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Private citizens fill government’s gaps

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2021 - 12:00am

Before the pandemic struck, the country was well on its way towards achieving its national ambition of tripling the average annual income of our citizens to $13,000 and achieving zero incidence of poverty by 2040. Thanks to the series of reforms started in 2010, the economy’s growth accelerated to six percent per year, unemployment and poverty steadily declined and the country’s financial position grew from strength to strength. Goldman Sachs even hailed the Philippines as “Asia’s bright spot” given our phenomenal progress.

But the pandemic hit us hard. Much has already been said about how the contagion could have been better managed. Suffice it to say that due to a series of politically-motivated decisions, miscalculations and blunders, we experienced the most severe economic reversal in the region with the poorest prospects for recovery. Not only will it cause us to fall further behind in ASEAN’s development race, it also means that our national ambition will no longer be attainable within 20 years. From Asia’s bright spot, we are back to being its sick man. The worst part of it is that it is self-inflicted.

Last week, I met our former Trade Ambassador to the Americas and Europe, Benedicto V. Yujuico, who is also the current president of the Philippine Chamber for Commerce and Industry (PCCI). Ambassador Yujuico invited me for a chat following some articles I wrote about the political landscape, the IT-BPM industry and the state of the economy as a whole.

I was pleased to discover that the ambassador and I share the same passion for nation building. Like me, he too is worried about the pandemic’s implications on the quality of life of our countrymen. He is engaging and knowledgeable on what we must do, as a country, to move forward.

First and foremost, we agreed that we must rebuild our industries. The more senior among us will still remember how the Philippines was among Asia’s industrial leaders before Marcos pulled his number on us. Ambassador Yujuico’s family used to own General Textile Mills, which was one of Asia’s most advanced in the 60’s. Sadly, GenTex was a victim of the Marcos kleptocracy, just as many other industrial conglomerates of the era were.

The country lost much of its industrial footing since then. A recent study by the ADB shows that the Philippines can only produce some 500 products today as compared to more than 2,000 products by Thailand and Malaysia. Our situation is worse today following the pandemic. The need to widen our manufacturing base cannot be overstated, given the widening gap between our imports and exports. More importantly, the manufacturing sector provides the jobs where those working in subsistence farming can migrate to. Jobs in manufacturing pay higher wages, provide benefits, plus security of tenure.

There is no escaping it, Ambassador Yujuico stressed, we must enact the reforms to make the country more conducive to manufacturing. Eco Cha-cha and the CREATE law are good, but much more needs to be done, not the least of which is solving our expensive power cost and difficulty in doing business.

Ambassador Yujuico and I also agree that the country must secure its place in the world of tomorrow by building our competencies in next generation industries. As one of the leading countries in the IT-BPM industry, the Philippines is in the best position to be a source country for artificial intelligence, robotics, software coding, big data analytics, blockchain and the like. Next generation technologies have the potential to turbo-charge the economy to a prosperous future.

To achieve leadership in this realm requires the massive up-skilling of our work force. Education and skills development is the foundation of it all. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the Department of Education and CHED are lagging behind.

Determined to secure the country’s place in next generation industries, Ambassador Yujuico, through the PCCI, has taken the initiative to fill the skills gap. In partnership with Huawei Technologies, the PPCI built a learning center using equipment and learning curriculums from Huawei. As a man of means, the ambassador built the 1,000-square meter facility adjacent to his office in the Bay Area at his own cost. Called the PCCI Innovation Center, the training center is managed by the ambassador’s US-educated grandson, Miguel Yujuico.

The sprawling center provides a Silicon Valley experience with its open layout. The center is fitted with a large learning hall (suitable for face to face and e-learning), conference rooms, study lounges, discussion rooms, works paces, thinking spaces and a roof deck lounge. It even has its own coffee bar. The facility is rigged with microcontroller and microprocessor kits, personal computers and 3D printers for product modelling. The center is on the cutting edge in both design and equipment.

The Innovation Center provides courses on cloud technology, artificial intelligence, software coding and more. They also collaborate with local universities for specialized, tailored curriculums. These courses are ideal for tech savvy Filipinos, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and the academe. Courses begin this summer.

All learning tracks are free of charge. Those interested to know more about the Innovation Center can log on to their website, www.innovate.com.ph.

I ended my time with Ambassador Yujuico and Miguel feeling encouraged. My uncertainty over the country’s future turned to guarded optimism. I was reminded that our progress, as a nation, does not solely dependent on government, even if it sets the tone through its policies. To a larger extent, it rests on civil society and people like Ambassador Yujuico who do what is needed even without government’s support. Of course, not all of us have the resources of the ambassador but it does not take away from the fact that the private sector always fills the gap when government cannot.

We see it over and over again – in the efficient management of public utilities, in building world class infrastructure (through PPP), in providing reliable health care, in providing mass housing, in providing COVID vaccines and more. Even the most humble of our citizens fill the gap through their innovation, hard work and sacrifice.

If government is slow and lacking, it does not mean we are doomed to failure. We can still count on the private sector to take the lead and press on to build the country.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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