November 29, 2004 (STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - We attended the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Centerís State of Philippine Competitiveness Cebu City Roadshow at the University of San Carlos (USC) audio-visual room last Friday. The AIMís academic partners in this noble endeavor were the USC and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Zonal Research Center, which collaborated with the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in conducting the Executive Opinion Survey and providing the Philippine statistical data for the World Competitiveness Yearbook (WCY).

Since this is a very in-depth study, we canít put in all the figures that my AIM professor, Mayo Lopez, showed us through a powerpoint presentation. But let me point out that these figures donít surprise me anymore. In the list of some 60 competing nations, the Philippines came out 52nd, sliding down from its last yearís 49th ranking. So whatís new?

For our economic performance, we ranked 43th last year; for 2004, weíre 37thÖ a slight improvement. On government efficiency (Prof. Mayo says this is an oxymoron), the Philippines ranked 42nd, slightly better than last yearís 38th ranking. On business efficiency, from 48th last year, we slid down a notch to 49th. Finally on infrastructure, we slid down deeper from 56th to 59th, second to the last, which is Indonesia. Again, let me reiterate that these figures donít surprise me and those who attended the jam-packed forum at all.

The question begging for an answer is: What are we going to do about this situation? Of course, Prof. Mayo Lopez came up with a list of recommendationsÖ a list, Iím sure, that is very familiar to all of us. First, address poverty concerns through a clear and consistent population policy. Then we need to upgrade the quality of and access to basic infrastructure, strengthen the governmentís collection of revenues and curb the rising deficit... but how can we do this when the President has already declared the fiscal crisis over and our congressmen are getting more pork?

Finally, we need to reinforce anti-corruption initiatives, which is happening through the so-called lifestyle checks, and improve our business environment in order to encourage domestic and foreign investments. But then we already know what we need to do. So the question really is: When do we stop all the self-examination to find out whatís wrong with us and get all Pinoys to rid themselves of what ails them and paddle our broken canoe toward a better future? Well, my guess is as good as yours!

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A day after last Thursdayís nationwide strike waged by the militant jeepney driversí groups, they claimed that the national government blinked when it gave them discounts. Funny, but I donít recall that discounts were on top of their list of demands. I do recall that their main demands were for the reduction of the prices of oil products and the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law. When did discounts come into the picture?

Of course, we expected the militant leaders of the jeepney organizations to insist that the government "blinked" so that they wonít lose face before their followers. Indeed, that the government "blinked" doesnít sound like the Strong Republic envisioned by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (PGMA). To my mind, a Strong Republic doesnít blink on such ugly pressure or economic blackmail! More so, the problem of high oil prices cannot be blamed directly on the national government.

Metro Cebu, too, had its share of the inconvenience inflicted by the militant jeepney drivers although with much lesser effect, so I can tell you that Cebu City Mayor Tomas OsmeŮa didnít blink at all! No, sir. Ever since Cebu City acquired 40 of those old and venerable Kaoshuing buses from the City of Kaoshuing, they have been used with telling effect against all the jeepney strikes thrown against the Cebu City government, which not only responds with its Kaoshuing buses, but also helps out jeepney drivers who do not join the strike by giving them redeemable coupons with which they can free themselves from previous traffic violations.

Now didnít we often write down our favorite quote by George Satayana, which goes "Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it." So many failed strikes later, we just canít understand why the militant left continues to stage such inconvenient strikes. At this point, I can only second-guess that this is one way of the left-wingers and their allied groups supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) of telling their bosses like Jose Maria Sison that the struggle is alive and wellÖ and that they can still paralyze mass transport in the countryís key cities.

This brings us back to the concept of a Strong Republic, which should show those trying to make us weak that we mean business. In the past, every time there was a threat to strangle our mass transport system by the militant left, the national governmentís usual response was to warn those who would join it that their franchises would be canceled by the Land Transportation Regulatory and Franchising Board (LTFRB). Well, our Republic has issued this warning since the days it was stronger, during martial law, yet I have to hear of a single jeepney operator who lost his franchise because he joined an illegal strike.

Last week, the same threat was echoed by Mayor Tomas OsmeŮa, as he was wont to do strike after strike after strike. But then, Mayor OsmeŮa is only the mayor of a local government unit (LGU). Supposedly, the LTFRB should be the one which should make good such a warning, but then time and time again, strike after strike, it has shown that it is inutile in carrying out this warning by either the national government or an LGU.

So back to the case of the Strong RepublicÖ do we really have a Strong Republic? Frankly speaking, I am for a Strong Republic as this nation has been trampled, deceived or intimidated by the dark forces that seek to destroy our civilized way of life. Alas, the concept of a Strong Republic is nothing but mere rhetoric... the reality is we have a Weak Republic!

* * * For e-mail responses to this article, write to vsbobita@mozcom.com. Bobit Avilaís columns can also be accessed through www.thefreeman.com. He also hosts a weekly talk show, "Straight from the Sky," shown every Monday, at 8 p.m., only in Metro Cebu on Channel 15 of SkyCable.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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