Saturday, May 28, 2005

Comments on Prof. Ylagan's Hocking the Future

Comments on Hocking the Future By Amelia H.C. Ylagan (week of May 9-13, 2005,
Hola Nilo, as always, your comments are insightful. I totally agree with you, especially if I was in government or business. With a huge foreign/domestic debt and a bloated bureaucracy, government has no funds for anything else, particularly infrastructure development, education, social services, and defense. Indeed, raising capital is expensive whether for government or business activities (how the heck will we be able to buy a house without help from our families/relatives?).

My comments though were geared more to a strategic framework of governance. Correct me if I am wrong, but your starting point is that you are wearing the shoes of a government official. If so, then the starting point is: Government has no money, so it needs to raise funds creatively.

But what if you were wearing the shoes of business or civil society? Then the framework of analysis be: Should we prioritize solving the process inefficiencies of graft and corruption in society and hopefully benefit by: a) generating savings/ revenues from better tax and fees collections; b) renewed confidence in government leading to investments, grants, loans, etc.?

I have no answers to these chicken or egg questions (especially since I don’t want to be in government’s shoes at present--but that is escaping the problem). Also, are we discussing from different perspectives, me from a social science perspective and you from a financial and operational point of view? How do we combine both or other perspectives?

Is the ability of businessmen to discount market difficulties and distortions in their operations different when it comes to (political) governance? It is just that government has no credibility in asking everyone to pitch in under their direction despite graft and corruption at all levels of government. It might be too much to ask without meaningful reform (what with good people consecutively resigning from government).

In a way, I was asking Prof. Ylagan, what happens if the citizenry starts to discount the pervasiveness of government in our lives? Our parents sort of did that during Marcos’ time. But what if it is done on an even wider scale that parallels what Gen. Almonte wrote earlier this year (on using the market)? The presence of a large number of NGOs and the size of the underground economy doing what government should be doing, I think, are indicators of this. Social (or environmental) movements grow in proportion to the negative effects of globalization, poverty, bad governance, environmental impacts, etc.

On the part of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs-take note Ed…), I wrote earlier that they are organizing on their own and trying to be self-sufficient in all possible areas. What does this mean? Are their earnings better utilized this way rather than going to government during the present time? What kind of social movement is it shaping up to be? I’ve attached below, from just one OFW e-group, the number of their related e-groups. Are the number and diversity signs of strength or weakness? Anyone into organizational network analysis will find this veeeeery intriguing (baka Frieda can do her dissertation on this). Even for entrepreneurs out there, this phenomenon raises intriguing possibilities.

FOR ONLINE BAYANIHAN and DAMAYAN at Global Filipinos in Information Technology (Fil-IT):

1. RuralComp - a mass computer literacy -
2. Database of the Future -
3. Tulong Pinoy Movement - the cyber NGO -
4. Bridging OFWs worldwide -
5. Vote for OFW Airlines -
6. Help my Hometown -
7. Lazaga Elem School - Pangasinan -
8. San Isidro Parish - Lipa-Batangas -
9. OFW Business / Investment Groups
10. OFW Monorail -
11. OFW Airlines -
12. OFW Transport Group -
13. OFW Business Center Group -
14. OFW Credit Card Company -
15. OFW Public Utilities -
16. OFW Marine Investments / Microfinancing -
17. OFW Telecom -
18. OFW Wellness Center -
19. OFW Subway / Railway -
20. OFW-AFRRIE - Agricultural-Forest-Residential-Resort-Industrial Estate Model –
What models are being formed here? How is the Filipino diaspora different from the Jewish, Irish, Gypsie, Chinese, Asian, etc. diasporas of different historial eras (an article by Perry Diaz partly answers this)? I tell you, when it comes to civil society innovations, the Philippines is a global leader.


