Mega Magazine: Hala Bira! Apec na!

Hala Bira! Apec na!
by Manuel L. Quezon III

October 20, 1996

(Special for MEGA Magazine)

YES! The Filipino can. If you ever doubted that we’re well on the way to becoming a tiger cub economy, the preparations for Apec should convince you that, indeed, we’re world-class.

Imagine. We’ve told people like Desmond Tutu and Jose Ramos-Horta (Nobel Peace laureates both) to go fly a kite, and we managed to kill off Madame Mitterand, too. Well, okay, so maybe it was only for a day, and only because FVR was pooped, but hey, what chutzpah! We’ve blazed the trail in being generally unfriendly to visitors, too: didn’t Malaysia take a cue from us and crack down on a conference in Kuala Lumpur? You only had to see the footage on CNN to see that Mahathir’s people have learned some lessons from us – right down to sticking maong- and batik- clad activists in jail.

We’ve managed to do a Michael Jackson and produce a video featuring white, brown and yellow faces morphing into each other. We learned a thing or two from the late Soviet Union and will have specially designated lanes on Edsa exclusively for the use of VIP’s. Why, we’ll even transform part of our country -Subic- into something like the East Berlin of ten years ago, complete with a population under virtual house arrest; paranoid security forces complete with moles disguised as bellboys, waiters and (who knows) potted plants; trigger-happy soldiers who’ve vowed to prevent even a single fly from landing on a guest’s head ( the several megatons of firepower that’ll be evident in Subic should reduce any fly -and the person it’s perched on- to vapor); and fabulously expensive villas for visiting dictators.

Not bad.

And just so it’s clear that our being world-class doesn’t mean we’ve lost our soul, traditional Filipino values are being asserted, too. The value of cleanliness (that’s why they’re trucking squatters out of town). The value of land (that’s why the squatters’ shacks have been bulldozed). The value of hospitality (which is why our soldiers aren’t content with turning Subic into a garrison state: they’ve making lists of people to arrest just in case any idiots get it into their heads to exercise free speech). And most of all, the value of kodakan : for all of the impressive things I’ve mentioned are all part of our nation’s gearing up for Apec.

Think of Apec as the Mother of All Cocktail Parties. You thought Ferdinand and Imelda’s parties were impressive? Wait till you see this one unfold on your television screens (that’s as close as you, me, or 99.9% of the Filipino people will get to the party of parties).
From November 22 to 26, Bill Clinton (Gloria Macapagal’s batchmate -it’s said she’s already ordered elevator shoes so she won’t risk wasting her Kodak moment with him), the Prime Minister of Japan (no, he isn’t the Tancho mascot), and the three stooges of repression known as Suharto, Mahathir, and Goh, together with other heads of state and a flood of ministers, aides, assistants and other hangers-on, will be the personal guests of Fidel Ramos.

While FVR and the big shots are entertained by the Singing cooks and Waiters Atbp. (not all of whom will be PMA graduates in disguise), and enjoy the comforts of their brand-new villas in Subic, assorted ministers and aides will be zooming around Manila trying to look busy.
They will be trying to figure out how to make big words like “globalization” and “liberalization”, not to mention “free trade” apply to our little lives. Undertaken, of course, between sips of fine wines and nibbling on assorted appetizers which are too luxurious for you and me but which, unfortunately, people seem to think are good for public servants.

Globalization means that one day, boys and girls, our dreams of a world like the Coca-Cola Christmas ads and the Walt Disney song “It’s a small world after all” will come true. A borderless world in which every single human being will have the freedom to choose between Pringle’s and whatever passes for the local version of V-Cut. A paradise in which Cadbury’s and Hershey’s, Coke and Pepsi, Domino’s Pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken, not to mention Kia and Audi, IBM and Motorola will be as accessible as Choc-Nut, Sarsi, Greenwich, and uh… Sarao are to us, now.

This will change life as we know it. It means countries can’t be snobs anymore, because anyone, everywhere, will have the right -and the purchasing power- to demand value for money. Say you like pickles. Thanks to globalization, you will be able to buy Polish, American or Lady’s Choice pickles, depending on which pickle tastes best to you (or costs less). Not only that. Our local pickles will have to be world-class if they’re to survive competition from abroad. Result: a satisfied pickle consumer.

As go the pickles, so goes the world. Globalization will also mean the end of protectionism, a sweet idea gone haywire. Protectionism is the belief that a country should try to create jobs for its own people, and then protect them from the nasty capitalists abroad who will try to sell you Mai-Lin luncheon meat at a price cheaper than Purefoods’. Protectionist policies were set up with the understanding that no country can hold its head high in the world if it doesn’t have the capacity to produce its own luncheon meat (plus boring things like steel and tractors). Knowing that foreigners will sell their mothers in order to undersell struggling local entrepreneurs, governments went a step further and passed laws and instituted quotas -or lists of items which can only be imported in small plus highly-taxed quantities. This would hopefully keep foreign products out long enough to get consumers used to the local garbage before foreign garbage was let in.

