[IMAGE AT LEFT - Illustration by REY RIVERA]


When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.

—Daniel Webster

Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.

—1787 letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington

This writer sincerely believes that former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada has finally found his true calling as an entrepreneur and not as a politician or even actor. He revealed to The Philippine STAR in a front-page report last Nov. 25 that he is expanding his real estate development business and planning to sell his North Greenhills residence to raise more capital. This is good news for the cause of free enterprise in the Philippines, and will hopefully encourage other showbiz stars and other people in our society to seek business opportunities instead of going into the ridiculously and shockingly low-paying jobs in politics.

However, I suggest that Erap go into farming or establish an export-oriented factory or even convert his huge Tanay rest house into a tourism enterprise like a hotel (by the way, maybe Kris Aquino is correct in reportedly suggesting Boy Abunda as tourism secretary after all?), instead of joining the many other businesspeople now already crowding the urban city real estate development arena and exacerbating what I believe is possibly Asia’s realty bubble.

I have nothing against the realty business per se as a business and it is not true that a small-time realty entrepreneur like myself is afraid of another big guy like Erap crowding into this sector. But I sincerely believe that for the long-term economic health of the Philippines, well-off entrepreneurs like Erap and top government leaders like President Noynoy C. Aquino should assiduously promote more agriculture and export-oriented manufacturing industries, too.

Erap should do something using his celebrity status and still-considerable social clout to promote the grossly neglected sectors of agriculture and export-oriented domestic industries of the Philippines, not only because these are largely untapped in their profit potential, but these are important yet neglected industries that could really help alleviate the poverty of the masses the former actor reportedly cares for the most. These industries can generate numerous new jobs and strengthen self-sufficiency.

Instead of being Santa Claus, Create jobs for the masses

Instead of being a Santa Claus — whose build, by the way, he physically resembles — by giving away gifts to the poor in a feudalistic manner like the traditional political datus of our society, Erap could enrich himself as well as his core constituency of the poor by encouraging modernized agriculture nationwide and also even small-scale vegetable farms and similar ventures in aquaculture.

How much fertile arable land do we see from Metro Manila all the way to northern Luzon that are not tilled when one drives the highways? Why do we have to import so much rice, vegetables, fruits and even peanuts from abroad, when the Philippines is blessed with so many agricultural resources? It is ironic that I heard we even import our vegetables and peanuts from China, when it should ideally be the Philippines mass-producing and exporting agricultural and aquaculture foods for the industrializing society of China.

Erap could approach his good friends, San Miguel Corp. chairman Danding Cojuangco and president Ramon Ang, for a partnership in large-scale farming, helping solve the massive squatter problem of Metro Manila by convincing the millions of informal settlers to follow his example by tilling the vast and fertile arable lands in the provinces.

I strongly believe that it should be the government — whether led by P-Noy now or his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before — that should recommend and also aggressively promote strategic economic priorities where private-sector entrepreneurs and business groups should invest the limited capital of the Philippines. Through incentives in preferred industries and higher taxes in discouraged but profitable industries, government should act as the wise and politically decisive referee encouraging the private sector to invest more in agriculture, export industries and other businesses that can truly build up the economic strength and global competitiveness of this country, not just more condominiums, townhouses, golf courses, mobile-phone cell sites and other businesses that seem highly profitable.

Instead of relying on OFWS, We need domestic industries

In China, Singapore and other nations, the government does not just sit back and applaud every factory that goes up and have the president cut the ribbon at every business venture. I can’t forget seeing on the TV news a past president personally inaugurating what was then billed as “the largest cigarette factory in Asia.” I was shell-shocked because what a president should have been doing was to push laws to ban smoking and increase taxes on the unhealthy business of cigarette manufacturing! A president should be cutting the ribbon for more export-oriented manufacturing industries or the launching of new farming ventures, not cigarette factories, casinos — which do not cater mainly to tourists — condos, golf courses or amusement centers.

Visionary governments in progressive Asian societies impose higher realty taxes to cool down over-speculation in real estate to make housing affordable to the middle-class and the masses. Visionary governments direct and guide talented entrepreneurs to invest in industries that are beneficial to national progress.

Visionary governments also uphold anti-trust legislations to ensure that free-enterprise dynamics are unhampered by unfair or lopsided competition in any industry, because monopolies, duopolies or even oligopolies in any industry are not only detrimental for us consumers, but also very bad for the monopolists and oligopolists in the long run because they will become effete and inefficient. It’s not only negative for economic democracy but also ultimately bad for the overall economic well-being of the Philippines.

Instead of our brightest and best entrepreneurial minds and the limited capital of the Philippine private sector having its profits plowed into expanding mobile phone businesses, luxury condominiums and townhouses, shopping malls, liquor factories, cigarette factories, breweries, junk foods, casinos that do not cater mainly to tourists (in Singapore non-tourists or locals pay US$100 just to enter the casinos because their target market is tourists), hopefully the reformist government of President Noynoy C. Aquino shall exert strong political will through taxes or laws and likewise use government taxes plus other incentives to encourage entrepreneurs like Erap and others to invest more in export-oriented manufacturing industries and rural agriculture!

The Philippines cannot and should not only rely on the export of human resources like the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) phenomenon forever to sustain the national economy. That has been a cop-out and essentially a stopgap measure by our many lazy and I believe mostly brain-dead politicos for years. We should strategically diversify and increase the income sources of the Philippines by developing farming, manufacturing, tourism and other domestic industries.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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