Hecks,One big problem for any start-up company or an emerging market like the Philippines, is the availability of cheap funds. We don't have that luxury due to our very leveraged situation and very low revenue base. This holds true for the thousands of SMEs in the country that provides a major source of employment for our country. Without funds to invest whether you are government or an SME, one's potential growth is limited.In that sense, we don't have a choice but to widen our ability to generate more revenues. One could label "graft and corruption" as a process inefficiency if government were a private undertaking. Some process improvements take time and any improvement on corruption will take some time.What the government has in the short term is the ability to create immediate impact on the revenue side. The tax base is just too narrow to support the needs of a growing population. A tax effort of 12.5% of GDP won't cut it.There remains many avenues albeit unpopular ones:1) Tax on text- not inflationary at all- original estimates were at Php5-6B. Anti-poor- not at all. Text used to be free but telcos started charging and yet they've seen a exponential rise in usage.2) Income tax on OFW's. Previously, Filipinos working abroad, paid between 1-6% income taxes until someone changed it. Some symbolic income tax will go a long way in increasing the tax base. Woe to the Philippine based employees who pay between 6-32% of their very depreciated peso earnings.Nation-building calls for everyone to pitch in.Hope things are going well for you and Tammy.Best regards.

May 23, 2005

Thanks for the article Hocking the Future. Sorry I couldn’t reply right away. I was away last week for a U.S.-Mexico border environment conference in Baja California, Mexico, which was very interesting. my comments on your article are the following:

I agree mostly with you comments. The government’s trial balloon announcement smacks though of desperation. It seems like they are now willing to go after the family’s jewels or the children’s trust fund, so to speak. After allowing our U.S and Ivy League-trained technocrats to borrow like there was no tomorrow, they are scraping the bottom for novel ideas.

Novel ideas though should be equated with the need to address issues of graft and corruption in the BIR, BOC, DPWH, etc. Tax evasion/leakage/ exemption and the theft of government funds need to be addressed by government. Until bold reforms are initiated, our fiscal problems will linger.

With bold reforms in this sector, will come the energy, courage, and determination to address the issue of selective debt repudiation of Marcos-era debts and the aggressive renegotiation of the lopsided IPP contracts. Justice Puno has laid the legal conceptual framework for debt cancellation, especially for the BNPP.

But you know all of this already. What I want to stress though or ask is whether you sense a widening disconnect between the government/politicians on one side and the populace/civil society on the other side?

I am part of a handful of expatriate e-groups and the discussions increasingly speak of initiatives that discount the participation of government. There are initiatives and online discussions on OFW banking facilities, airlines (yes, they want to put up their own airline), countryside development projects, TV (pilot projects in existence), IT projects, job placements, health, education, etc. OFWs are organizing. They have the training, experience, and they are networking on a global scale.

OFWs as a social movement, I think, is occurring. Government and the Manila elite look at OFWs as naïve and immature people that can be manipulated and exploited. While there are many cases of exploitation, I am willing to bet that the best and brightest from the OFW world will get together and will organize to defend and promote their interests, even if this is against the government’s priorities.

When Jaime Zobel de Ayala gave that speech on the need to look at OFWs as a resource of the country, the government should not take it to mean that they can use OFW remittances to fund their corrupt and incompetent management of national affairs. OFWs have a sense of what they want to do with their earnings and letting the government use it is not one of them. They went abroad precisely to avoid interacting with government (they voted with their feet). To exploit their remittances is not only unjust, it is an insult to the sacrifices of OFWs.

This is not the way for government to be innovative. Rather it should be innovative in instituting bold reforms and limiting the pervasive influence of vested interests without leading to instability and violent class conflict. A third way of political economy is what is in order for the Philippines.

It is the task of Philippine intelligentsia, civil society, people’s organizations, citizens, government, politicians, and all concerned to develop this third way.
All the best.

Comments on the proposed medical malpractice criminalization bill

Just a few additional thoughts on the proposed medical malpractice bill filed by Philippine Senators.

1. This discussion has been ongoing for a few years now. While on principle I am against it, the continuing discussion and pressure to enact such a law may be reflective of the frustration and lack of action against erring doctors.

2. This situation then is also reflective of the impotence and neglect of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and other oversight or regulatory bodies on ensuring quality medical service from its members as well as resolution of malpractice complaints from the public.

