There is one thing I love about a long road trip- it freshens my mind and gives me so much time to ponder on very important issues.
These travels allow me to realize that we are a country of ironies, what with the pervasive poverty in the countryside while wide swathes of fertile land lay idle.
It is so unthinkable that 124 years after our nationhood, there are still areas in the country where up to 70% of the people are living below the poverty threshold.
Some will blame this pathetic state to corruption, conflicts and lack of competent leadership. I am just a farm boy but I believe that the above-mentioned problems are just exacerbating factors to the pitiful state that we are in as a nation.
Remember when we were young and our grade school teacher asked us: “What would you like to be when you grow up?”We knew what we wanted to be: a pilot, an engineer, a lawyer, a mayor and even a president.
Of course, we did not all become what we wanted to be as a child. Fate and queer events led some of us to where we are now.
I became a politician when my father, Bernardo, fell ill in the homestretch of his campaign for the mayorship of my hometown in M’lang, Cotabato and I was called home from Manila to take over his candidacy.
That opened the doors to a new career – public service – which I later realized was what made me happy and defined me as a person.
This leads us to the realization that until today, we have failed to come up with an answer to the question of “What do we want to be as a nation?”
We are suffering from a national identity crisis because we have not fully figured out what we would like the Philippines to be.
We are consumed by our obsession to be like our neighbors.
“Look at Vietnam, Look at Thailand, Look at Malaysia, Look at Singapore, Look at Japan, Look at South Korea,” are the oft-repeated lines of our development planners.
Why don’t we look at ourselves and ask: What do we want the Philippines to be?
Let us be our own model, let us weave our own story and craft a national development plan based on what we have and our strengths as a nation.
Look at these ironies: – We are surrounded by the sea and yet we import fish. – We host the world’s foremost rice research institution and taught others how to plant rice but we are the world’s No. 1 rice importer.
The COVID 19 pandemic could prove to be the “queer event” which could help us determine who and what we should be as a nation.
Realization #1: We have to be a food producing nation because we have the resources. COVID 19 showed that the global supply chain could be disrupted by “queer” events. We cannot rely on importation. In fact, if only we invest more in rural development, agriculture and fisheries, we could be a major food producing country in this part of the world.
Realization #2: We have to develop our local economy by using our resources – human and natural – to support processing and manufacturing industries. Let us stop selling iron ores. Instead, let us develop our own steel industry. Let us not waste efforts in enticing foreign investors to come. They could be influenced by geo-politics and leave anytime just like what is happening in China now.
Realization #3: We cannot be a Service Economy because as COVID 19 has shown a pandemic or a conflict could lead to the collapse of the economy of nations engaging our workers’ services. We have to realign our educational program to this reality.
Realization #4: And finally, let us stop dreaming of manufacturing airplanes or cars. We are too far behind in those fields. Let us do what we know best like producing food, building boats and ships, tractors and farm machinery, medical supplies and others using our local resources.
With all these, the Philippines could stand out and be identified as a self-reliant country and major powerhouse in food production where every family forms part of the foundations of a national economy built on its rich natural and Human Resources.
This is the Philippines that I dream of and wish to be part of.
The Pandemic has taught us a lot of lessons which could be easily read and understood by a mind free of greed.If we still could not learn from these lessons then we are damned as a nation.