We are plagued with national problems that deprive many of our citizens even with the most basic access to decent living, relevant education, proper nutrition and other necessities that are supposed to be already being enjoyed in today’s modern world. Generally, as a result, many of our people are stripped of dignity and any excitement of dreaming any prosperous future.
Such problems that our country must resolve cannot be fully outlined in the recent State of the Nation Address of the President. More so, the solutions are so complex and complicated that an almost two hours of speech by our Chief Executive cannot be enough to explain and convince the nation of the road map which will bring us beyond the current crisis that engulf the country.
President Rodrigo Duterte explained the current relevant social menaces caused by the proliferation of illegal drugs, rampant corruption in the bureaucracy, chaos in the streets, incursions in our territory, and the snail paced delivery of basic services. Let’s admit, regardless of our political affiliations, President Duterte is a phenomenal leader that has caught the attention of the world. I was once in a very remote restaurant in the island of Fiji, the dining staff there begged for stories about him. They admire him. I was proud.
There is no doubt in his political will to resolve many issues in spite of his controversial or unorthodox methods. To a great degree, he has raised the standard of expectations that we demand now from our public servants.
However, the painful irony is this. After the term of President Duterte, we will still be confronted by practically the same social ills. Though surely some improvements will be delivered particularly on infrastructure because of the grand Build, Build, Build program ,and lesser scourge on the illegal drugs front.
But sooner, the next President will address the same concerns in his or her State of the Nation Address. In fact, all our other previous Presidents tackled almost the same national dilemma on massive poverty, corruption, criminality, and inefficiencies in government — from Cory Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, Noynoy Aquino, and now, Mayor Duterte. This cycle happens not because of insincerity on their intentions or efforts.
STRATEGIC DIRECTION NEEDED
What the country absolutely needs is a clear strategic direction on where to bring our economy in the long term. Faced with the same vicious and destructive cycle, other countries victoriously uplifted the lives of their people by drawing a clear map on where their economy, industries, and businesses would thrive. Taiwan had their “Go South of Taipei” program where they clearly identified the specific industries and ventures that would be given the full fiscal, administrative and other incentives that would help ensure their resounding success. South Korea miraculously became an economic giant after the Korean War by focusing on serious industrialization backed by their integrated steel manufacturing sector headed by POSCO Steel which is now biggest in the world. Even China, today’s second largest economy, meticulously designed the roles of their economic zones after Deng Xiao Ping recognized the limits of a centrally planned economy. Thailand, Singapore, and now Vietnam defined their economic agenda as a primary target above their periodic political reform programs.
What we need is a clear economic platform that would define the game changers and what business gurus refer to as success drivers. These must be done alongside the current issues that we always try to overcome in an almost futile cycle of programs that failed to eradicate poverty, deprivation, and deterioration.
PILLARS OF GROWTH
We are not starting from scratch. We just have to learn on achieving national focus. We must train all our resources, talents, and hopes on three tickets that would strategically solve the other problems of our society.
First, let’s not give up on our industrialization.
We have the natural and human resources that would be valued by global investors and technology partners. Our steel industry must not be further forsaken, Almost all successful economies of the world has a strong industrial base. Our government must provide all the needed policy and fiscal support to the business enterprises that would venture on building our heavy industries. These will bring employment, prosperity, and confidence especially to the middle class. These will expand and empower the middle sector.
Second, capitalize on our tourism jewels.
We are amazingly blessed with attractive destinations. We can be among the top tourist destinations of the world. We must therefore ensure that our airports, hotels, and other accommodations are ready. Thailand and Malaysia enjoy at least more than 2 million visitors monthly. We are already proud when we have 4 million tourists in a year which even include our own balikbayans. Allocate huge budgets to improve our historical sites and infrastructures leading to them.
We are notorious on not having any historical sense that, according to the news maker Mayor Isko of Manila, the Bonifacio shrine has been converted to a national toilet by uncaring citizens. Our airports are constant cause of embarrassment and inconvenience to the tourists lured by our marketing invitations. Intramuros, for example, has hordes of illegal or informal settlers that would naturally turn off foreign visitors. If only this is under the jurisdiction of Mayor Isko, this landmark site would be dramatically improved. Even though it’s located in Manila, Intramuros is under the supervision and management of the Intramuros Administration of the Department of Tourism. Perhaps Secretary Verna Romulo can take a closer attention. I know that she is a serious no non-sense executive. If informed of this, she will definitely uplift Intramuros and accord it with the appropriate respect that befits such a historic ground.
And lastly, modernize our agriculture.
In our country, becoming a farmer is almost synonymous to being poor. More than 15 million Filipinos in our agricultural sector are trapped in dire poverty, exhaustion, and extreme lack of hope for their children if they will also become farmers like their parents. In Malaysia, farmers are happily aware of their role in providing food security to their country. None of them is as poor as our farmers. Our agriculture sector must be vibrant and export oriented.
Our present national leaders are correct in addressing the most urgent problems that relentlessly punish the entire country. The current dangers of not stopping the illegal drugs trade, corruption, traffic jams, and dysfunctional bureaucracy are real. By all means, they must indeed be ended.
However, the solutions that we intend to adopt will never be enough. We tried long enough. We tried many times in different forms and languages. We always end up battling the same monsters over and over again. This is because we use the same approach and silently hope that the results will be better. The results, I assure you, will be the same but only with some incremental improvements.
Our leaders, and all of us, must accept that most of our problems will be solved once we deliver the economic progress and wealth that would be accessible to all. And we can achieve this only when we start focusing also on the most strategic drivers for our national success.
Ariel F. Nepomuceno is a management consultant on strategy and investment.