3. Thus, the problem of medical practice can be seen at multiple levels both structural and professional. At the structural level, the medical profession is overworked, understaffed, poorly compensated, lacks equipment, unevenly geographically distributed, perhaps under-trained, frustrated, and discouraged, among others. Many have set their eyes on working abroad.

4. The national economy is not robust enough for prioritizing nutrition, health, and preventive medicine. Environmental degradation threatens national health, hence making heavier the workload of medical practitioners.

5. Note however, that it is the task of the national government to be more proactive rather than reactive. The root causes of medical malpractice should be determined. Are we training cohorts of incompetent doctors or is the system turning aspiring, dedicated doctors into frustrated, unhappy, and disillusioned doctors?

6. It is government’s task to create a positive, encouraging, and LEVEL, playing field for medical practitioners. I don’t have the answers to these deep structured problems, but a few initiatives may help.

7. The first of course is to stem the hemorrhaging of our doctors/nurses leaving for abroad. While we should encourage them to seek the best training wherever, they must return to ensure the health of the nation is not compromised.

8. This means a creative set of initiatives both financial and non-financial to retain our doctors and nurses, as well as to encourage those abroad to set aside some time during the year to practice in their home country and perhaps retire here to do consulting.

9. Because of its strategic location in the Asia-Pacific region and its deep talent, the Philippines should naturally be the regional health center of the region. Medical costs are rising in the Western world and the baby boomer generation will be retiring soon. Coupled with a deteriorating environment, health issues are on the rise. The Philippines should prepare to capture a slice of the growing health and medical services sector nationally, regionally, and globally.

10. Medical practitioners still need to be held accountable for their actions. Anecdotal evidence abounds on erring doctors, corruption, the negative side of the seniority and medical fraternity old boy/girl network, the pervasive influence of the pharmaceutical firms, etc. Short of legislating morality and competence, what else can be done to ensure accountability?

11. If one were an economist, one would use the market to ensure that competition brings out the best in everyone. The market works when the rules are enforced and there is perfect information. On the first, I think we have enough laws to address professional neglect/incompetence. On the second issue, perfect information, instead of laws we should develop a way where we can monitor the effectiveness of the medical practitioner, keep track of their professional progress (or errors), and relay this information to those who need it.

12. When we were a young nation and our communities more cohesive, the community doctor had personal and long-term relationships with one’s patients. I myself only visit doctors/dentists recommended by friends or family. The few cold calls I made resulted in less than satisfactory treatment. Community relations ensured that the doctor did his/her best. Communication, an essential component of medical service, was intense and of good quality. Rumors of negligence or incompetence were enough to kill a doctor’s business in a locality.

13. Monitoring, evaluation, and feedback work in business and industry. If it is transparent, participatory, and easily accessible this may be a better alternative to new laws that may further drive doctors/nurses abroad or raise the cost of medical services across board.

We need to think our problems through. The problems of the medical sector are deep seated and medical malpractice is only a symptom and not the underlying cause. It involves structural issues and not just the personal capabilities of the medical practitioner. Philippine society is different from the litigious American society. Maybe there is another way of ensuring both professional accountability and the strengthening of the medical services sector. Let us discuss this in a more holistic manner that encourages the various professions/disciplines in the country to develop in a competent and HUMANIST manner.

The country's loss: Dr. Raymundo S. Punongbayan

I was connected with an environmental consulting firm until 2003, when I left to do my PhD in anthropology in the U.S. Dr. Punongbayan was one of our top, occasional consultants (geology and seismology). In the mid-90s, in a public hearing, he received a thunderous applause when introduced to the participants. I'll never forget how he didn't have any transparencies and notes and made his presentation by drawing his points directly on the projector itself. As part of the team, I knew what he was going to say, but his lecture was still one of the best I've heard. Like many of you who have known him, being with and listening to the best, wisest, helpful, and most sincere people is one of life's greatest pleasures. He and his colleagues (who were with him when their helicopter crashed) will be missed.