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Sep 01

Old and new

The following will be my columns for Monday and Thursday, but I’d like to present them here, intact. They were remarks I delivered last night before the Rotary Club of Manila Bay. I am behind in other work (in large part because of two consecutive speaking engagements), and so this will be my entry for the next couple of days.

IT seems to me, more often than not, when a choir performs for professional gatherings their performance invariably includes a song or two from Les Miserables.

A musical Freudian slip? Are we living in “the best of times, the worst of times,” as dangerous, ominous, yet exciting, as Charles Dickens’ and Victor Hugo’s accounts of the French Revolution? I believe so. The Philippines is dying. A new Philippines is being born.

Which is which?

I recently had a conversation with a Filipino in his 70s, who spoke fondly of prewar optimism — the country had, alone of the colonies of the West in our part of the world, secured, prior to World War II, a guarantee of political independence by a fixed date, and was the envy of our neighbors.

The Japanese Occupation swept all of prewar certainties, even arrogance, away; national solidarity, even identity, certainly the economy, was shattered. Our leadership was divided; our political cohesion fractured; our youth decimated; and out of the cracks emerged the violence that has characterized our political life ever since.

Still, things were slowly, if not very neatly, put back together in the 50s, reaching a high point with the Magsaysay administration; but that era, along with Magsaysay’s leadership, was short-lived. The younger generation of guerilleros who catapulted him to power, in a vote of protest against their elders, were left politically orphaned; and sooner than they could imagine, they, who were once the young and idealistic, found themselves challenged by their own children, who no longer looked to Jefferson but instead turned to Mao.

The signs of those times was not, to my mind, the Diliman Commune, but a parallel effort overlooked because it’s inconvenient. When the Diliman Commune, the revolt by students in the University of the Philippines in 1971 took place, some residents of the area banded together and hunted down the radical students. They were defending order and their property rights. There’s a similar political vigilantism among the middle and upper classes today.

The virtue of democracy is it permits the transition from one generation to the next, with as little bloodshed as possible, and hopefully everyone feels they had a say in what happened. It’s not a numbers game or merely following rules. It’s protecting the minority so that when they inevitably become the majority, they aren’t dying to strangle those that led before. But when Marcos’s pomaded generation decided they couldn’t surrender power to long-haired hippies, they consigned the successor generation to limbo — and our country to an escalating cycle of violence, hate, and fear.

Defective as the period transfers of power before martial law were, even that cycle was stopped. Anyone with an independent mind had three miserable choices: shut up, ship out, or shoot it out.

As an academic recently told me, with martial law, the country lost an entire generation of intellectuals. It lost an entire generation, period. Some went to the hills. Others sold out. Still more shipped out, returning only now, to retire.

It’s no wonder that politically, most ideas seem to be frozen in time, somewhere in the 1960s, and these ideas were themselves questioned by those who to my generation seem the hopelessly unhip hippie crowd. The hippies of yesterday have grey hair today; but what’s worse is the increasingly hairless but still dominant generation that the hippies questioned continue to rule today.

An economist also told me recently that when the economy collapsed in 1983, a significant transformation also took place. It was, he argued, the first time corruption became endemic in Philippine society. More so than during the Japanese Occupation, when, as you can read in Agoncillo’s account, the pretensions of the ruling class were punctured by their having to pawn their possessions and scramble for survival alongside the poor.

The poor have always been called criminal by the rich, even though all the poor are trying to do is survive; but when the middle class and the rich either abandon, or are stripped, of all pretenses to public and private decency, you have a truly dangerous situation. No one is left with any moral authority over anyone else; what once served to keep everything cozy and looking good, proves as rotten and corrupt as those once considered moral, political, and social inferiors. So who has any incentive to worship anything except power and wealth? Why should anyone help or believe anyone else?

With martial law, Marcos secured the support of the middle and upper crust, who only abandoned him when he proved too greedy and then, incompetent; when Edsa I restored the premarital law leadership, who, lean and hungry from their exclusion from the rigodon of power, grew fat while the middle class allied with them discovered there was nothing for them; an entire generation of retired middle class professionals were stripped of their dozens of hectares of honestly-bought land, while the political class retains their thousand-hectare haciendas.

In Edsa Dos, in a last hurrah, the tired relicts of Edsa I were joined by the martial law babies, thrilling at the chance to reenact People Power, only to discover within weeks it was only Nani power, and Chavit power.

And again, there was Edsa Tres which failed, because it was not sincerely led, but which gave the downtrodden a taste of something they’d never savored in an urban setting before: they scared the daylights out of their social, political, and economic bosses. The end result was 2004, when I am sure many of your friends said to you what they told me: “victory at whatever price, rather than let the opposition come back to power.”

