The Explainer: New Year

Ying Ying: All around this house I see the signs. My daughter looks but she does not see. This is a house that will break into pieces. It’s not too late. All my pains, my regrets, I will gather them together. My daughter will hear me calling, even though I’ve said no words. She will climb the stairs to find me. She will be scared because at first her eyes will see nothing. She will feel in her heart this place where she hides her fears. She will know I am waiting like a tiger in the trees, now ready to leap out and cut her spirit loose.


That was a scene from “The Joy Luck Club,” and it distills the essence of parenthood: not to tie us down to our past, but to marshal one generation’s strength so that the next can aim higher, and achieve bigger things.

Pat, as you know, from time to time, we devote this show to focusing on an author, a title, an idea. I thought that to end the year on a positive note, and thus start the new on a note of optimism, we should focus on an idea, competitiveness, and a book that focuses on it.

So it’s competitiveness night on the Explainer, tonight. I’m Manolo Quezon. Join us as we see recipes for national self-improvement.


I. Minister Mentors


It’s interesting that Lee Kwan Yew chose, as his title “Minister-Mentor.” This was, of course, after he put in place the process to make sure one of his sons would eventually become Prime Minister.

But what’s interesting is something Lee realized: the crucial role mentoring plays in the development of competitive societies.

Not so long ago, there was a meeting between prominent Filipinos and  Lee Kwan Yew, Singapore’s dynastic Minister-Mentor.

Sitting at the feet of Minister-Mentor Lee, the Filipinos were suitably pleased to receive pearls of wisdom. Mainly businessmen, they asked: How can they contribute to nation-building?

Lee said, “you must join the fray.” It was not enough to pay taxes, or to preside over large firms, he said. They had to engage in governance, be part of the government, and not abandon the field to the politicians.

The Filipinos gasped.

They then asked him about fighting corruption.

Said the oracular Lee: “Where there are no queues, there is no corruption.”

The Filipinos gasped, again.

Now we can and should get inspiration from wherever we can find it. But I have to say, we should also look for it, and find it, here at home.

But where do we start?

The Asian Institute of Management together with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation publication, launched “In Pursuit of the Philippine Competitive Edge,” shortly before Christmas.

The full title says it all: In Pursuit of the Philippine Competitive Edge: An Oral History of a Continuing Journey By 50 wisdom-keepers.

It features the different views of 50 luminaries—respected personalities in our society, on Philippine competitiveness throughout the years. I was privileged to be part of this book project, as an essayist along with Dr. Michael Alba and Dr. Amelia HC Ylagan.

These fifty luminaries are, in effect, our minister-mentors, some of them literally having been government ministers in the past. The rest are all prominent in their various fields of endeavor.

Now my interest in this book was, of course, in terms of political change, as a means to foster competitiveness.

Two gentlemen in this book, one identified as having tried to mitigate the excesses of the Marcos years, and the other an eminent voice since the Edsa Revolution, have succinctly summarized the political call of the times.

Former Prime Minister Virata said, “We need the concentration, we have to develop more other areas, we have to complete the communities.” For the Philippines has lost its sense of national unity, or feelings of solidarity, which serve to moderate the winner-take-all nature of politics and governance.

And Jesus Estanislao points to the perpetual failure of the country’s leadership to institute the real rule of law, and thus genuine modernity –and by extension, authentic competitiveness- when he asked,  The prospect depends on many Filipinos are willing to take up the cudgels for deep genuine reforms. This is where we begin thinking: ‘Where will these reforms come from?’ Reforms always come from a set of individuals who see the future or wanting to change or committed to doing something, and I think it can be done.”

But for it to be done requires an appreciation of the past; and how each time the country has been confronted with an opportunity to institute change, it has shrunk from the task.

When we return, the role such books can have in our national life.


II. World Class Filipinos


Lewis: You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over. Europe has become the arena of realpolitik, the politics of reality. If you like: real politics. What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you’re headed for disaster!


That was a scene from “The Remains of the Day”. Professionalism –how we wish we’d see more of it! But professionalism, an essential element of competitiveness, requires an institutional memory.

So without further ado, let’s look at the book, and have a thoroughgoing talk with Dr. Federico M. Macaranas, Executive Director, AIM Policy Center.

When we return, the book’s specific prescriptions for competitiveness.


My view


The Philippines since 1962, has faced several choices, each of which presented the opportunity to expand democracy, integrate the formerly marginalized into the body politic, and rejuvenate public confidence in its political institutions. Instead, protectionism, not just economic, but political, was the preferred choice. The 1971 Constitutional Convention ended up pandering to a dictatorship that sent an entire generation of Filipino professionals, stifled by the dictatorship, into exile; an entire political generation was deprived of power until it came to geriatric and greedy power in 1987, in a sense triggering a second exodus as devastating as that of the 70s: the middle class exodus from the 90s to the present.

Yet a new Philippines, it must be said, is being born. Together with the academic and professional elite that migrated in the 70s went Filipinos of modest means who have only begun to establish themselves as a new, entirely different, middle class. Their influence in politics is only beginning to be felt, not in Metro Manila, but in the provinces. Proof positive that the lost opportunities of the past needn’t represent an eternal regret, but only a means for reflection in order to more firmly, and daringly, embrace the future.

To all of you, a peaceful, prosperous, new year –may all your aspirations come true.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.