Thursday, May 10, 2007

Crisis and opportunity in the May 14 Philippine elections

The upcoming May 14 elections provide many opportunities. Unfortunately, many of these opportunities are not for the country. Aging, education-deficient B-actors and singers, disgraced politicians, Marcos loyalists, vacuous oppositionists, and rent-seeking administration candidates fill the roster of political applicants. Of the 37 Senate candidates, only a handful led by Joker Arroyo and the Ang Kapatiran candidates are worthy of the Filipino vote. In Congress, at least 160 family-based political-dynasties are seeking to further entrench themselves. The stench of their sense of entitlement is overwhelming. They will murder to ensure they win. Already, the PNP has recorded 125 election related deaths. Who let the dogs out (with apologies to our canine friends)?

What options do we have amidst this game-fixing political contest? Despite the barren political landscape, there are cracks, which instead of falling into; we can use to improve our lot. All we need to do is identify and recognize the opportunities, band together, and seize it. Most of you know these already, but let me frame it this way: Let not the politicians or mass media dictate the political conversation. It is us who should put forth the ideas that address poverty and social inequality. The current climate, that of political cynicism and indifference, presents opportunities for a radical break with how things are done. The vision is known, the ideas articulated, the strategies are there. Some of these are:

1. Direct Cash Transfers (DCT) to the poor. The term for a handful of proposals to help the poor in ways that recognizes their resilience, capabilities, assets, and rights. Worldwide, there is a growing movement for a movement for a basic income guarantee (see BIG). With BIG, the government periodically provides a uniform amount to each adult permanent resident, regardless of economic and employment status, as subsistence. This amount will replace most welfare services, shrink the government bureaucracy, promote economic liberty, raise wages, and stimulate economic activity, among others. DCT and BIG initiatives have documented successes worldwide. Funding for a BIG can be sourced from more efficient tax collection, less tax exemptions, collection of economic rents (use of natural resources), savings from downsized welfare services, etc.

2. Hyperwage. The StreetStrategist (SS) aka Thads Bentulan has formulated the Nobel Prize-potential Hyperwage Theory (See HT, you will need to join the discussion group first.), which is more radical than a communist revolution or right wing junta. According to the SS, pricing human labor at its true value will launch the country into developed country status in the shortest time possible. Extending Keynesian multiplier theory into its fullest potential, higher wages with base reference point of P20,000/month for household helpers, directly transfers cash to the poor; generates higher quality productivity; increases consumption; and ultimately stimulates investment. Objections to HT such as runaway inflation, barriers to implementation, cost, etc. are discussed and resolved. For example, inflation will reach an asymptote (a physical limit). Besides, we are already paying for many First World prices (consumer electronics, foreign travel, foreign consultants, etc.). While redistributive, the rich, especially the entrepreneurs, will eventually benefit from increasing consumer purchasing power.

3. Conscious capitalism. An emerging buzzword for social entrepreneurs’ (another buzzword) use of capital. Simply, poverty, social inequity, and environmental degradation are prevalent. However, the solutions can make for good business. Alternative energy, loans to small start ups and poor communities, fair trade business, socially responsible investing (SRI) etc. have good profit potential. Using ICT (information communication technologies), peer-to-peer lending and microfinance are beginning to carve an alternative niche to the banking industry, pay day cash loans, and predatory lenders. ( U.S. ) for example reported at least 240,000 users and nearly $60 million in loans since 2005. Other versions are Zopa (UK), and CircleLending. Lenders earn from loan interest. With Kiva, lenders do not earn interest but they do fund livelihood projects worldwide. Kiva’s repayment rate is 100%.

Providing other financial services to the poor, aside from capital, is also needed. Remittance and payment fees are too high for the poor, their overseas relatives, or farmer cooperatives. Firms such as have teamed up with LandBank, IT, and telephone companies to offer free e-commerce subcription services such as a trading and settlement platforms. Using SMS and working with cooperatives and local business shops, they are lowering the transaction costs for the “last mile of payment” or cash delivery to the barrio. The challenge for the expat Filipino community is the “first mile of delivery” or from the OFW to the Philippines. Gawad Kalinga’s Reunion Village, an integrated farm, retirement, husing, tourst, resort complex that is environment-friendly, will eventually have a market value of at least
PhP100 Million. More affordable transportation, medical equipment and services, basic tools and machinery, housing, energy, water supply, tourism, retirement facilities, IT services, food production, medicine are among the markets that Filipinos can enter.