LEON Ma. Guerrero the great writer and diplomat, once wrote an apologia for martial law titled “Today began yesterday.” And he was right. The problems that horrify our middle and upper classes began yesterday, too.

The ability of showbiz personalities to steal the thunder of our traditional politicians didn’t begin with Estrada; it began with the election of movie idol Rogelio dela Rosa to the senate over half a century ago; about the same time that institutional supports for strong political parties began to be dismantled with the abolition of block voting.

The educational crisis we face today didn’t begin last year; it began under Ferdinand Marcos, when obedience was substituted for critical thinking. The old pillars of our communities — lawyer, doctor, dentist, engineer- cannot eat prestige today; and we already see a tomorrow in which our country will barely have a handful of them left.

The empowerment of places outside Manila didn’t begin last year; it began in the 1950s, when the presidency was stripped of its power of appointment over the mayors of chartered cities. It would have come sooner, if leaders like Raul Manglapus hadn’t been forced into exile. It was made inevitable under the present constitution, which abandoned the purely unitary state. It was given life with the Local Government Code, which remains underutilized to this day. It was delayed by Marcos who replaced the worst aspect of the urge towards autonomy, warlordism, with his dictatorship; and it is sadly being confused with a restoration of warlordism today. The autonomy too many of our local officials want, is entirely different from the autonomy their provincial constituencies actually desire.

Anyone whose been in a meeting run according to parliamentary procedure knows that before new business can be tackled, old business has to be dispensed with. If our problem is that there’s so much old business that needs to be addressed, at least we have the freedom to inquire into new business.

You and I have a lot more in common, not only with each other, but most Filipinos of our generations, than we do with Filipinos of subsequent generations. I am, what they call, a martial law baby; and we martial law babies in turn have more in common with those who grew up under martial law, than those who’ve grown up knowing only relative freedom after Edsa.

The reason for this is whether in Manila or elsewhere, the things that make for familiarity, for a common culture and thus, a similar frame of reference, were enjoyed by my generation but have been beyond the reach of the Edsa babies.

Church, club, school, and community perhaps accounted for a greater continuity between your parent’s generation, and yours, and yours and mine — but there was a sharp drop, like a plunge at top speed off a cliff, which is what took place during the war and again in 1983.

But there is hope.

It’s in Naga City, Roxas City, General Santos City, San Carlos City, new urban areas where partnerships are being built between officials and the citizenry; where technology is being harnessed effectively without waste and window-dressing; where what matters less is what an official’s family has done before, but rather, what they’re doing now — and how they’re doing it, without need of bribery, intimidation, or a new constitution.

Let me briefly describe something I saw in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. There’s a gated community there; but the homes being built in it aren’t being financed with inherited sugar money. These are homes built by nurses, seamen, contract workers, nannies and caregivers. People whose parents were sacadas told what to do by the hacenderos — or else. To have grown up in a feudal society, then, in one lifetime, to break that society’s shackles: the result can only be something new, unpredictable, and better. They did not go to the schools that tried to produce carbon copies of La Salle, Ateneo, UST or UP; they will never be Rotarians; but they will also probably never settle for a return to the old ways and the old obedience.

Add to their ranks the millions of Filipinos who have migrated within our country, breaking free of the old ties that bind; self-made people who can’t be expected to be as obedient to the local powers-that-be than they may have been from whence they came.

Add Filipinos who can’t continue schooling, or buy books, but who wear out display copies in the bookstores, and who seek alternative sources of learning. They do not obey the “no browsing” signs; good for them.

And yes, add the efforts of the clubs that do medical missions, not because an election’s due, but because it’s simply their civic duty; it’s in Gawad Kalinga that is building and rebuilding communities without asking anyone to be grateful. Though I do think a crisis is on the horizon, when newly-empowered communities start discovering they’re on a collision course with the traditional powers-that-be who hate empowerment. Today’s achievement — to get the comfortable and the poor working together- will become a tomorrow’s call to political action.

You know, the slogan during Edsa Dos was right, after all: “resign all!” But if you won’t go that far, consider what Winston Churchill once said. Explaining his view of his own role in World War II, he remarked, “the pomp and vanity must go; the old world will have had the honor of leading the way into the new.” Those of us who are comfortable, cannot afford the illusion that politics is a waste of time. You cannot switch off the political noise. You can cover your ears, to be sure, but it will only mean you will, one day, get hit by a truck. Neither bribery, nor force of arms, ever replaced noise with harmony -unless your idea of peace is the stillness of the grave. Noise only becomes music with practice and patience.

