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The trouble with crashing into paradise

June 29th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Cross-posted in FilipinoVoices.com

SDC13046 Zest Air seems to have a lot of trouble dealing with the airport at Caticlan.

Last week, a Zest Airways Xian MA-60 (RP-C8892) with 54 passengers overshot the runway, in a repeat of a similar, more damaging overshoot earlier this year. Unlike the previous incident where 3 of the 25 passengers were injured, no one was hurt . The incident, however, raises serious questions on the safety of the plane Zest Air uses, the airport in question, and the pilots involved in the crash.

The Xian MA-60s used by Zest Airways, a Chinese manufactured copy of the Russian Antonov An-26, a military light transport. Five of these aircraft were delivered in October 2008, and Zest Air placed an additional order of 6 planes last May. With the planes practically brand new (2 and 6 months old, respectively), and with neither Cebu Pacific nor PAL Express suffering similar problems with their comparable aircraft (using the ATR-72 and Bombardier Dash 8, respectively), questions are raised about the safety record of the plane itself.

3662253222_085e05ea1a_o A check with AviationSafety.Net reveals only 2 incidents with the Xian MA-60, excluding the latest incident but including the incident at Caticlan last January (the page lists 9 incidents including those for the older Xian Y-7, upon which the MA-60 was based). The first incident was with an Air Zimbabwe domestic flight in January 2008, caused by pilot error.

It is then difficult to determine whether the plane’s build quality could be questioned, but having had ridden one in a flight to Busuanga earlier this year, the Xian MA-60 has a peculiarity that I hadn’t noticed when I rode the ATR-72: it brakes really hard. This becomes important when considering that Godofredo P. Ramos Airport at Caticlan has a runway length of only 810 meters.

1516295The length of the runway makes for very harrowing landings, as illustrated by various photos of approaches at the Caticlan airport. On one end of the runway, about 30 meters from its edge is a road (as seen in the crash photo above) frequented by tricycles and jeepneys. On the other end of the runway is a hill. There have been efforts to try and lengthen this runway, unfortunately, thwarted by “political wrangling at the local level”:

Local air carriers have long requested the [Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines] that the runway be lengthened either by extending Runway 06 to the sea or removing a hill at the end of Runway 24.

However the CAAP was not able to carry out the runway improvements because of political wrangling at the local level. [BusinessMirror]

1516404 A third angle is, of course, pilot error. In the January incident, the pilot of RP-C8893 undershot the runway and hit the perimeter fence of the runway (clearly visible in the photos shown). In this latest incident, the pilot overshot the runway, after requesting to land despite having a tail wind:

Initial investigation showed that when he asked for landing instructions, the pilot, Capt. Bernard Hervoso, was directed to Runway 06, the “active” runway at the time. However, it was reported that Hervoso requested to use Runway 24 instead.

The request was granted, although it would mean that the airplane would be landing with a tailwind.

Investigators are now verifying eyewitnesses reports that the plane landed almost at the middle of [the] runway. [BusinessMirror]

Only after a full investigation will we be able to get all the facts straight, and determine whether the crash was caused by human error or by safety deficiencies in the aircraft. Considering that there are more than 30 flights in and out of the Godofredo Ramos Airport everyday — being the gateway of Boracay (it is, in fact, the third busiest airport in Western Visayas) — the best long term solution would be to lengthen the runway once and for all. Only then will margins of error for the pilots be large enough to cancel out problems with braking, late touchdowns, or clearing perimeter fences.

We only hope that the government of the Municipality of Malay would care.

Photo of engine nacelle and propeller copyright the author, all rights reserved. Photo of Zest Airways RP-C8892 and Cebu Pacific RP-C7250 before touchdown at Godofredo P. Ramos Airport by Ryan Hemmings via Airliners.Net. Photo of RP-C8892 crashed in ditch by user MapLand of 101today.com/travel.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Pulitika · Transportasyon · Turismo

The unofficial Philippine tourism scorecard

May 26th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Cross-posted from Filipinovoices.com

I’m supposed to be up in the crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo last weekend, but our trip was canceled at the last minute. Apparently, the RP-US military exercises known as Balikatan is being held in that particular mountain range, and no hikers are allowed up the mountains for safety reasons. With the odds against us, we didn’t insist on pushing through with the trip. We didn’t want to be caught up in US military operations against the NPA live-fire exercises anyway. Tourists: 0, US and RP Militaries: 1.