Let’s go global

Unfortunately, protectionism had some nasty side effects. The car you drive to work everyday is one. Thanks to protectionism, you’ve paid much more for your car than what it’s worth; not that you had any alternative, because all we have to show in terms of vehicle self-sufficiency are those awful stainless steel jeeps driven by thieving policemen. This is what protectionism does, and that’s why people hate it (this is also why despite it’s best efforts, the government can’t stop the rampant smuggling of Mai-Lin luncheon meat).

Still, there are some people who like protectionism. They belong to two groups: the first is businessmen who have actually benefited from protectionism, and who want to keep their hold on market (read my lips: monopoly). The other group are the batik-loving types who sincerely believe that you and me shouldn’t waste our time deciding between 2, 4, even 6 brands of toothpaste when any old brand will do. If you don’t like it you can always gargle salt water or chew on sugar cane. In addition they firmly feel that no one realizes that globalization will lead to many Filipinos losing their jobs; because honestly (here’s the pickle analogy again) once you’ve tried an American kosher deli dill, you’ll never want to try Lady’s Choice again (so there goes the pickle factory in Sucat). Specially if the American pickle’s cheaper (and imported pa! truly a pickle to be proud of).

You don’t have to worry much about the first group because they have their fingers in other pies so they’ll never go broke. The “Leftists,” though, are a tougher nut to crack. They’ve gotten people like farmers, fishermen and the urban poor all upset. They’ve even vowed to be generally rude to FVR’s guests at Apec. Not a good idea, specially with 26,000 soldiers in the Subic neighborhood.
Now the support staff of the VIP’s will also be working on liberalization, too. Liberalization means getting rid of those irritating and stupid rules which, among other things, dictate that you have to pay the Bureau of Customs ten pesos for not opening packages mailed to you from abroad, and paying huge bribes in case they decide to open them. Liberalization means making life easier for you, me, and foreign companies who are dying to make money here. Liberalization means a day when forms in quadruplicate will vanish from this earth, and corrupt government employees with them (to be replaced by greedy businessmen, which is fine; it’ll drive country club shares up).

In real life, liberalization will mean that if you’re a foreigner and want to invest in the Philippines, the government will roll out the red carpet. The traditional way was to take your money, spit on you, and then get angry if the foreigner demanded at least some of his money back. If we roll out the red carpet, chances are that not only will businessmen do business here, but their parents will retire here, and their in laws will come over as tourists, meaning more jobs for us brown folk.

Liberalization also means that we will be sorting out our confusing laws and trashing most of them, so they can be replaced with less confusing ones. Hopefully as similar to the laws of places like Hong Kong and other centers of unbridled capitalism, where the law basically consists of Thou shalt shaft, but thou shalt not kill, blessed be the name of the government.

The big “L” world is the guiding spirit behind “Free Trade,” basically is the process in which businessmen, smart enough to sense the opportunities opened up by globalization, and who are sure they’ll be safe from governmental blackmailing because all those nasty laws have been abolished, can sell what they want to whomever they want, for whatever price the market is willing to bear.

Neat, huh?

This is what Apec is all about. Heavy stuff. Wait: there’s an added bonus, by the way. We get to put up signs saying “Bill Clinton slept here” and “Suharto made wiwi there”, which definitely means more and more tourists will come. Just like they did after Imelda set up that international film festival. Oops, bad example…

Anyway, Apec is all about making a good impression on the ministers who will be doing the real work (and who get to take a vacation after Apec until the next one; hey, globalization takes time), and specially on Uncle Suharto, kuya Bill, etc. Think of Apec as the biggest luau you’ll ever see, and you’ll understand why FVR and company are going all-out to make sure no flies land in the pu-pu platters, I mean ointment, that is this month’s summit. If we pull this off, we earn everyone’s respect and get another Michelin star in the guide books. Investors will come in, there’ll be more jobs, and you will be able to afford all the imported pickles you want.

Best of all, everyone in schools and most office workers get to have another extended weekend from the 22nd to the 26th.

Sounds like a win-win situation to me. Why even the Leftists you thought had all gone out of style get to hold their own version of an El Shaddai meeting. Everybody’s gonna party. We’re the Fiesta Islands after all. And soon, we’ll be nibbling on Singapore’s tail. Won’t that be fun!

That’s what all the sacrifice us Filipinos have been making are all about. Progress and the big pay off.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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