Saturday, 22 September 2007

Ten Letters (3)

I REMEMBER the days when I was an eager young man working in the financial services sector back home.

At that time, all the rage was about the furniture industry and how good we were compared to the rest of our neighbors in the Asean. Years before this, it was our sugar industry that was the darling of our economy.

What’s happened to them now, and why? Depending on your perspective — too much, and not a lot.

In the beginning, they made too much profit, but not a lot of it went into re-investment.

Flushed with our success, we made too much hype of them, but really not a lot of action.

And though there was getting to be too much competition, we never did a lot to strengthen whatever advantage we had.

As a result, although there was too much promise then, there is not a lot to show for them today.

It is a difficult thing to admit, but we need to face up to reality sometime — even in our economic policy, the “ningas cogon” syndrome is a difficult thing to shake off.

If we were athletes, we would be good sprinters, but poor marathon runners.

We get to the 100-meter line first, but once there we immediately set up our hammocks and take a long siesta. Meanwhile, everyone else, whilst seemingly jogging along at a much slower pace, will have passed us by and crossed the finish line before we wake up. When we wake up, we then realize how much ground we have already lost and decide to quit the race in desperation.

Count them with your fingers if you can — prawn farming, handicraft, garments, terra cotta, iron craft, wood working, dehydrated food, processed food, floriculture, tourism — you will run out of fingers and still the list goes on of sectors where we had shown a lot of early potential, but which never really progressed much beyond the promising stage. Or if anything did, it invariably had a meteoric climb to the top, but an equally precipitous drop to mediocrity or failure.

True, there are exceptions to be found within these sectors, but these are organizations that have survived due to their own efforts, and not because of any coherent strategy from the top.

Today, the apples in the eyes of our policy makers happen to be nursing, and the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry.

Much is being made of the successes we have attained in gaining a substantial share of the demand for healthcare workers in foreign lands. We cannot, it seems, produce enough nurses to meet the demand in overseas markets and have to open new schools year after year to fill the gap.

Call centers, too, are sprouting all over the place like mushrooms. A lot of times these days whenever I need to call a contact center from the UK, it is an American-sounding-but-quite-distinctly Filipino accent that I hear on the other line.

But what are we doing to ensure that the industries that now provide the lifeline to thousands of our countrymen continue to prosper and survive, instead of going the way our furniture and sugar potential went — with a lot of snap, crackle and pop in the beginning, somewhat of a big bang in the middle, but just total silence in the end?

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, September 22, 2007 (

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