My wife and I have gone through many trips all over the Philippines for the past two years, and one of the many lessons that we’ve learned over those trips is that when you’re outside of Manila, Cebu, and Davao, never expect your food to be served promptly. Manilans are so spoiled with fastfood that even gourmet restaurants in the metro have a standard waiting time of 15 minutes. In the provinces however, customized orders take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. So if you’re going on a trip to the provinces, especially in places that aren’t the usual destinations (e.g., places other than Boracay, the Metros, provincial capitals, etc.), take my word for it — pack some biscuits in your carry on. Tourists: 0, Laid-back Provincial Restos: 1.

[Read more →]

→ 2 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Pinoy social justice : Laws that "benefit" the less fortunate

May 16th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Cross-posted from Filipinovoices.com

Maybe it’s just road rage from all the traffic that I’ve been going through lately, whether driving my (borrowed) car, riding a cab, or being a bus passenger myself, but I have always wondered: why the hell do we wonder why there’s so much traffic in EDSA, when an average of 40% of the road cannot be used by 80% of the vehicles?

You know what I’m talking about; it’s the dreaded yellow lanes in EDSA, wherein buses and jeepneys are free to ply in and out of, but once private vehicles and, more recently, taxi cabs, enter the MMDA boys come swooping down on you like pet vultures of The Great Pink BF.

[Read more →]

→ 3 CommentsTags: Ekonomiya · Kultura · Pulitika · Teknolohiya · Transportasyon

Gary Granada airs complaint vs. GMA Kapuso, the New Media way

January 31st, 2009 · 33 Comments

Since the other day, the link to an audio cast entitled “Gary Granada vs. GMA Kapuso” (Audio – in Tagalog/Filipino & English) has been making the rounds primarily in email, and later Plurk and Twitter.

In a nutshell, Mr. Granada, a noted Filipino singer-composer, voiced his sentiments against GMA Kapuso Foundation, regarding a jingle that he composed music for. According to Mr. Granada, GMA rejected his study for the jingle, but allegedly used his revisions for the lyrics (which was provided to him by GMA), and based the final tune on the musical structure of his study, all without attribution or pay. It would be best that you listen to the audio cast and hear it in detail and come up with your own opinions regarding the issue:

What makes this audiocast special, however, is the extent of Mr. Granada’s use of New Media — aka “Web 2.0″ — to detail his complaint, in a totally unprecedented manner, and against Mainstream Media to boot!

In the audiocast, he included a clip of his original study, the final product, and a detailed explanation on the musical structure of both, including the musical theory behind his gripes and a re-rendered tune comprising of his accompaniment and the tune used in the final cut of the jingle. To say that Mr. Granada maximized new media to explain his side is an understatement — he clearly understood that this is the best possible way to make people understand the situation in its fullest extent.

Myself being an amateur musician, I fully support Mr. Granada in this effort, and as an IT professional, commend him for this exceptional and well-considered use of new media and the web to air his side of the issue.

I wish him all the best.

→ 33 CommentsTags: Musika · Sining · Telebisyon · Telebisyon

Cebu Pacific responds to issues regarding deaf passengers

January 25th, 2009 · 3 Comments

cebu pacific no hear no flyLast year, several blogs pointed out the issue regarding Cebu Pacific’s lopsided policy regarding deaf passengers, which involves no less than two incidents, one in April in a flight to Caticlan, and another in December in a flight to Cebu, involving several deaf passengers.

Through the efforts of blogger Kevin Ray Chua, the issue caught the attention of Senator Mar Roxas, who sent a letter to Cebu Pacific asking them to explain the above incidents.

Finally, Cebu Pacific’s Guest Services Head Ivan Gaw was kind enough to respond regarding the said issue:

This incident had been an eye opener also for our company. With this incident, we revised our procedures for carriage of Deaf passengers and still not compromising safety. Since July 2008, Cebu Pacific accepts unlimited number of unescorted Deaf/ Mute guests in all of our aircrafts provided that they shall be properly briefed by our Cabin Attendants about safety, the use of seatbelt, oxygen mask, life vest, route to the nearest exit, etc. The only condition is that they must not be seated at any emergency exit rows.

