POSTSCRIPT / October 30, 2008 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Post-financial crisis strategic plan needed

FORUM: As we searched for materials to help readers understand and react constructively to the global financial crisis, we came upon an article of Felicito C. Payumo, a three-term congressman of Bataan and former chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority.

His piece (“Retooling for the Post-Financial Crisis”) is three times longer than what will fit here, so we can pass on only these excerpts:

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INSULATED?: Shall we sleep soundly when our officials say we are insulated from the crisis because our economy stands on sound fundamentals and that we have already restructured our financial system after the Asian Contagion?

Shall we not worry about our exports when the economy of our major trading partner, the United States, is slowing down? No — because we have a diversified market for our minerals and raw materials, like China? But does not China also sell its manufactures to the US and Europe which may still slip into a recession?

Shall we not worry about our workers who will be displaced in export manufacturing, our major employer-sector? Will our unemployment problem not be compounded by returning Overseas Filipino Workers?

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DEPLOYMENT: See the distribution of our 8.2 million OFWs. Some 2.9 million have permanent residence mainly in the US, 3.4 million have temporary work contracts in various countries, and 1.5 million are illegally staying, mainly, in the US and Malaysia. Those in the US contribute 60 percent of total overseas dollar remittance because of their higher-paying jobs. A slowdown in the US economy will affect remittance flow.

Household help and related workers, who account for 28 percent, are in Hong Kong, Singapore, Italy and other countries. Singapore is technically in recession.

Construction workers, comprising 14 percent, are mostly in the Middle East in oil-gas projects in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, and high-rise commercial buildings in Dubai and the Emirates. With the global recession driving down the price of crude, new construction could be put on hold.

Another 14 percent consists of factory workers such as those in Taiwan and Korea whose products also go to the West. Then, we have nurses, physical therapists and caregivers for the ageing population of Europe, UK and the US. They face growing competition from rivals from other nations and the host countries.

Building services absorb 5.8 percent of our workers, while hotel and restaurant personnel account for 5.1 percent. Will travelers, especially business executives, continue to fly and dine in style or will they now scrimp on their reduced expense accounts?

Performing artists, making up 2.4 percent, include not only band players in hotels and nightclubs but also GROs, a euphemism for Pinay nightclub workers.

Will our seamen sail on smooth waters? Would not the reduced commerce also reduce the number of cargo ships, tankers and even luxury cruise ships sailing the oceans? That portends gloom also for Filipino musical bands, waiters and cooks on cruise ships.

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RETOOLING: Only after knowing the gravity and extent of the problem can we offer prescriptions. As companies take a market slump as an opportunity to retool, we must prepare our economies for the rebound. How? By putting our infrastructures — both hard and soft — at par with those of other countries.

* Our airports, seaports and roads suffer in comparison. Now that the SCTEx has been connected to the NLEx, we need a direct connection between the NLEx and the SLEx so motorists traveling to either north or south will be spared the congestion on EDSA and C-5. But first, we have to put the SLEx out of the disgraceful state it is in. A direct connection will make it easier to move goods and passengers from NAIA to DMIA in Clark, which will become the premier international airport.

* The Food Crisis seems to have been forgotten, but it is sure to come back. Our ability to increase rice production is severely limited because we have irrigated only 45 percent of our irrigable areas. The remaining 55 percent either have irrigation facilities that are silted and in a state of disrepair, or are completely unirrigated.

* We must upgrade our human resources, too. Bill Gates, when asked what the US should focus on in the aftermath of the financial crisis, answered “education.” But his aim is modest: he wants every American to finish high school. Sen. Mar Roxas is right — with more than 30 percent of our children who enter elementary grades not able to reach high school, we have a long way to go. (While there are 13 million students in elementary, there are only 6.3 million in secondary schools.) Youths without a high school education may not even be trained for vocational skills needed in industry and agriculture.

* While we promote industries in our ecozones, a lot can be done in the countryside in agriculture. There is the dairy industry, to cite one neglected opportunity. We import $600 million of milk and dairy products for 97 percent of our consumption annually, and yet we see our hills and meadows green with cogon. We have to propagate the right kind of grass and legumes. Thailand is on the equator and yet produces 50 percent of its dairy requirements.

* Just as important is the soft infrastructure needed to facilitate doing business — our regulatory and judicial system. Former Secretary Romy Neri was being truthful when he talked of “regulatory capture.” If one commissioner of a regulatory body can sign a Cease and Desist Order for the entire collegial body, or a Justice can write the transcript of a proceeding from memory, something is indeed rotten.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 30, 2008)

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