October 7, 2007

Ike Señeres

Building global Filipino communities

Way back in the late 80’s, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) organized Science & Technology Advisory Councils (STACs) in key diplomatic and consular posts abroad, for the purpose of involving the Filipino communities abroad in the national development programs back here. Originally, the intention was to fill in the vacuum that was created by the abolition by the Department of Science & Technology (DOST) of its network of Science Attaches. Eventually however, the goal of continuing with the function of science diplomacy in particular was expanded to cover the broader function of economic diplomacy in general.

At that time, I volunteered to join the New York STAC Chapter, and that was how I got involved in national development work again, after I left the University of Life and the Ministry of Human Settlements. Along with other STAC Chapters worldwide, we were able to bring back projects and technologies to the Philippines which were needed by national development programs back here. From my vantage point as a volunteer in New York, I saw the basic weakness of the global organization, and that was the lack of an enthusiastic receiving end back here. It appeared then that the career diplomats at that time had some difficulties in adjusting to the new genre of economic diplomacy, after working so long in the environment of traditional political diplomacy.

To cut a long story short, the network of STAC chapters has practically died already, and along with it died the private sector component of science diplomacy in particular, and economic diplomacy in general. I am happy to say however that out of that organization, outstanding STAC members such as Dado Banatao, Paco Sandejas and Dennis Mendiola eventually found their own ways to bring back their talents and technologies back to the Philippines, thus infusing new life into our ailing economy. Dado has gone into joint ventures with the Ayala Group, Paco has established high tech companies here, and Dennis is the prime mover behind Chikka.

I have no doubt that there are thousands of Filipinos abroad who are willing to help and support national development programs here, if only there is an organized receiving end back here. The success of Gawad Kalinga (GK) in gathering support from Filipino communities is an example of this, and it is very easy to explain that the attraction of GK is its strong receiving end here. Other than that, GK has the added advantage of having well-organized communities abroad.

On the practical side, it would be reasonable to say that Filipinos abroad would need a receiving end here to get help for their own needs and for the needs of their relatives. Very few would need help in linking with national development programs back here, and that is why we should leave the door open for this possibility. Hopefully, we could popularize development involvement to a point where everyone abroad could just join the bandwagon.

Considering the fact that there appears to be no system or procedure that could be used by Filipinos abroad to bring home national economic development inputs to the Philippines, is there a need to put up one? My answer is yes, with a caveat that this time around, it should make use of advanced communications technologies in order to make the system work better.

Sendeo Media is a software company that specializes in building online “social communities” composed of members from all over the world. To start with, these communities should be real in the sense that there should be actual people who belong to it already, and the only remaining challenge is to build “virtual” communities online, on top of the “real” communities that are already in place.

Next Mobile is a communications company that is licensed to provide inbound and outbound international direct dialing (IDD) services using the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, an innovation that has drastically cut the costs of global communications. They now offer their services to 22 countries where Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are concentrated.

Marinduque is the first province that has agreed to join our Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) program. As a result of our training and financing services, we could expect many farms in this province to join the agricultural productivity bandwagon and before we know it, OFWs from Marinduque would also want to jump in. With the help of Sendeo Media, we could now build online social communities for the province, so that Marinduquenos from here and abroad could keep in touch with each other and help each other in business and in development.

With Sendeo serving as their online “meeting place”, Marinduquenos who live in the 22 countries serviced by Next Mobile could also have the added advantage of calling their relatives, friends and business partners back home, for a fraction of what IDD calls would normally cost them. Looking at it in another way, IFS is actually a form of organic farming but is perhaps better, because not all organic inputs are clean and environment friendly. With IFS as an alternative, OFWs could avoid the already crowded businesses such as taxis, jeeps and tricycles.

With the advantage of having IFS, it is now actually possible to plan the economy of Marinduque in such a way that it would set targets to increase access to public services and utilities in line with the Philippine Medium Term Development Plan (MTDP) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). What is best for the province to do now is to already measure its benchmarks, so that it could compare its prospective improvements as higher productivity from IFS would increase the personal incomes of its residents.

Just like the proverbial field of dreams, I am sure that Marinduquenos from all over the world would visit the virtual online community of the province if we build it. Just build it, and they will come, as the saying goes. When that happens, no one could ever guess how these loyal compatriots would act and move to bring home economic development inputs to their provincial homeland. For sure, none of them would want to be left behind as their province would move forward, thanks to the fact that their newly reelected Governor, Bong Carrion had accepted IFS early on. Same goes for Eastern Samar, as their reelected Governor Ben Evardone has also accepted.

Thanks to the research work of Engineer Bong Yambao, we have found a good use for the lowly “kuhol” that is now considered as a pest in farmlands. Yambao discovered that by drying its meat and pulverizing its shell, we could have a good source of protein and calcium that would now be used as feed ingredients by farmers who would be mixing their own animal feeds.


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