MANILA, December 17, 2003  (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - You have to give credit to FPJ for being more politically savvy than people expect him to be. He noticed that band of political barnacles clutching on to him, conniving to make him look like their puppet, to play with as they please. By being a no show in his own "proclamation", FPJ served notice that he is his own man.

That was astute of FPJ. They told him the affair would just be about his nomination but they attempted to box him in by making it his proclamation. By not being there, FPJ is saying he is uneasy with them and their kind of politics-as-usual. But those politicos would not take a hint. FPJ must tell them clearly he would rather run on his own and thank you na lang for the support.

Indeed, there are those (me included) who are ready to give him the benefit of the doubt (if push comes to shove) but can’t help being skeptical because of these Marcos-era political barnacles positioning themselves behind FPJ. Mga lintik na linta, as columnist Tony Abaya calls them. They had their chance to drag this country down for at least three decades already (successfully too), isn’t that enough?

It would be nice if FPJ junks them all and puts up his own team, one that is fresh and hopefully as sincere as he is about making sacrifices for the country. FPJ does not need the Angaras and the Macedas and the Enriles. On the contrary, it is they who need him. Without FPJ, these grizzled politicos would be in the dustbin of history where they belong. They look at FPJ as their one last chance to screw this country all over again.

The problem is, it seems you can’t really run a decent political campaign in this country without associating yourself with characters you would normally not want to have anything to do with. While I am sympathetic to Raul Roco, I heard that a failed banker who is also a failed politician is going around town telling people he was promised the BSP Governorship if Raul wins. I asked Raul and he denies making such a promise. But then again, this is politics.

Thus far, the only sane politician I know is Noli de Castro for refusing to run as everyone is telling him to. When I last talked to Noli and his wife Arlene, they both told me a decision to run is difficult to make once you take the enormity of the job and the responsibility into account. Hey, at least the De Castros are thinking beyond their egos. They are giving the Malacañang job more respect than most politicians do. But an epidemic is upon us and I am afraid they could soon be contaminated too.

For now, we can only pray that FPJ continues to be more discerning of all the lintik na linta around him. Given that our elections are really popularity contests rather than a serious selection of the best and the fittest for the public service job, people like FPJ and Noli have to be extra careful in choosing people who can influence them. This will be a continuing problem for us for so long as we elect our president by mystique (pun intended, I guess), as someone in the Plaridel e-group puts it.

Rice Policy

I chanced upon a senior official of the NFA over the weekend and he told me the proposal of Agri chief Cito Lorenzo to allow free importation of rice cannot be legally done. Congress must first amend existing law.

Sen. Serge Osmeña also told me allowing importation will kill domestic farmers even if the importation is done during the shortage season. This is because traders will just import more than market requirements during allowable periods and store the grains to be released whenever they need to control the market. The Senator also criticized the policy of allowing so- called farmers cooperatives to import because in the end, they just allow their names to be used by the traders who run the rice cartel.

Well, it seems the problem is really complex. All I know is consumers are paying much more for food in this country than in Thailand, Vietnam and China. This is why workers here keep on clamoring for increased wages even without due regard to labor productivity. Yet, they continue to live miserably.

In the end, the high price of rice our workers buy is a serious factor that negatively affects our industrial competitiveness. If government fails to enact the right policy that addresses the long festering problem, our attractiveness to investors in other sectors of the economy would also be undermined. And don’t just blame globalization for that.

Export Competitiveness

I got this e-mail from a reader reacting to a column last week on export competitiveness. Looks like it is more than just the problem with government.

I am a frustrated and "almost losing hope" entrepreneur. I have been in the export business for the last 15 years and I can tell you that every year since 1995-97 export orders have been on a steady decline. The house decor and seasonal decor market which the Philippines dominated has lost practically 70-80 percent of its market to CHINA and to our low wage ASEAN neighbors.

In fact, a lot of the artistry and creative techniques that were developed in the Philippines have all been exported to CHINA, sad to say by a lot of Filipino craftsmen who have been enticed by the promise of short term instant HIGH SALARIES. Unfortunately, after the rape of talent many come back home to discover that their previous employers are no longer around. They have been forced out of business, to a certain extent due to their treachery.

The depressing situation is only aggravated by the work ethic of the Filipino worker who is more concerned with his weekend drinking spree, not showing up for work on Mondays. How about his almost weekly requests for leave of absence due to "have to attend to important matters"? I guess his job is not important after all.

Our labor laws breed unproductive and hard to discipline work force. I always ask labor leaders a simple question "Would a manager/owner of a factory specially of a SME terminate a worker who contributes to his bottom line?" How many times are entrepreneurs forced to keep troublemakers and unproductive workers due to security of tenure laws? Oh! Yes, we can terminate, but be prepared to deal with all kinds of labor unrest and to negotiate with corrupt labor arbiters and lawyers who are parasites and predators ready for the kill.

Then what about our politically controlled wage policy that has no relationship with the reality of competitive market forces? It has resulted in high labor costs coupled with low productivity. You try to reward workers who perform, but be ready to be questioned by the unproductive majority on why they where not rewarded as well. As far as they are concerned you reward one, reward all regardless of performance or you will never hear the end of it.

What do you with productive and cooperative workers who after they reach six months and are considered "regulars" by law and all of a sudden mutates into unproductive and uncooperative workers? Terminate?? Be careful you might just start a fire!!!

How I dream of a labor environment where I can hire, train, discipline and if need be terminate without having to be harassed by labor inspectors and lawyers. How ideal it would be if I could tell a worker that unless he takes his job seriously and starts performing as he knows he can, he would lose his job without me having to worry about the vultures from labor.

How I wish I could actually convince the labor force that unless we learn to go 100 extra miles without expecting additional compensation, the gap between us and China and our neighbors will just continue to widen and widen and widen. The day is here that the only industry we are good for are food courts, malls, restaurants and the latest craze – BADMINTON courts.

Maybe if I were 15 years younger I would move my factory to China or even Vietnam. But Hey !! if we all gave up what would happen to our country? What would be left when it would be time to come home?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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