5 August 2017 – We have been reading and hearing a lot about the Duterte administration’s “build, build, build” infrastructure program. The vision is to give the nation a golden age of infrastructure development that will not only address perennial and worsening traffic congestion, but, more importantly, build a much better transportation and logistics system across the archipelago that will spur more jobs, more trade and more investments. This reminds me of former finance secretary Roberto de Ocampo’s call at one of his Arangkada Forum presentations during the previous administration, when he said that the problem is simply “infrastructure, infrastructure, and infrastructure.”
Having seen and listened to a number of the “build, build, build” presentations, the most recent being that of the Department of Public Works and Highways at the recent Philippine Singapore Business Council’s conference, I can only hope and pray for the current administration’s success. The projects included will surely make a difference for even our simplest brothers and sisters, as spiraling transportation costs are often cited for the continuing increase in food prices. The 24-member Singaporean delegation was most certainly impressed, and some of them saw windows of opportunity being opened for their investments as well as for their technical expertise and experience in infrastructure development.
The potential roadblocks to success of the many infrastructure projects include the absorptive capacity of agencies and right-of-way issues. Often cited is the procurement law, but even the longtime head of the Philippine Constructors Association Inc., Lito Madrasto, has said many times that despite the law, some agencies manage to deliver critical projects with very minimal delays because they are better prepared, tapping the necessary technical expertise for, at the outset, an excellent project proposal. Indeed, the capability of the agencies and the ability of their people to deliver the right project proposals and plans that make procurement law adherence a walk in the park have been critical to success.
While we keep our fingers crossed on this promised golden age of infrastructure, I hasten to say that the other key focus must be on people, people, people. The economist Ciel Habito has cited numerous times in his presentations and Inquirer columns the silent crisis: Millions of Filipino children are malnourished—a condition that, he says, will lead one day to the stunting of a significant portion of our work force for the country and the world. This simply means that the children’s brains and bodies, having been underfed in their key formative years, will never be fully developed, impairing their ability to maximize their potential for themselves and their communities.
We have finally managed to implement a K-to-12 basic education system, which will allow our kids to have enough time to learn the basics over 13 years (compared to only 10 years). But we still have a long way to go in adjusting our curriculums as well as teacher education to better respond to the rapidly changing world of technology-driven innovations in almost all facets of life. Many other countries are already making adjustments based on jobs that will soon be lost to artificial intelligence and robots.
Intrinsically linked to the system of education but probably more influenced by family, the broader community and the media is the rapidly deteriorating values formation of our people. From a very young age, many Filipinos are not learning or being exposed to the right values. And what values can we expect will be formed among our youth if parents are forced to seek employment abroad, if the media allow the commodification of persons and the spread of fake news, and if the government, business and society keep tolerating corruption?
I therefore humbly propose a “feed, feed, feed” program alongside the administration’s “build, build, build” program. We must feed our people, especially our youth, properly. We must feed them nutritious food (especially in the early years), the right knowledge and skills, and the right values.
Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club and vice president of Integrity Initiative Inc.
Posted on 5 August 2017 under Business Matters section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer