The Asean Sum­mit, lo­gis­ti­cal night­mares, and the Phl re­gional lag

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An­nual ASEAN Sum­mit meet­ings now in­volve the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the lead­ers of world eco­nomic and nearby pow­ers. The 10 heads of ASEAN states are joined by nine other re­gional lead­ers. This is part of the glob­al­iza­tion of eco­nomic re­la­tions.

The sum­mit this year in Manila is also the 50th An­niver­sary of ASEAN, lend­ing sig­nal honor to the host coun­try even as it only per­forms a ro­ta­tional duty.

Ex­panded meet­ings. As host, our gov­ern­ment ap­pro­pri­ated large bud­getary re­sources to make it a suc­cess. The sum­mit meet­ing is es­sen­tially a con­fer­ence of heads of states and their of­fi­cials. Se­con­dar­ily, it is an oc­ca­sion for bi­lat­eral or small group of­fi­cial con­tacts.

In ad­di­tion, how­ever, the gov­ern­ment en­cour­aged the pri­vate sec­tor to spon­sor par­al­lel ac­tiv­i­ties. As a re­sult, there were other meet­ings and con­fer­ences among pri­vate groups, busi­nesses and think tank or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Such oc­ca­sions were used to un­der­take fur­ther ex­plo­rations of is­sues and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the fu­ture among var­i­ous de­vel­op­ment stake­hold­ers in the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment.

Lo­gis­ti­cal night­mares and in­ef­fi­cien­cies. Given the na­ture of the coun­try’s overex­tended in­fra­struc­ture fa­cil­i­ties, the de­mand of such meet­ings on the ex­ist­ing ca­pac­ity is mas­sive, so that some­thing had to give.

Heads of states ar­riv­ing at the same time posed the prob­lem of se­cu­rity as well as flow of traf­fic. How could traf­fic be man­aged?

Us­ing the les­sons learned from the ex­pe­ri­ence of the re­cent Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion meet­ing held in 2015 (which in­volved the quick vis­its of as many heads of states) and the visit of the Pope in 2014, the gov­ern­ment took dra­co­nian mea­sures of dis­ci­pline and sac­ri­fice to im­ple­ment the lo­gis­ti­cal plan.

A three-day non-work­ing hol­i­day for Metro Manila and out­ly­ing af­fected ar­eas was de­clared. Gov­ern­ment of­fices and schools were closed.

Clark air­port in Pam­panga was used as the ar­rival op­tion for most of the ar­riv­ing heads of state and traf­fic man­agers con­doned an ASEAN lane to as­sure quick pas­sage to Manila, while throt­tling traf­fic for the gen­eral pub­lic.

A grand tsunami of dis­tur­bance was the in­evitable con­se­quence.

The mea­sures taken to im­pose dis­ci­pline on the coun­try’s traf­fic – prob­a­bly in­escapable and re­quired be­cause of our traf­fic grid­lock – were se­vere. They re­sulted in mo­men­tary loss of business, work dis­rup­tions for or­di­nary work­ers and of es­sen­tial gov­ern­ment ser­vices that are al­ready want­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to cur­rent es­ti­mates, traf­fic con­ges­tions cost the na­tion P3 bil­lion per day. These in­clude costs to worker ef­fi­cien­cies and the rise in the cost of goods and ser­vices. Dis­rup­tions such as work hol­i­days drive those costs higher. Hence the coun­try be­comes less ef­fi­cient.

The ex­pan­sion and mod­ern­iza­tion of the coun­try’s trans­port in­fra­struc­ture is a long-term cure. The bot­tle­necks in the trans­port grid, the lack of new ca­pac­ity, the need for an ef­fi­ciently run and ex­tended mass trans­porta­tion sys­tem for peo­ple to move ef­fi­ciently is the need of the hour.

The sooner the gov­ern­ment gets this pro­gram go­ing, the bet­ter for all. Luck­ily, the gov­ern­ment is ad­dress­ing in­fra­struc­ture pro­grams as high pri­or­ity.

Phl lags in ASEAN. Per­haps, it might be said, all these dis­rup­tions are mo­men­tary, they are worth the costs for the mo­ment. Any­way, the na­tion is reap­ing ben­e­fits from our mem­ber­ship in ASEAN.

The mes­sage for us is to move our eco­nomic poli­cies where we have lacked be­fore. Look­ing for­ward, it is pos­si­ble we can re­cover lost ground in the fu­ture. This means mov­ing for­ward where eco­nomic poli­cies still need to be ad­justed.

The par­al­lel pri­vate ac­tiv­i­ties that are or­ga­nized along with the ASEAN Sum­mit meet­ings are de­signed to gen­er­ate pro­mo­tional out­comes for par­tic­i­pat­ing Philip­pine in­dus­tries and prod­ucts. Hope can be eter­nal and good re­sults might arise.

In par­tic­u­lar, Philip­pine ben­e­fits need to im­prove. If the re­sults are medi­ocre for us, it is be­cause of our poli­cies. Our in­sti­tu­tions are not max­i­miz­ing the ben­e­fits of ASEAN for our coun­try.

The rea­son is sim­ple. In gen­eral, the coun­tries that have ben­e­fited most from ASEAN – Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, Thai­land, In­done­sia and now Viet­nam – have much more open eco­nomic poli­cies than us. In short, they have less re­stric­tive eco­nomic poli­cies in mat­ters that en­cour­age trade and in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion.

It is im­por­tant to make a his­tor­i­cal point that partly ex­plains the Philip­pine lag in per­for­mance, a sit­u­a­tion that has widened over the years.

Around 1981, Thai­land was slightly ahead of the Philip­pines and the Philip­pines slightly ahead of In­done­sia. To­day, be­cause of the per­sis­tence of high growth, Thai­land has greatly ad­vanced and In­done­sia con­vinc­ingly leads us in eco­nomic per­for­mance.

Dis­con­ti­nu­ities in growth, po­lit­i­cal trou­bles, and in­ad­e­quacy of rel­e­vant eco­nomic re­forms on our part and, in con­trast, their fo­cused changes in crit­i­cal eco­nomic poli­cies have cre­ated the dif­fer­ence.

In part, this prob­lem of resur­gence of Thai­land and In­done­sia over the Philip­pines is par­tially due to international lack of sup­port of the Philip­pines dur­ing a time of need.

When the Philip­pines was hit by po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis in 1983-84, the international fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity es­sen­tially stayed away.

In 1997-98 when Thai­land and In­done­sia were en­gulfed by the Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the international fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity gave mas­sive sup­port to keep the two coun­tries, as well as other coun­tries af­fected by the cri­sis, fi­nan­cially afloat and ca­pa­ble of re­cov­ery. It lib­er­al­ized its aid pack­age with re­spect to fis­cal and bal­ance of pay­ments needs.

Both Thai­land and In­done­sia re­cov­ered quickly. In con­trast, the Philip­pines was es­sen­tially aban­doned to it­self in 1984.

More­over, re­cent his­tory of the Philip­pines and In­done­sia showed a dif­fer­ent treat­ment of their fallen lead­ers by their suc­ces­sors. Pol­i­tics was a big dif­fer­ence.

When Mar­cos fell from power in our coun­try, his im­me­di­ate suc­ces­sors re­versed and negated his legacy, among them, a nu­clear power plant that could have saved the coun­try from a ma­jor power cri­sis.

In In­done­sia, when Suharto fell from power, his suc­ces­sors con­tin­ued to honor his con­tri­bu­tions to his na­tion and built on what he had left be­hind.

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