Truth, and consequence

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Embracing the truth for our survival as a nation is essential. There’s no escaping from the causal effect of consequences arising from our basic reality.

Surely, there will be a deluge of insights, nay sermons, that will be written and advocated for this Week of Holiness. Let’s listen intently to many of them for during this period, our minds are open for the retreat towards personal salvation from lessons that will pull us away from the mistakes that we have committed.

But I’ve decided not to stray on this generous sharing of lessons. Instead, I would venture on identifying three most vital truths that inevitably cause the hardships that confront us.

First truth. Our country is agricultural. But we are remiss in harnessing our agricultural strength. We are blessed with fertile land and we are surrounded by seas and rivers that boast of abundant marine resources. Yet, we cannot claim that we are self-sufficient in food.

We need one to two million metric tons of rice from Vietnam, India, Thailand and Cambodia to fill the growing gap between the higher demand and inadequate supply of grain.

Fruits and vegetables from abroad also flood our markets and choke the local products that our farmers produce. We also even import fish and other seafoods from Taiwan, China and other neighboring countries. The perennial problem on smuggling worsens the vicious cycle of justifying the short-term needs for lower prices of agricultural commodities. The utter lack of logistical infrastructure to efficiently link our farmlands to the market reflects our inability to value our natural strength.

As a result, our long-term chance to be independent from agricultural imports is almost down the drain. Our more than five million farmers are mostly poor and deprived of the basic rights to good education, decent housing, access to dependable medical services and, believe me, the dignity that is supposed to come from feeding the entire nation. No wonder that the usual havens of insurgency are the impoverished rural communities.

Second truth. The business processes of the Philippines discourage growth and competitiveness. As I lamented in my previous column, there are 13 procedures that must be hurdled to even start a business venture here. This will be followed by 13 various taxations during operations.

Then 22 procedures are needed to start operating a physical facility such as manufacturing plant. These steps don’t even include yet the occasional demands of local executives who could impose additional unnecessary expenses even to the most legitimate business enterprises. I’ve been privy to the complaints of local and foreign businessmen who were victims of unscrupulous barangay leaders who would give more premium to their personal caprice over the number of workers who will be employed from their localities and the tax revenues that are supposed to be collected.

As a result, we are ranked 95th out of 190 countries in terms of ease of doing business, according the 2019 World Bank report. No wonder that the choice of business destinations are Thailand and Vietnam before we are considered.

Without ensuring that the levers of a successful business environment are consistently protected, then the aggregate wealth that would be enjoyed by the people is lost. Poverty prevails, competitiveness becomes the norm and widespread economic deprivations continue. As of 2022, also according to World Bank, the Philippines is ranked 15th out of 90 countries in income inequality, with more than 30 million of our citizens living in poverty.

And the third truth, we have one of the best natural tourist attractions in the world, but we are not the top tourist destination. Our airports have been left behind. The first and last impressions that would be imprinted in the minds of our visitors are the long queues that could be avoided and fixed. The lack of waiting and dining facilities is a nightmare. The delays in taking off and landing have been beyond the level of patience that passengers could tolerate.

Tourism infrastructure, security and safety concerns and accommodations are the usual blackholes that would deter guests from endorsing the country to their friends. As a result, we failed to be the real tourism jewel in this part of the globe and missed the income that our neighbors, such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, enjoy.

The inevitable consequences of our inability to develop our nation’s strengths as assets for growth and competitiveness are understandable.

We must, therefore, reverse the said consequences by squarely changing the methods, attitudes, policies and practices that created this list of truths.

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