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  1. vic

    Paenggoy,
    The latest statistic of our trade with the U.S. that I can find is 2003 and our exports was 245 billion and imports of l95 billion with a surplus of 50 billlions. that is huge. we are importing more goods from china but not yet as close as our trade with our neighbor. yes you our right, china is our next biggest trading partner now, but we can not export our oil because we our committed to our agreement with the U.S. that we can not even reduce our export to the south unless we reduce the same percentage for ourselves. But we just resolved our soft wood lumber dispute with them. As I said we can always resolve our neigborly disagreements.

  2. cvj

    Antonio, i take your point that the mendicant mentality is there, and i think it’s more a reflection of our paternalistic culture and the extreme inequality that both feeds and is fed by it. Given the right mix of incentives, assistance and opportunities, i believe it is human nature to want to become a productive member of society, rather than remain a deadbeat. That’s where Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution comes in. Maybe the next government can learn from its policies in allowing the poor themselves to take charge of their destiny.

  3. antonio walanglaban

    You pointed out, cvj, that the mendicant mentality springs in part from a paternalistic culture and extreme economic inequality. These are long term conditions – ancient in this country before I was even born. How can Chavez’s populism pry us out from under the crushing weight of paternalism and economic inequality (altho I think inequity maybe the more precise term)? And even assuming that Chavez is a good model , what are the chances of our politicians ever approximating that ideal?

  4. cvj

    From what i read, Venezuela’s policies include: funneling government revenues into social programs and public education (including adult education), free medical clinics (assisted by Cuban doctors), encouraging agricultural cooperatives supported by low-interest government loans, and subsidizing food purchases. I’m not too familiar with the details as i still have to buy the DVD which Manolo recommended a few posts back, but what they are doing over there is certainly worth a look. Erap was the prototype of a Chavez-style President, although more in terms of PR than the real thing. If we manage to keep the Presidential system, the poor will eventually manage to elect the genuine article which will restore hope along with the people’s involvement that comes with it. That’s what the traditional politicians and their elitist supporters are afraid of which accounts for the haste in changing the Constitution to parliamentary.

  5. Carl

    Paeng, P15,000 a month is very low compared to what can be had elsewhere. Especially considering what it now costs to send someone to one of the elite universities (barring UP, which is subsidized, but is actually now just as burgis as the exclusive universities). And, unless you own your own house or live with your parents, it can be a tight fit. But thanks for confirming that what be considered good pay here ranges from P15,000 to P20,000 a month.

  6. Paeng

    Actually, Carl, kaya ganun lang ang suweldo ko ay dahil sa pinili kong magturo at mag-NGO imbes na corporate. 🙂

    heniweyz, there are a lot of good but inexpensive universities out there. nadadala lang talaga ng Big 3 ng mga private schools (Ateneo, DLSU, UST) yung illusion na they are way better than the other universities. which is simply not true. ang problema lang yung mga employers, naniniwala rin na yung mga galing lang sa “elite” universities na ito ang magagaling. i’ve spent four years teaching, and i have seen so many bright students outside these schools.

    i guess it’s just a matter of finding alternatives for your spending needs. kahit na P20,000 na yung suweldo ko, sa karinderya pa rin ako kumakain, hindi dahil sa mas mura kundi dahil sa totoo lang, mas masarap siya kaysa sa mga nasa fastfood. sa damit, there are good but inexpensive local brands, at minemaintain ko na two week’s worth of clothes lang ang meron ako. no coffee shops for me, unless work-related. kung magkakape ako, sa Dunkin Donuts na lang.

    i guess it’s my constant conversations with the taxi drivers which opened my eyes to the reality that we really don’t need to spend much to live an enjoyable life.

  7. mlq3

    antonio, et al., there is the big problem not only of unemployment, but underemployment. how many ofw families have we met or obswerved, where one frustration is, many otherwise able-bodies members of the family just stay home, because the remittances are regularly received?

    which indicates one failure of the state the private sector’s having difficulty compensating for. my mother was telling me the red cross was trying to pilot a program where volunteers act as liasons between ofw’s and their families: the volunteers would help make sure, for example, the kids of ofw’s went to school, that their ofw parents were kept up to date on the grades and problems of the kids; that the families at home were given advice on how best to spend the remittances (every single family in a neighborhood buying a tricylce can’t be the best way)… but the task was so huge, it hasn’t really taken off…

    i know some ofw’s have rebelled against their perception that their families don’t do their share. in some cases, the rebellion is not against the immediate family, but the extended one. for example, some real estate people tell me that there are ofw’s who will never, ever, build a home where they came from, but somewhere else, far away, usually in the metro manila area, so that when they return they can avoid their relatives.

    now are these things good, or bad?

