Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Diaspora as economic clout

Diaspora as economic clout

Posted 11:22pm (Mla time) Jan 24, 2005
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 25, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

AT THE GLOBAL Networking Pinoy convention in Cebu, you could slice the palpable altruism. How could "Global Pinoys" help a country skirting democratic debility? asked the delegates, a thousand or more Filipinos, of the diaspora. That was a take on John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural theme: "Ask not what your country can do for you...".

Over at the Cultural Center's Karangalan conference, the same value resounded. Delegates sought to mobilize "excellence to create a visionary Philippines," organizer Nicolas Perlas explained. "Without vision, the people perish," Isaiah wrote.

Will that goodwill create a critical mass enough to shatter crony governance that has brought this country to the brink of "democratic exhaustion"?

Retire-and invest-here, President Macapagal-Arroyo suggested at the Cebu forum organized by heiress Loida Nicolas-Lewis and the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations. Filipinos are, in fact, already the world's third largest remitter of hard currency, after Indians and Mexicans.

Use your economic clout to sledge hammer acceptance of reforms at home, First Pacific's Manuel Pangilinan suggested. Dismantle today's systems where personal relationships measure worth. Replace that with a meritocracy, where excellence is rewarded. Otherwise, the best and the brightest Filipinos will continue to pull up stakes at the first visa.

By happenstance, both conventions got underway just when former National Security Adviser Jose Almonte presented before the Foundation for Economic Freedom a provocative asking what most delegates had in mind: "Can We Deal With Our Problems Democratically?"

The Potato Famine of the mid-1840s drove one out of every four persons in Ireland to migrate, Almonte recalled. Here, embedded, self-reinforcing, crony governance crafts policies to further feather nests. In the process, they shove educated, innovative Filipinos abroad.

Ironically, they're welcomed by advanced countries needing talent. Thus, at last count, we have dislodged Mexico as the world's largest supplier of labor, the Asian Development Bank reveals.

The Philippines' strength is in it's people, the paper asserts. They're talented, inventive, educated and flexible-qualities many Global Networking and Karangalan delegates personified. In other countries, Filipinos flourish. But at home, they're stymied by governance of elites, by elites, for elites.

In oligarchic Philippines, "the top 10 talk to each other and politics and business are cross-hatched," Kate Askew of Sydney Morning Herald writes on a "Global Filipino," businessman Eduardo Cojuangco .

"In Australia, Cojuangco leads the life of a landed gentleman and racehorse breeder," the Herald notes in it's extended article, "The Two Lives of the Boss." But life is "not necessarily as simple on his home soil" for this tycoon.

During this thrice-a-year visit, Cojuangco parks his private Hawker Siddeley HS 125 jet in the New South Wales town of Mudgee (population: 8,500). His $3-million Spanish-style "hacienda" houses yearlings and sprawls at Gooree Park.

This "arguably richest man in the Philippines" avoids publicity. "But a window into Cojuangco's private existence opened on Dec. 30, when the one-time Philippine presidential candidate and crony of the late Ferdinand Marcos waved $1.78 billion under the nose of the board of the big Australian dairy company, National Foods," the Herald said.

Australian business circles concede "National Foods is as good as in the hands of the Philippine brewer." Cojuangco's offer is equivalent to 12.4 times historic earnings before taxes. It thrashed the only rival, Kiwi dairy company Fonterra. Today, Cojuangco is well on the way to becoming a major player in Down Under's dairy industry.

At home, Cojuangco's problem pivots around the Presidential Commission on Good Government's fight to return what it alleges are funds stolen from coconut growers, the Herald notes.

Corruption buster, Haydee Yorac relentlessly leads the drive. "From all appearances it appears that (Cojuangco) is managing SMC well," Yorac says. She emphasizes "appearances." When asked if Cojuangco has been good for the Philippines, all Yorac says is: "It was bad for the coconut farmers."

Supreme Court decisions will define part of that future, the Herald says. In fact, both the anti-graft court and the Supreme Court have already ruled that coconut levies are pubic funds.

"Asian business media regularly compares Cojuangco with Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra or Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: tough operators who've successfully made the transition to politics with qualities which, some argue, serve their countries well."

Will that track record square with Karangalan and Global Networking initiatives? With damaged institutions, the current governance cannot deliver, the Foundation of Economic Freedom's paper notes. "Let the market redeem our governance."

Is economic muscle-flexing by diaspora citizens the only recourse left to reduce crushing disparities? Are the Cojuangcos, Thaksins, Berlusconis the alternative remaining for countries that are increasingly crowded and whose people are impoverished, ill-fed and, as Indonesian scholar Soedjatmoko said, "badly in need of understanding themselves"?


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