LAST month, Presidential candidate Senator Richard Gordon, at a speech at the University of the Philippines-Manila, bemoaned that the Philippines remains “the sick man of Asia.” This is because we suffer from “Acute Intelligence Deficiency Syndrome (Aids) and Severe Awareness and Responsibility Shortage (Sars)” according to the Senator. Plowing on he said “the Filipino does not know what he wants. And because of this, he is always fooled.”

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I do not know about the University of the Philippines, but where I came from nobody could say this without being remorselessly and mercilessly heckled. Perhaps Gordon was looking to evoke a response because he went on to say the he deplores what he called the Filipino culture of dependency which always puts politicians on center stage since people always look to them for dole outs. “The situation has not helped in moving the country forward. The hand that receives is always lower than the one that gives. We need to create new leaders instead of perpetuating the current ones.”

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The “sick man of Asia” tag, sadly is still true. The consequence is that we are largely ignored by those who, in principle would wish to invest here. We are going backwards compared with other countries. In 2001, both Indonesia and the Philippines attracted just over $1 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI). [Our $1 billion included the $4 billion that President Arroyo claimed to have obtained in promises from her 2001 US trip]. But eight years later, 2009, our FDI was still just over $1 billion whereas Indonesia obtained nearly $8 billion.

Being overtaken by Indonesia may be unbelievable to many but it shows that the May elections are vital. Indonesia’s progress is associated with the accession to power by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004. Are any of our candidates able to make the same kind of change? If so, will we have a free and fair presidential election which combined with the collective sophistication of the electorate enables a genuine game-changer to emerge as President?

History books will probably dub the first decade of the 21st Century Philippines as the ‘lost decade’ but our regression is half a century old. In 1960, we had the second highest per capita income in Asia. [Japan was first]. But we were soon overtaken by Korea and Taiwan. More recently Malaysia, Thailand and now China and Indonesia have sailed past us.

Is it our fault? Senator Gordon talks of our culture of dependency. Is this fair? Have the legislators, of which Gordon is one, devised and implemented a legislative agenda which provided a framework where the Philippines became a land of opportunity? Few of us are beggars by choice. The vast majority have enough self-respect to prefer to earn their way of life. We all want to make a contribution, no matter how small.

Our governance has failed and Gordon should count himself as part of that failure. I say this more in sorrow than in anger because in 2001 I opined to a friend, Primo Esleyer, that I thought Gordon would be a strong Presidential candidate in 2010. Primo was non-committal which I took to mean that he probably did not agree with me. If so, he was correct.

It is not as though Indonesia has really improved very much in terms of corruption eradication. This should be encouraging. Even a little makes a difference. Properly priced computers, coupled with the necessary ongoing support, would revolutionize our education system which in turn would revolutionize our children’s earning potential. Then we would have a booming economy so let’s have properly priced computers.

Failure to become a land of opportunity has caused many to leave the country for better prospects abroad. This is not a culture of dependency. This is a culture of people who want to make a contribution. This is a culture of bravery. Every Filipino who has gone abroad to work experiences knots in their stomachs when their plane takes off to take them to work in foreign lands. Yet we have a government that talks arrogantly and impertinently about “deploying” Filipinos overseas. Now there are over 10 million. Many will never come back though they send almost $1.5 billion per month to keep at least 30 million Filipinos here from being impoverished.

We note that BSP is no longer using the term OFW when referring to remittances. OFW has become only a media construct. The BSP understands that many remittances are sent by Filipinos who are not likely ever to live here again.

We repeat Senator Gordon’s pearls of wisdom. “The Filipino does know what he wants. And because of this he is always fooled.” Really? What we want is to see some worthwhile infrastructure commensurate with the invested funds. We want to see P728 million allocated to investment in agriculture producing P728 million of agricultural investment. And if it does not and this result is a Senate inquiry, we want the Senators to complete some useful fact-finding and not merely showboating for the purpose for of the TV cameras. Who was the winner in the Gordon vs. Bolante silliness? Certainly, not Gordon.

We want to see investments in computers for schools produce computer equipment commensurate with the investment made. Above all we want the culture of impunity to be destroyed. If Visayas Ombudsman Pelagio Apostol sees it as our civic duty to report corruption when we encounter it, he has a corresponding duty to ensure that the corrupt ones are brought to book. It is high time for the Ombudsman to bring the case of alleged computer overprice to a satisfactory conclusion.

The sick man of Asia?

No, the Philippines is the ignored man of Asia.