4. Civil society as convergence points. Because politics and government are dysfunctional at so many levels; because many of our government officials and politicians do not have transformational leadership skills; because they have not articulated a national vision; there is a yawning opportunity for those outside of government and politics to articulate and implement a national vision. As the Gawad Kalinga, RockEd Philippines, GILAS, etc. movements show, nation building starts with a sense of community. Filipinos are also active in the international internet based volunteer group called NABUUR. It could be in housing, the youth, the educational sector, the environment, artists, etc. A relatively flat organization, open source type of communication and knowledge type, national focus, creative, energized, multi-media, and mass based is reviving civil society in the country. Without waiting for anyone, they are addressing the needs of specific sectors of society. They are providing opportunities for Filipinos who want to help- and there are many- in direct ways. They have national scope with transnational links. They are collectively challenging the status quo not with anger and pessimism, but by modeling change and edifying daily heroic actions to one another (GK’s bayani sa isa’t isa). They bring to the table skills, resources, imagination, persistence, and a will to succeed. See what happens when all these groups support and get together on a national scale.

5. Cultural resources. A direct consequence or probably a cause of (you choose) of civil society is a conscious focus on our cultural resources. You can observe it everywhere. Indigenous Philippine psychology (Sikolohiyang Pilipino) is gaining ground. The arts sector is booming, as well as the music scene (RockED seems to be the premier concert promoter these days). Because of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), IP groups are now more active and confident, especially in their negotiations with mining companies. The youth is active in design, outdoors, environmental, adventure travel, ICT, etc. that blend global standards with native innovations. Retirees and expats are enriching local initiatives. Futkal (football sa Kalye) in slums, Pinoy podcasts, adventure racing in the Rice Terraces, the annual Tour of the Fireflies (cycling around Metro Manila), the Philippine Hobie sailing challenge, Pinoy science and research, etc. are generating a lot of buzz. Promote culture and people run away with it with so many innovations.

6. Alternative technologies. Global warming, deforestation, regional conflicts over energy sources, increasing energy prices amidst increasing energy demand, water supply constraints, etc. are some of our challenges. However, these present opportunities. With billions living below the poverty indicator ($1/day), without adequate housing, water supply, and electricity, innovations which address these challenges have much potential. Whether you laugh at him or not, Daniel Dingel’s water car has spawned an international e-group that has built on and innovated on his original concept car. I won’t anymore hark on the economic and energy potentials of coconut, bagasse, rice, corn, recycled cooking oil, solar, wind, etc. We’re doing it already. The Enhancing Household Biomass Energy Use in the Philippines for example is a good resource. A major issue though seems to be maintenance and scaling up. Once communities purchase or receive donated equipment, i.e. water pumps, solar cells, its maintenance and replacement becomes costly. What is needed is an indigenous way of maintaining tools and equipment. Again, open source provides a solution. For example, the MULTIMACHINE tool, made out of recycled car parts is a transportable, easy to build, affordable, all-purpose machine tool, steel-rolling equipment, educational and livelihood project for rural communities. It can be used to build homes, repair water pumps, manufacture tools, etc.

These are just but a few of the emerging trends not only in the Philippines , but worldwide. The Philippines and the United States , as well as many other countries have incompetent, corrupt, and uninspiring leaders. Why haven’t these countries collapsed? It is because of its resilient and innovative citizenry. This is where change will ultimately emerge. Last year, the global warming debate was burning out (excuse the pun) because of the heavy lobbying of the oil industry. Look what happens when various sectors of society get together. Clean energy and conservation are now the IN thing.

The ultimate goal of national development is fulfillment of basic household needs, green industrialization, social equity, and a knowledgeable and cohesive citizenry. With so many challenges facing us, all we need to do is get together, innovate, and work hard. Politics is only one of several ways to achieving it. If we can’t access political power, let us remake the political landscape.

Disruptive technology and ideas are needed.

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