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Business

Reverse brain drain

AS EASY AS ABC - The Philippine Star

“The indolence of the Filipino,” one of Rizal’s most impactful essays, is a piece I only managed to read piecemeal in college, so much so that I thought Rizal was justifying laziness by citing that Filipinos didn’t have to work so hard because if you throw a seed in your own backyard, it will grow into a crop or a fruit-bearing tree without much effort.

What he really said is that physical labor is really unhealthy to sustain in hot climate countries while rigid labor is sustainable for longer periods in colder countries. Because Filipinos can only sustain physical labor for a shorter period, Rizal said: “Nature…like a just mother has made the land more fertile, more productive, as a compensation. An hour’s work in the burning sun…is equal to a day’s work in a temperate climate; it is, then, just that the earth yield a hundred fold!”

Nature, though, is not the main contributor to “indolence” in his essay. The colonization of Spain stole the country’s most able-bodied inhabitants and plunged them into wars and fatal expeditions to honor the king. The colonizers put them into forced labor to cut timber for the king’s shipyards, “which hindered them from cultivating the very fertile land they have”. Some were sold to slavery to pay for tax debts. The very high taxes imposed along with cruelty, and the mental brainwashing of crooked friars that only the poor and not the rich could go to heaven, and death was the only consolation must have made them ask: “Work hard? What for?”

In a way, for the less than three million OFWs and professionals who decided to toil or practice their professions overseas, the insufficient opportunity for more generous pay in the country must have made them ask the question in similar fashion. “Work hard here? For how much?”

While financial reasons mainly create the brain drain, it is not the only reason. Professional fulfillment, a new experience, or the search for life’s partner that never showed up here are among the other causes of talent leaving the country. The thing is, to get these talents back requires nothing less than the creation of equivalent opportunities here. And still for many, the life they learned to live outside the country is just hard to turn away from. The simple truth is, if the brain drain is to be reversed, it is more realistic to expect it to come from foreign nationals embedding themselves here.

This reverse brain drain using talents of the world is actually legally available as early as 1995 when the Philippine Senate ratified the General Agreement on Trade in Services under the World Trade Organization. The senate ratification of these international agreements made the hiring of foreign nationals legal and liberalized. Thus, the constitutional provision that foreigners cannot practice their profession in the Philippines “unless otherwise provided by law” is satisfied. There is a Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) signed into by the Philippines for employing foreign professionals to implement the multilateral agreement, still pending full implementation. Especially in the field of engineering, medicine and science, the immersion of foreign talent locally would not only reverse the brain drain but even provide much needed technology transfer by way of practical education.

Note that for non-professional laborers such as construction workers, there is no constitutional prohibition on hiring of foreign nationals. That is why limitations written in our labor laws must be reconciled with this liberalization. If I singled out construction workers as an example, it is because contractors in the country do experience a lack of skilled and willing workers to keep up with new projects. Urbanization and modernization in the country will not let up and will further intensify. Any skilled foreign national willing to work in the extreme conditions of heat or rain should be welcomed, or in fact, should be invited.

Why would foreign nationals want to work in a country that fails to impress multitudes of its nationals who chose to work abroad? The answer in great part is that one man’s bane can be another man’s boon. We never really benefitted from reversing the brain drain because we haven’t implemented on reciprocities. Our people would have chances outside, and they do. Why then shouldn’t we reciprocate for those who wish to work and contribute here, whether motivated by opportunity, the beauty of the country, the support system available, or the lure of a faithful partner for life?

When historical conquerors and tormentors are present-day preferred investors and friends, the real king is market forces. Protectionism may have had its benefits, got us to where we are, but it will not take us where we want to go as a country. The real protection should come from the individual laborer and professional himself. Level up or be more industrious, be watchful of values and work ethics to be a global talent. The justifications for “the indolence of the Filipino” maybe outdated. If our national hero were to write an essay today, it might as well be a working draft about: “the resurgence of the Filipino”.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the tax committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

ACIRC ALEXANDER B BECAUSE FILIPINOS COUNTRY FOREIGN GENERAL AGREEMENT IF I ISLA LIPANA MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES RIZAL WORK
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