  8. cvj

    Manolo, Antonio, taking in what both of you have said on the welfare state, mendicancy and dead-beat relatives, it dawns on me that the Philippines may already be a welfare state of sorts via OFW’s remittances, with both its good and ill effects. Breaking away from the extended family seems to be a good thing in the sense that it avoids the evils of a culture made up of extended families and leaves the deadbeat members with no choice but to fend for themselves. More importantly, it favors the growth of cities with its impersonal relationships which is mostly good from the standpoint of economic development.

  9. Amadeo

    “i don’t think it will be the ones from america, but maybe i’m being biased (along the lines antonio walanglaban described above). the old middle class that goes to america does not come back, or if they do, their children don’t. again, it’s just my hunch, but a filipino middle class person who does well in america comes home to join the upper class at home, or begins to behave like the old upper class among filipinos in america.” (MLQ3rd)

    Thanks for couching your statements in like manner, because I want to add some facts that I believe may impact considerably on how social and economic structures are being redrawn in the old homeland.

    As I myself reported earlier nearly 4M Filipinos are in the USA, almost half of them in California. But more significantly for 2006, this group accounted for 56% of OFW inward remittances to the old homeland. The entire European continent accounted for 15%. In earlier years, this US percentage had been higher, as much as 2/3rds as reported. And we have to remember that what is reported is estimated to be only 75% of actual remittances, since 25% do not go through the legal financial system.

    Here’s a country by country breakdown from our own BSP. (http://www.bsp.gov.ph/statistics/keystat/ofw.htm)

    Some questions to ask then are:
    What social and/or political impact, aside from the obvious economic, do these contributions exert locally?

    Is it logical to surmise that the US-based stakeholders do exert some effective controls on how these funds are to be disbursed?

    Do these contributions come unattached or unencumbered, or do they reflect on the future plans of those building up their stakeholdings in the country? That is, the Filipinos or FilAms who are in the US.

    I could point to my own experiences as answers to the questions above, though I would rather not.

    Re conservatism of FilAms, in the last presidential elections the total of Asians voted 50-50 here in California. And as I recall, it was reported in some PI papers immediately prior to the last US presidential elections that when Filipinos in the old homeland were polled a majority of 54% favored the Harvard/Yale MBA graduate George W. Bush over Yale/Boston College Law graduate John Kerry. Some may want to verify this. Still, conservatism should also be as much a part of the landscape in the old homeland, as the good ol’ USA.

  10. Carl

    You have made a choice of lifestyle, Paeng. I respect that. I surmise it didn’t come about naturally, since it developed from talking to taxi drivers, among others. Not everyone has the opportunity to have their eyes opened and, perhaps, not everyone would be willing to adapt in the same way while they still have other choices.

    Incidentally, hvrds said:

    “The ADB came out with report recently that the country will not be able to solve its unemployment problems by depending on call centers and inflows from foreign workers. The report stated that we have to go through the evolutionary process of agricultural and thence industrial development.”

    We call ourselves an agricultural country but that is a misnomer. We always had the soils, the resources and the technology to be a top agricultural producer. But we never had the will or the inclination. Today, our principal agricultural crops are rice, corn, coconuts and sugar cane. The same key crops over a hundred years ago. Yes, feudalism extends even to our archaic agricultural structure.

    Greed and political expediency caused us to exploit agriculture (and consequently, the rural sector). Half-hearted and short-sighted policies from an indifferent and distant government have only contributed to the drift in agriculture. Instead of nurturing agriculture so it would bloom and create prosperity and well-being in the countryside, government stifled it with onerous levies and politically self-serving price controls.

    Our Asian neighbors, such as Malaysia and Thailand, encouraged and developed agriculture. Instead of exploiting and taxing the farmers, they subsidized, developed infrastructures and extended credit to the countryside. These policies bore fruit when incomes improved in the rural areas and the farmers, besides being food producers, became consumers of all types of goods. This gave impetus to industrial production and, consequently, created more jobs and more wealth. Today, while agriculture remains vital to these economies, it has assumed a small percentage of the total.

    As emilie points out above:

    “The size of any market in this country is very very low compared to our neighbors.”

    We have to uplift our rural areas in order to increase consumption and, consequently, the size of the market. This will spur more industries and services and, ultimately, create more jobs.

