DISCIPLINE IS FOR SISSIES!



We seem to be hopelessly incapable of capitalising on our own assets. For example, it takes companies like Dole and Del Monte to realise premium prices for our own pineapples. To rebut these hypotheses by pointing out that domestic development of that industry was nipped in the bud by imperialism is weak. Our failure to realise the same for our dried mangoes, a relatively recent initiative, is testament to this problem � the same problems that plague our furniture industry: world-class design and workmanship by any measure but dismal performance in fulfilment and quality consistency. So while there is some truth to the claims of superiority (mainly price-wise) of local products and services, there is so much want in the areas of quality, reliability, and social responsibility in our products � key ingredients to creating valuable brands and price premium that, in turn, create wealth.

The reality, is that we live in an environment created by foreign work methods and technologies (anything from traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to the corporate structures and government bureaucracies that alienate individual workers). We either respond to this situation by (a) lamenting this reality (and entertaining its spawn � reverting to protectionism and isolationism) or (b) face the fact that this reality is here to stay.

For example, taken within their own context, the tricycle and jeepney transport systems work. At terminals, both vehicles and passengers queue up in relatively orderly fashions with minimal supervision. Jeepney passengers pay through a semi-honesty system and assist one another in passing fare from the extremities of the vehicle to the driver. These and other practices enable a jeepney to function as a one-man operation (enabling the driver and/or owners to maximise shareholder value). This is a far cry from the labour-intensive solutions applied at McDonalds stores and movie theatres where gangs of cleaners are employed to pick up after customers � labour costs that may have been used to pay higher wages to employees in more value-adding roles in the organisation.

In the larger context, however, we find that these transport systems all but undermine the overall goals of city management, just as other government initiatives don�t seem to take root at the small community levels. This describes a paradox in the directions being taken towards national development. We are beholden to anything foreign yet don�t allow their technology and knowledge to work for us productively. The result is a hodgepodge of disintegrated systems and technologies representing a substantial portion of capital investment (funded by the Filipino people) that is non or under-performing.

What then of the small systems such as our jeepney and tricycle example that work at the mico-level? Do they necessarily demonstrate that, left to our own devices, we would have evolved from them our own brand of efficient mass transport and traffic rules without coming into conflict with the haphazard and uncoordinated application of foreign technologies and systems such as traffic lights and road markings? Perhaps. But the reality is (let�s Get Real) we missed our chance to do so. And foreign technology continues to propose a wealth of options. These are options that could work for us if we manage to see beyond the status and glitz they afford their users and understand the discipline behind applying them productively.

And productive application of anything systemic is something that we are not exactly good at. Initiative to embrace discipline will never be realised from the Filipino people until the very systems that are expected to work as a result of such discipline present themselves as well-thought out and consistently managed operations backed by entities that command respect; hardly something that could be expected from the Philippine government and its agencies. An exception that illustrates this point is Subic Bay Freeport. Filipinos readily take the initiative to respect its rules not because of any genius of public administration on the part of the SBMA but more because these rules draw legitimacy from its nature as being American in origin or flavour.

Since it is not in our innate nature as a people to think things through systemically (partly due to our inadequate or unsound education system), we rely on strong authority figures to lend legitimacy to anything we uphold. To this day, we have not successfully filled the legitimacy vacuum created when the Americans left us. And as a result, we continue to seek politician-Messiahs to embody our hopes and dreams.

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