedom. He was Finance Undersecretary during the Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos administrations.