Occupied territories we don’t talk about

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2018 - 12:00am

Filipinos can talk all they want, shout all they want, and fight all they want about sovereignty and territory but for as long as we remain colonial in mentality, indifferent to our own, and are never nationalistic in our choices and purchases, you can all STOP wasting time arguing over a “What if” because right now many parts of the Philippines, particularly urban centers and developed cities are genuinely occupied territory not just of China, the US, but many other countries. Just look at the names of stores, brands and labels being waved like flags and you all know that we lost our territorial integrity in more ways than one, a long time ago.

Most people don’t think much about foreign retail chains especially when they have good memories associated with them from abroad. But from the experience and vantage point of a neighborhood “Sari-Sari Store” owner, Barangay drug store owner, even the mini mall owner and his tenants, the unstoppable entry and local patronage of foreign retail chains means that their business will soon die because they cannot compete against the deep pockets of national and international chains who have huge capitalization because of their share holders who bought their stocks. Community businesses can’t compete with “national” and international chains because the latter have national, regional and international supply chains that operate on huge discounts and established bank funding or letters of credit. The locals are not even absorbed or enlisted to be partners in the community; they are simply ignored and obliterated through competition and sheer size.

Just about everywhere I travel in the Philippines, if it’s a city, urban center or rich town, there will be foreign coffee chains, foreign fast food chains, foreign convenience stores, foreign bulk retail outlet, even foreign drug store and cosmetic outlet. We even now have chain of stores selling consumer rejects and over runs competing directly with junkyards, electronics outlets etc. Ironically, what is government doing to insure the survival of actual retail stores within communities? I personally have not heard of government programs that train such small business owners or retailers on accounting, business process, networking, fund sourcing and supply chain management. I have not heard of small business incentives that reward or incentivize community-based business through tax exemptions, subsidies or the like. My fear is that eventually, the “rich” and the foreign will simply get bigger and bigger and rule businesses, using Filipinos for nothing more than cheap labor or suck them for royalties as they license or franchise businesses to the very people they displaced and whose communities and territories they occupied! In the end, will Filipinos end up being mere laborers manufacturing or retailing products designed to be sold to them as well? What do we call it: “niluto sa sariling pawis” or cooked with your own sweat?

For the record I am neither “anti-capitalist” nor “anti-business” foreign or local. I simply seek a balance where one group does not end up obliterating the other. I have warned people in the past about what happened to US and Filipino businessmen after they made an exodus to China believing cheaper production, lower costs and lower taxes would create a bounty of profit. The American businesses pulled out from US factories and set-up shop in China. That left a black hole of unemployment nationwide back in America, destabilized economies among “states” and left the businessmen with no substantial customers or buyers of their cheap products. I am worried that when big companies both international and national end up displacing local businesses and communities, that would ultimately destabilize their customer base and reduce the employment pool as well as kill the entrepreneurial spirit among Filipinos.

I am also reminded of a national retail chain that set up shop in Batangas City as well as Lipa City. It did not take long for them to discover that they had built their stores too close to each other, competed and destabilized the local economy and it forced them to scale down their flagship in Batangas City and concentrate in Lipa City. Recently a major bulk retail company broke ground in Lipa and already there are forecasts that they will displace nearby retailers such as two major malls and hardware outlets, cause huge traffic problems due to buyers coming from a 10-kilometer radius and eventually creating their own hell and self inflicted losses.

Political groups are picking on the South China Sea issue simply because it is a Catch-22 situation for government and President Duterte. Duterte has no choice but to engage China and work with China because all the other alternatives short of a shooting war we will never win, simply got the Philippines “lip service.” Yes the international court made a favorable ruling or at least that’s our interpretation of it. But “us and what army” or navy do we have to stand up to China and tell them to get out. In the mean time international business chains and their collaborators are buying up, building up and gobbling up community businesses as well as Philippine territory and most if not all of them are prime real estate.

Not only does the government need to come up with a legitimate and thorough plan of action to protect and empower local and small community based businesses, but it is about time Filipinos start talking about something closer to home and heart. We should not wait for a war, Martial law or disaster to awaken the Filipino in us not just in politics but also in taste, fashion and purchases. Instead of being customers for foreign business, products and brands, let us, little by little support and promote the business establishments in our neighborhood, villages or communities. Support local brands and products not just by buying them but telling them what you want, what products to make and tactics how to sell, promote and compete. We do it here in our village. Try doing it in yours.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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