    It is a fact that we are among the lowest per capita consumers of most products, save for softdrinks, where we are said to be among top. Maybe that is why John Gokongwei said that, as far as he can remember, the only thriving industries we created are Coca-Cola and real estate. Well, Gokongwei may have forgotten about San Miguel. But, then, what does it say on that beer bottle? Since 1890? That was more than a hundred years ago, so it probably doesn’t count. Gokongwei may have a point, after all.

  11. antonio walanglaban

    Manolo, the blame shouldn’t all be heaped on the government. OFW families must accept some of the responsibility as well, I think. I find it difficult to conceive of anything the state can do to prevent the parasitism of relatives. Except maybe, if the government could provide more jobs – either directly or indirectle – outside of metro manila, then maybe there would be less opportunity for parasitism, but, I can’t accept that a hundred percent either. I still think the solution lies in the individual deciding that he’s had enough.

    Speaking of underemployment, this is one matter where my criticism of government is unreserved: call-centers. I mean, what the heck? Call centers are seductive because they offer high salaries relative to the difficulty level of the work, and it puts money in the pocket of the starbucks generation. But at the same time, call center jobs are so comfortable that they become very difficult to leave. What happens when the economic needs of these young graduates expand as they start building their own families? What sort of advancement does a call-center offer? From phone jockey to trainer to consultant making 20k per one-shot consultancy? Please.

    call centers are oubliettes of underemployment that should not be promoted as aggresively as the government is doing.

    Call-centers are not what I consider first-tier employment opportunities: they are good for a quick buck, but they cannot possibly bring economic prosperity to our youth, much less to our country.

  12. mlq3

    antonio, re: call centers. a couple of things do bear looking into. the first, is the burn-out rate among call center employees. second, is what happens after they spend a few years in the call center business -not everyone can be a manager, so what’s next for them? third is, the call centers attract the college graduates that should otherwise be entering the corporate world -and business owners seem to be increasingly worried that the talent pool is drying up (because no way, with the current economy, can they pay as well as the call centers for harder work).

  13. cvj

    Regarding call centers, let’s count our blessings. While they do not answer all our problems, would we rather that they not be here to provide employment? As per standard economics, what these call center employees earn is injected back into the economy generating a multiplier effect. Just like our neighbors, we have to take full advantage of the benefits of globalization. The Corporate and Business owners cannot espouse the virtues of the free market system only to complain when faced with its realities. There are more than enough graduates coming out of the school system every year. What the employers need to do is work with the schools to ensure that what is being taught matches those required by real-world jobs.

    As for agricultural development, Solita Monsod has an interesting column in the Inquirer on the ‘NPA-landlords alliance’ which is holding back development in the rural areas.

  14. antonio walanglaban

    these three things you mention, manolo, are what have me concerned (well, not so much the first one since I have heard many call-center employees throw that word around as if they truly understood the difference burnout and mere ennui). And what I want these young graduates to consider is that hardwork is good. It is precisely because call centers offer such a soft spot from which to earn money that I call them seductive oubliettes. You want to enter them, only to realize that your options for getting out are so few.

    and cvj, imho, call-centers are not blessings. they are cream-puffs: nice, fat,and shiny on the outside; nothing but air inside. they are palliatives that may well turn out to be deadlier than the disease. These call-centers lure us into a sense that we are doing well economically, distracting our government from the hard work of providing more sustainable – even if less lucrative – income sources. While I know some who have used call-centers as stepping stones to greater things, they are few and far between.

    Multiplier? perhaps in the short-term. Just like OFW remittances are a boost to the economy. But long-term? No way. I’m not saying that call centers should disappear. As you say, they provide jobs. But the youth should not be seduced into entering them either, by aggresive government promotion. Instead, let call-centers be the kind of make-work enterprise that provides employment for those who are not qualified for anything other than answering telephones. Otherwise, we will be just be conditioning an entire generation into an acceptance of their own criminal underachievement.

  15. cvj

    Antonio, the government is constrained with realities and has to follow the money. It happens that today, the world needs more call center agents, super maids and nurses. We have to be responsive to labor demand wherever it comes from.

    I appreciate the need to prepare for the future, but predicting what lines of business will be sustainable tomorrow is easier said than done. Even the most forward looking governments like Japan and Singapore are unable to consistently predict what business to go into next. The most prudent course of action for our government on a limited budget would be to implement policies that encourage business activity in general (e.g. trade liberalization, improving education, infrastructure etc.) and performing a watchdog role (e.g. ensuring a level playing field, consumer protection etc). Let market competition determine who wins and loses. Ultimately, it is market forces that decide what work is necessary or not.

