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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Big, hairy, ambitious

Big, hairy, ambitious"Thinking far out of the box."



Last week saw a fresh new round of gloomy prognoses from the bears. From the United Kingdom, the analysts in Pantheon Macroeconomics said GDP may again shrink in the second quarter, by 0.6 percent. This marks the sixth straight quarter of recession.

From Washington DC, the Institute of International Finance dropped its growth forecast for the Philippines this year from 7.2 percent to 6.5 percent, just within the official target range of 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. For its part, the NY-based rating agency Moody’s was even gloomier, dropping their growth forecast from 6.3 percent to an abysmal 5 percent.

Here at home, the leftist think-tank Ibon pushed for greater fiscal stimulus especially for poor families. Unfortunately, there’s little room left for that, as the country has just breached the 16 percent debt-to-GDP ceiling generally considered manageable, with the latest measurement at 16.4 percent.

To my mind, though, the bears are being unduly swayed by recent and current events. There are two events on the horizon that make me more bullish. One is the rapid recovery of the United States together with the continuing strength of largely COVID-free China, which will pull us along together with the rest of the world.

The other is the continuing rollout of the vaccines at home, especially within the NCR+ bubble. As of the week ending last Sunday, the UP-based researchers of OCTA reported a 30-percent drop in new cases, one that is clearly attributable in large part to the vaccinations. As a senior who has just received his second dose (Sinovac), I can testify that it works wonders on one’s confidence in the future.

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As confidence returns, so does the ability to think about the future—not just the near term, but even the far future. Here are some ambitious folks who’ve been thinking far out of the box:

My friend Architect Jun Palafox, who wrote up the Pampanga master development plan and is now doing the same thing for Ramon Ang’s Bulacan Aerocity, wants every municipality to set up its own evacuation center against future pandemics and other emergencies. Ideally each one will take up 10 hectares and come equipped with emergency clinics, water stations, helipads, fire trucks on standby, a security and police center, and a dedicated area for public amenities like eating out.

Over at PEZA, the energetic director-general Charito Plaza announced that PEZA plans to transform military reservation areas in Fort Bonifacio, Camp Evangelista, and Maguindanao into complexes to manufacture military weapons and equipment. She says “there are companies—manufacturing defense equipment, uniforms, weapons, military ships and aircraft—who have expressed their interest to bring their manufacturing here.”

Even in Congress—not exactly a hotbed of radical thinking—the House Committee on Appropriations has approved a measure that will establish a Philippine Atomic Regulatory Commission (PARC) under a new Comprehensive Atomic Regulation Act. I’m hoping this will mark the end of our hang-ups over the misfortunes of the Bataan nuclear plant and the beginning of serious consideration of nuclear energy, the only form of indefinitely renewable energy capable of reliably generating power at baseload capacities.

These are all big, hairy, ambitious goals (or BHAG’s, in B-school speak) worth sinking our teeth into. They’re worthy of a country that—but for the pandemic—could have taken its place among upper middle-income countries within the next couple of years.

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From the business page comes another worthy headline. San Miguel Corp—the country’s biggest business group, responsible for some 10% of our GDP—reported net income of P17.2 billion in the first quarter. This represents an amazing 1,500 percent increase from the P1.1 billion posted a year earlier.

The improvement was across the board, spanning major businesses like Petron, San Miguel Foods, Ginebra San Miguel, and SMC Global Power. And this bottom-line record was achieved despite a 6-percent drop in consolidated revenues, due to volume declines in Petron and other businesses affected by lockdown restrictions.

I haven’t inspected the financials myself, so I don’t know what contribution if any may have come from one-off or extraordinary items. But it’s clear that market leadership and business diversification both had big roles to play. And, of course, leadership. As in the running of a country, leadership can make all the difference.

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In today’s Gospel (Jn 17: 1-11a ), as part of the magnificent Last Supper Discourses, Jesus prays to the Father: “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me…and I have been glorified in them.”

This doesn’t mean that the rest of the world didn’t matter to Him. It simply highlights the importance of the first evangelists, because it was through them that the world—for which He in fact cared so deeply—was to be saved. It’s a timely reminder for us today, whenever modern-day ecumenism threatens to upset the original mandate for Christians to proclaim Jesus to an unbelieving world.

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