Making deals work for the people
It’s a storyline constantly told the public whenever a president returns from an overseas trip: He or she has secured this much worth of aid or investments for the country.
The figures are often broad estimates (rounded up for good measure), to give the public the impression that the cost of chartering a large airliner to fly the presidential party, the Cabinet, various hangers-on, and their spouses and partners to a foreign capital was well worth it.
When the tallies are made, those who do the tallying tend to err on the side of generosity.
Was this deal negotiated months or years in advance and merely signed in the presence of the two heads of state?
No matter. Put it in the count.
Was it a private-sector deal that would have happened anyway without government help?
Throw it in.
Was another agreement a prospective pledge that may or may not happen rather than an actual “done deal”?
Include it. The more the merrier.
The tone of the official press statements on President Duterte’s recent trip to Japan was no different. No less than the President was quoted as declaring that the Philippines is now in “a golden age of strategic partnership” with the North Asian powerhouse that is also the world’s third largest economy.
The business deals involved manufacturing (particularly shipbuilding, iron and steel), agribusiness, power, renewable energy, transportation, infrastructure, mineral processing, retailing, information and communication technology, and information technology-business process management.
Mr. Duterte met officials of certain Japanese companies and witnessed the signing of business-to-business memoranda of understanding as well as letters of intent on investment plans and expansion of operations in the Philippines.
Key Cabinet officials also met with their Japanese counterparts to discuss improved market access of Philippine products to Japan and the lowering of tariffs for our agricultural products such as banana, pineapple and mango, and, possibly, the eventual removal of these duties in the future.
More importantly, the Philippine and Japanese leaders fleshed out the details of a 1 trillion yen aid package that the latter had earlier promised, as well as financial and material support for the rehabilitation of war-ravaged Marawi.
The final tally was an impressive $6 billion worth of deals and aid.
But there is something worrisome about this practice of hailing a president’s “achievements” after a trip overseas (rather like the practice of bringing home pasalubong).
It is, as an adage puts it, “making a virtue out of necessity” — a necessity for foreign governments and businessmen, to be precise.
The truth is that the need is mutual. And when viewed in the context of the Philippines’ 100-million-strong population — the most dynamic and consumption-oriented in the region, according to various studies — it can be argued that any given company in another country needs access to this market more than we do (for there are many alternatives eager to enter the local market).
We need them, yes. But they need us just as badly for their own economies to keep growing. They need to sell their products to us, to lend us their money, and to extend “official development assistance” to help them secure markets and influence. In fact, sometimes other countries need us even more than we need them.
It is time we changed the collective mindset, and stopped shortchanging ourselves with the help of officialdom and its private business enablers (who all want a photo op with the president), as well as analysts and rah-rah teams that propagate the image of a Filipino head of state coming home with goodies so generously given by foreign leaders.
Instead, the focus should be directed to making these investments, business deals and government aid work for the Filipino public. Concretizing these deals sealed abroad into actual benefits for the people is what deserves real praise.
But as has been demonstrated so abundantly in the past, we are often great with making plans but do poorly in executing them. The focus should be on making these deals work and reaping the maximum benefit for Filipinos, whether these are from Japan, China, or other countries that the President will visit in the future.
That requires real work, not just a press release.
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