    As for ‘criminal underachievement’, that is just in the eye of the beholder. Personally, i think there is dignity in whatever form of work whether its answering telephones, cleaning toilet bowls or managing a business. It’s more important for people to decide what do during their leisure time, e.g. to watch reality TV or read a good book.

  16. antonio walanglaban

    please do not get me wrong, cvj. i am not implying that call-center work is demeaning. underachievement means performing well below what you are capable of. There may be dignity in answering phones all night long, but isn’t an economics graduate (for example) capable of so much more?

    I don’t disagree with you that we need to respond to the demand for labor. But we must also exert effort towards rationalizing our response – as a nation – to these demands. I think it is irrational for our government to go pedal-to-the-metal telling graduates that working at a call center is all-good. Let’s match the work to the skill, is what I say. And government hasn’t been very good at generating employment opportunities that match the skill levels of most of our graduates, hence the diaspora.

    and anyway responding to the demand for labor shouldn’t be principal occupation of government. it isn’t even government’s job to predict what businesses will be good in the future, cvj. we shouldn’t have to just respond to the demands of changing industries. it is government’s job to chart a course that will prepare its workforce to take full economic advantage of whatever opportunities the future may hold, and to mitigate the effects of whatever economic disasters may befalll us. That’s a difficult thing, I know, but difficult is irrelevant. It must be done. That is the kind of leadership role the government should be taking, instead of indulging in opportunistic knee-jerk programs (like supermaids) that simply ‘follow the money.’ Private businesses can be opportunistic like that. Government should not.

    As for “The most prudent course of action for our government on a limited budget would be to implement policies that encourage business activity in general (e.g. trade liberalization …),” what gives, cvj? Isn’t trade liberalization, one of the main things populists like Chavez oppose?

  17. Amadeo

    I would say that the general outlook expressed on call center jobs appears rather short-sighted and constrictive, disregarding the fact that global economies are in constant flux prodded and hastened by advances in emerging technologies.

    Did we ever think of out-sourced call center jobs a several years back? I doubt it, but the present realities now accept them as an integral and viable process in doing business, created essentially by the newly-minted needs of business.

    Thus, who is to say what and how this fledging industry would develop into even in the near term? As we speak, the original concept of a call center providing essentially tech support has already morphed into several areas such as support on credit/credit card matters. And what about the area of medical transcription, which requires unique skills acquired both academically and from experience?

    Also, typically we do not delve on other seemingly “dead-end” economic pursuits. Such as maybe public utilities drivers? Carpenters? Maybe, even bank tellers? We all know they contribute a vital service to the overall economy. And if we can grant that holders of such “dead-end” positions also have as much chances of moving up in the economic ladder in other positions/industries relying on those experiences, why shouldn’t the same be granted to call center jobholders?

    If I may be bold to suggest, it is probably because of our too intense preoccupation on the foreign exchange aspects of the call center industry.

    Now, underemployment is one area that should be focused on, and I don’t necessarily refer to the call center industry.

    Though I can’t find very reliable hard facts on the issue, I am inclined to think that the too prevalent use of contract workers account for its high percentage. Self-employed workers with no or very meager benefits, and subsisting on wages insufficient to support their own or their families.

    To highlight, in the case of our own Northern Mindanao economic mainstay, Philippine Packing Corporation (Del Monte, which I believe is still controlled and operated by the Lorenzos), I am told by a former employee that at present the company cultivates twice the hectarage compared to when the Americans operated the place. But surprisingly, the company employee rolls have been significantly reduced. They have been replaced by contract workers.

  18. antonio walanglaban

    Amadeo, regardless of my views on call centers, my main gripe is that government is relentlessly promoting it as a top-flight employment opportunity. It is not. It’s a good enough job, but it simply is not the best possible option for our youth especially.

    and about contract workers, you are absolutely right. Just the other day, I met a young girl of 23 – a business management graduate – who works 14 hour days manning a small fruit-shake stall. And she’s just contractual. How’s that for underemployment? Like I said, government is not doing enough. Not even close.

  19. antonio walanglaban

    btw, can someone tell me what the image in this blog’s header is all about? Is that a picture of an actual statue? that sort of thing. I’ve been curious for the longest time. Thanks.

  20. tbl

    per cvj…

    “What I find amusing is that many of these Filipino-American conservatives would look down on those who voted for Erap or FPJ only to end up voting for George W. Bush themselves.”

