Sadder than sad

By Marlen V. Ronquillo

It was not about mass murder and mass mayhem, the sickening, gory and dehumanizing stories of human depravity that we are all too familiar with. But it was easily the saddest story of contemporary times.
Even the efforts of The Manila Times’ editors to write headline so subtly, “RP trails Asean peers in per capita income,” cannot obscure the depressing let-down of the story: We are about to be the sub-Sahara of the Asean region.

The story essentially said that we will have today’s per capita of Indonesia by 2015.

We will achieve the 2009 per capita income of Thailand by 2028. We will be at par with the 2009 per capita of Malaysia by 2038.
Why? Because our 2009 per capita was a tiny, wee bit—a fraction—of the 2009 per capita incomes of the three countries.

Forget about Singapore. We cant be at par with its 2009 per capita in half a century.

Projections made by the Central Bank were based on Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand growing at normal growth rates with occasional speed bumps.
And us, working extra-hard and doubling our growth efforts. What if Indonesia makes the determination to surge ahead, a country of more than 200 million people unleashing economic energy held back by authoritarian rule and the crony capitalism that is the usual appendage of authoritarianism?

What if the red shirts and the yellow shirts of Thailand suddenly drop their protesting zeal and the attendant violence? What if Malaysia makes go of its program to set up technology enclaves that would rival those of Tel Aviv?

The results would be easy to state. We would so lag behind that we would be discouraged from even playing catch up. All these three would post a century gap in growth achievement. They will join the BRIC economies. We would slide deeper into the league of unbelievable non-performers, into the category of the sub-Saharas of the world.

Questions. Are we so hopeless? Can’t we not claw our way back into the league of elite performers? Can we not summon back to life the creativity and energy of the first three decades of the Republic? The same creativity and energy that made us the second best performing economy in Asia in the 60s?

No. We are a spent force, a tired, uninspired people that has forgotten how to succeed. We cannot summon anything anymore. Over a 40-year stretch, we put into motion a destructive process of dumbing-down, a determined slide to mediocrity. And we are reaping what we have sown now.

To survive, we have been dispatching off our people into all sorts of overseas jobs and those diasporas of workers make up the single brightest spot of the Philippine economy.

Then, we sell off, figuratively, the remaining Hidalgos and the Lunas—the most valuable chunks of the national patrimony.

The best-case scenario is to narrow the per capita gap to make Indonesia two or three years ahead, Thailand five years ahead and Malaysia with a
10-year head start. Achieving parity in per capita with the three neighbors is mission impossible. The basic essentials for growth—the foundry for sustained development—are in place in the three countries.

This enables Thailand to set its capital on fire for three months and indulge in orgies of violence—then recover rapidly. Even with the bloodletting in Bangkok, a seven to eight per cent GDP growth is still the norm for Thailand

Nothing can stop Indonesia now. It is now into the ad placement game on the global TV channels to tout its new-found dynamism. Malaysia is far, far ahead.

The thing going for us is a fresh start. A credible political leadership with a real mandate is a potent capital—if the new, popular leaders do not squander the mandate. We can leverage the popular leadership on so many fronts: inviting investments, securing loans and grants, inspiring the bureaucracy to rally to the call for integrity in public transactions to cut down the cost of doing business.

And pursue great and over-ambitious programs as well.

If the popular leadership fails to translate this immense goodwill and political capital into phenomenal growth surges, come 2016, these will be the per capita reports:

We will have the 2016 per capita of Indonesia in 10 years, Thailand in 25 and Malaysia in 50 years.

Vietnam is five years ahead in per capita income and so are Laos and Cambodia.

Myanmar, recently freed from its dour and brutal rulers, is at par with the Philippine per capita.

By 2016, if we squander this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put the country on the path of growth, we would be truly the sub-Sahara of the Asean Region, a hopeless, prostrate country that lives off the DH we send off to Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

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