July 04 - July 17, 2005
OPINION

IN-DEPTH
Juan L. Mercado

‘Pot o’ gold’ and people power

It’s the biggest show in town”, a friend e-mailed. He meant the wiretap scandals that escalated as the widow Susan Roces demanded President Gloria Macapagal’s head on a platter. “Resign”, she fumed.

“Few countries do political scandal as well or as often as the Philippines, the great economic underachiever of Asia for the past 50 years,” writes the Australian Financial Review.

“The thieving autocrat Ferdinand Marcos and the shonky ex-movie star Joseph Estrada were ousted…in so-called “people’s power”, the Review’s Andrew Burrel writes. “Now rumour-Ioving Filipinos lap up their latest political soap opera which could abort Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s mediocre presidency.”

“Chronic political instability has made the Philippines a virtual graveyard for foreign investment and an economic basketcase almost without rival in the region”, the paper adds.

Aray. That hurts. But it’s true as a New York Times report shows: once Europe’s “basket case”, Ireland today is the EU’s richest country, after Luxembourg. And Dublin did it within a generation.

Like the Philippines, staunchly Catholic Ireland was poor. The “Potato Famine” drove people to emigrate—like our OFWs. Ireland was broke, as we are.

Rebellions sapped a country dotted with castles and haunted by mythical leprechauns. Writers from George Bernard Shaw to William Butler Yeats pasted it on the map. And Irish Redemptorist missionaries served here.

Today, Ireland’s “per capita G.D.P. is higher than that of Germany, France and Britain”, the Times’ Thomas Friedman found. This year, Ireland’s total work force will hit two million—”with no unemployment.” It has over 200,000 foreign workers, including 50,000 Chinese, plus some Filipinos.

“Government revenues are up Ireland got more foreign direct investment from America than from China.”

To get a feel of what those figures mean, scan United Nations data. Out of 177 countries measured for human development, Ireland ranked 10th. We were number 83. Life expectancy for the Irish is 77 years. It is 69 for us.

Everyone in Ireland has “sustainable access to affordable essential drugs”. Just over 50 percent of Filipinos do. TB incidence, among the Irish, is 13 per 100,000 population but 540 for Filipinos. Six out of every 1000 Irish infants die at birth; 29 here do. And so on.

About this time last year, we were comparing Philippine and Thailand data. They tracked how, in a generation, Thai income doubled over ours. And Vietnam is poised to overtake us soon.

Wasn’t Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney describing us too when she said: “We went on a borrowing, spending and taxing spree. And that nearly drove us under. (Only then, did we get) “the courage to change.”

Yes. Radical change and wealth for Ireland came—through people power. No, it’s not the kind that a tainted opposition and their communist and radical left allies today try to whip up in our streets.

Rather, government, the main trade unions, farmers and industrialists agreed on a program of fiscal austerity, Ms Harney says. It was a determined search for “the right domestic policies within the realities of globalization”.

That’s people power at it’s best. And Ireland’s advice for those who’d clamber out poverty is simple:

First: Ensure quality schooling, then make high school and college education free—which Dublin did in the 1960s. The result was an educated work force that eased entry into the EU and drew in foreign companies.

Second: “Speak English”. You won’t get far with Gaelic or Taglish. English is today’s language of science and commerce.

Third: “Keep your fiscal house in order.” In one year, 30 government corporations here racked up P140.2 billion in loses. We haven’t gotten around to scrubbing these losers, let alone pork barrel, from the budget.

Fourth: “Make your corporate taxes low, simple and transparent.” Dublin slashed levies to 12.5 percent, far below the rest of Europe. In contrast, we’ve jacked up ours to 35 percent. Dublin moderated wages and prices.

Fifth: “Actively seek out global companies”. They bring in cash, jobs and technology. Nine out of 10 of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies have plants in Ireland. So do 16 of the top 20 medical device companies.” Tell that to our xenophobic communist fronts and party-list allies.

Sixth: “Open your economy to competition.” Years of protectionism and fiscal mismanagement took time for Ireland to overcome. It will also take years for us to clamber out of our tinny shells.

Seventh: “Build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management…Then hang in there, because there will be bumps in the road”.

Finding a “pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow” has been for Ireland the result of work, not luck. If we’d find, at the end of our rainbow, just a “pot o’ jueteng” loot, it will be because we bucked reason and chose soap opera anarchy.

As we drove off for Shannon airport, after a visit to Cork, our Irish hosts said: Brat Mhurire Craibah (“May Mary’s mantle protect you.”) This country needs that mantle more than ever today.

(E-mail: juan_mercado@pacific.net.ph)

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OPINION

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... IN-DEPTH - ‘Pot o’ gold’ and people power

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