    My impression is that most Fil-Ams don’t look down on those Pinoy voters, they know better than that, they have more something in their coconuts. They don’t do those kind of things.

    As for those who voted for Bush, you can’t blame them when someone says…I VOTED FOR IT BEFORE I VOTED AGAINST IT.

    when all they do is block the tort reform, support the infamous proposal of socialized medicine which is more or less a monstrous HMO, when they do the reverse descrimination such as equal opportunity which unfortunately work against most asians like Pinoys ( it is actually a promotion against your own personal merits and true qualifications, I think).

  21. cvj

    Amadeo, i agree with your treatment of call-center and other ‘dead-end’ jobs. The ‘constant flux’ is something we have to live with. Even for industry insiders, it’s hard to predict were the business will go and how these jobs will evolve. Even in India, they say that they excel in Information Technology and beauty contests because these are the areas where their government is not involved. All government can do is to have its ears close to the ground and help the country grab as much of the low hanging fruit opportunities in whatever area is ‘hot’ while it can. Vision exercises in the area of industrial policy or ICT policy are hit and miss affairs so we cannot count on these to deliver.

    As for contract work, i think it’s one of the solutions to underemployment, not its symptom. Businesses have to be flexible to survive. What distinguishes the USA which has 5% unemployment from Europe which has double or triple that rate is the ability to easily hire and fire people. If we have labor laws that make it difficult to let go of people or force businesses to make workers permanent, then they would be more hesitant to hire. Along with outsourcing, contract work is the trend and people would just have to accept this reality.

  22. cvj

    tbl, maybe your right, it’s just my bias showing.

  23. Carl

    Amadeo said: “To highlight, in the case of our own Northern Mindanao economic mainstay, Philippine Packing Corporation (Del Monte, which I believe is still controlled and operated by the Lorenzos), I am told by a former employee that at present the company cultivates twice the hectarage compared to when the Americans operated the place. But surprisingly, the company employee rolls have been significantly reduced. They have been replaced by contract workers.”

    The case of Del Monte Corp. is one of the few cases wherein land reform succeeded. And this is in no way due to government. Land reform was successful with Del Monte because the company itself provided the infrastructure, the planting material, the know-how, the inputs, etc. So, instead of the company running everything (it still supervises, to make sure everything is done correctly), it has made the farmer-beneficiaries (who are mostly former Del Monte employees) into contract growers. It is a win-win situation, as the beneficiaries can maximize production and profit from it. The company, on the other hand, is not saddled with so many fixed costs and labor demands.

    Right now, only the processing plants are company-owned. But the new owners, the Yao Campos family of UFC ketchup and San Miguel Corp. (this should answer the question of whether the Lorenzo family still owned the company), are inclined to spin that off to the employees, too. That way, Del Monte will only pay a tolling fee to process their products. Basically, it will transform the company into a marketing company banking on a heavyweight brand. It’s quite an innovation here in the Philippines, where our concept of wealth relates to the amount of property and assets a person or an entity holds. There is wealth in a brand and the ability to market it.

    At the same time, this allows the company to focus primarily on its core activity, which is marketing and not be sidetracked by the production aspect and its attendant day-to-day problems. It also allows the company to be much more flexible. In other words, if the farmer-producers are not efficient, the company can buy from other places, such as Davao and Gen. Santos. Or even go to Thailand or Indonesia. Fortunately, things seem to be working out very well and hectarage has increased tremendously, with independent growers coming in. So far, it has been very beneficial to the economy in Mindanao.

  24. cvj

    Antonio, i’m sorry i did not see your response (@12:13am). On underachievement,i take your point. Unfortunately, while the economics graduate may be capable of much more, he has to adjust to the available jobs. The work that the developed countries usually farm out overseas are those that are labor intensive, but routine (e.g. call center work, transcription, software coding and testing). Being ‘opportunistic’ is precisely what we want the government to be in terms of finding jobs for our people. Conversely, it also needs to address local labor shortages (e.g. of doctors & nurses) by liberalizing the importation of labor. It’s the only institution that has the capability of being a placement office of last resort – both directions. Government can facilitate charting the course for the future, but this is more the expertise of business-education sector partnerships.

    On trade liberalization, it’s a good idea whether on not Chavez agrees with it.

  25. Amadeo

    Cvj:

    We may have to differentiate between contract work being done by skilled/technical people over those done by unskilled or entry-level workers. Contract work in more developed countries can be very lucrative and rewarding. I know because I tried it once between jobs. Unfortunately, typical in the Philippine context is the contractual worker, say, in malls that only have tenure good for six months, fired and rehired as a perpetual temporary employee, sans permanent tenure and benefits.

    Thus, we have the supposedly contractual king in Philippine business, for example, prosperous enough to be counted among Forbes’ list of billionaires in dollars, but maintaining a cadre of contractual employees subsisting on threadbare wages. Shades of Wal-Mart, maybe? Yes, but Wal-Mart employees have permanent employment and invested with various fringe benefits.

    When I had an extended visit to the old homeland last year, I informally interviewed some of the employees of the newly-opened grandiose mall in our city in Northern Mindanao. Typically, a sales worker in one of the food outlets owned and managed by the mall owner was getting a daily wage of 115 pesos gross. Imagine how meager the daily take home pay would be, deducting travel and grooming expenses. One particular employee had to deduct 20 pesos travel expenses daily.

    Re unemployment figures, the US now shows under 5% unemployment (as low as 4.7%). But not being addressed are two factors necessarily impacting on this rate, the 10 million or so illegals who work under the shadows of the underground economy and secondly, what could be considered the country’s full employment level as enunciated by Keynes. Economists in the past point to 5.2+% as full employment level for the US, taking into account the country’s specific dynamics and accounting for that part of the labor force that will purposely or because of personal circumstances avoid getting into the workforce.

    Carl:

    Thanks for the revealing inputs on the current operations of PhilPack, especially the part about contract growing which is quite popular in at least one other industry in the area, poultry and egg production. But are the Lorenzo brothers still in management?

  26. cvj

    Amadeo, you bring up a very important distinction which i missed out. (In IT, i’m used to seeing contractuals earning more than the regular employees like me.) For the contractual workers in the Philippines, i think they are ‘hired’ and ‘fired’ regularly as a way of getting around labor law which should probably be revised to acknowledge business realities.

    I remember sometime in the late 80’s, Citibank had this big strike with its janitors and other admin staff who were hired directly on long-term contract basis. If i’m not mistaken, Citibank lost. After that, businesses started sourcing clerical, janitorial and other staff services from contracting agencies. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the model, but income disparities could be addressed by increasing the minimum wage. Also, in the retail area, letting in WalMart (if they care to) looks like a step up for the Philippines, despite its reputation as an employer in the US.

  27. antonio walanglaban

    i disagree, cvj. Opportunistim is a sterile solution. Strategic is how government should be. If you demand otherwise, you are asking for too little from our leaders.

  28. Carl

    Amadeo said: “Thanks for the revealing inputs on the current operations of PhilPack, especially the part about contract growing which is quite popular in at least one other industry in the area, poultry and egg production. But are the Lorenzo brothers still in management? ”

    From what my suppliers and associates in Cagayan de Oro tell me, yes the Lorenzo brothers have been retained. It could be part of the deal when they sold out to San Miguel Corp. and the UFC group, at least until the new management familiarizes itself. I doubt very much whether it is a long-term arrangement. Sooner or later, Danding Cojuangco (or his alter ego, Ramon Ang) will want to run things his way. Butch Campos will probably also have his own ideas. Most likely, under the new ownership, which is primarily Chinese, management will take on a more pragmatic, no-frills approach. The plan to shift to toll processing seems to come from the new owners.

  29. cvj

    Antonio, whether it’s in government or the corporate sector, i don’t place that much faith in ‘strategic planning’. It has proven to be an ineffective tool. I can understand the need when it comes to infrastructure (e.g. roads, bridges, public housing, mass transit, power) to plan years in advance because these activities take time to implement, but beyond that, any ‘strategy’ in the area of business and labor opportunities would be too speculative to be useful. If government invests resources in these activities, chances of payoff are slim. They are better off focusing on what is real now and organize for agility. It’s better to leave strategy and vision to entrepreneurs who have the aptitude and stomach for it.

  30. vic

    Walmart, the Home Depot and lots of retail Businesses are some of the Biggest employers now both side of the borders. Due to stiff competition from Chinese cheaper produced goods, businesses here, both in the U.S. and in Canada have to CUT cost in order to compete. That’s the reality. That’s where the Govt. And business leaders on both sides have to develop some kind of strategies that the reduced and lower pays and salaries should not affect much the standard of living of its citizen by outsourcing and taking advantage the availability of such talents abroad without the hassle of bringing the bodies in. Walmart, Macdonald, pays just slightly above the minimum, maybe $8-10/hr, but as a part time second job and a secure pension plan, free health care, free secondary education, subsidized university, what you take home is yours and yours alone to spend. Now if you happen to be a nurse or a doctor or a dentist, forget being a businessman, its up and down, you’re home free.

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