I’m also happy to inform you that we are coordinating with the group of Sir Nonoy Concha and party for an awareness seminar about proper handling of passengers with disabilities. We are targeting mid-February. We also would want to include our learning’s from this awareness seminar to the front line training program. I am constantly in loop with them.

Rest assured that it’s not the intention of Cebu Pacific to discriminate anybody. We value all of our guest irregardless of gender, status, and condition. [Filipino Deaf from the Eyes of a Hearing Person]

Kudos to Cebu Pacific for their policy changes! I hope that this will set an example not only in the airline or transport industry, but to all industries and service providers, in understanding and handling the needs not only of the deaf but other persons with disabilities.

→ 3 CommentsTags: Industriya · Transportasyon · Turismo

Philippine eco-tourism: Bringing green back will bring in greenbacks

December 17th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Cross-posted from FilipinoVoices

Disclosure: The author’s spouse owns and operates a travel agency, which may be construed (but the author hopes it is not) as to having an effect on the context of this post.

There’s a fantastic story that came in yesterday afternoon about a Puerto Princesa fisherman being saved by a pod of spinner dolphins and pilot whales. As the story goes, the fisherman had been floating in the open water for nearly 24 hours, bleeding from crustacean bites, when a pod of dolphins took it upon themselves to nudge the man and his makeshift lifeboat towards the shore.

“Dumating yung mga dolphins. Ang dami nila. Tapos may lumapit na dalawang balyena. Dun sila sa tigkabilang tabi ko lumalangoy,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. (There were dolphins, lots of them. Then a pair of whales started swimming on both sides)

“Palit palitan sila tinutulak ako gamit ang kanilang palikpik,” (They would push me alternately using their fins). Meanwhile, he said the rest of the pod stayed close to him to around just a meter away apparently trying to make sure no harm would come to him from any other animal. [Inquirer.Net]

What makes fisherman Ronnie Dabal’s ordeal more special is that he and Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn attributed the fisherman’s “rescue” as a sign of gratitude from the dolphins. As it turns out, Dabal is a deputized dolphin warden, and part-times as a dolphin spotter and habitat protector in Puerto Princesa Bay. [Read more →]

→ 5 CommentsTags: Buhay · Potograpiya · Turismo

Responding to Obama’s policy threats to the outsourcing industry

December 11th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Cross-posted from Filipino Voices

With Barack Obama’s impending ascent to being the 44th President of the Unites States of America, a dark cloud looms and threatens to blot out the “sunshine” industry the Philippines has been exploiting over the past decade.

In his website launched as a primer on his policies as President-elect, aptly named Change.Gov, Obama has outlined his views with regards to sending jobs overseas, outside American shores:

  • End Tax Breaks for Companies that Send Jobs Overseas: Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that companies should not get billions of dollars in tax deductions for moving their operations overseas. Obama and Biden will also fight to ensure that public contracts are awarded to companies that are committed to American workers.
  • Reward Companies that Support American Workers: Barack Obama introduced the Patriot Employer Act of 2007 with Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to reward companies that create good jobs with good benefits for American workers. The legislation would provide a tax credit to companies that maintain or increase the number of full-time workers in America relative to those outside the US; maintain their corporate headquarters in America if it has ever been in America; pay decent wages; prepare workers for retirement; provide health insurance; and support employees who serve in the military. [Change.Gov]

The implications are therefore daunting. The Philippines may lose big given that the US is most likely its the biggest customer for business process outsourcing. [Read more →]

→ 3 CommentsTags: Ekonomiya · Industriya · Negosyo · Pulitika

Driving down an unentrepreneurial road

November 9th, 2008 · 4 Comments

This is a crosspost from Filipinovoices.com, last October 31, 2008, before setting off for All Saint’s Day weekend.

In a few hours I shall be setting off and driving north towards my wife’s home province of Pangasinan, my adopted province since an unfortunate idiosyncrasy of my life is that I could trace seven generations back to Manila-dwellers beyond which I’ll have to go to China. But I digress — the two hundred kilometer journey will bring us to central Pangasinan, near Manaoag, home of a popular cathedral and Catholic pilgrimage site. Now I didn’t realize it until the first time I drove that trip, that there is a very big difference in seeing things when you ride a bus and when you drive. The primary difference is your keenness on landmarks. Because you need to know how much more lower back pain and leg strain you have to endure (it’s a four hour drive in light traffic, six hours in bad), as well as remember where you can stop to eat or pee, you notice the structures along the road, especially on McArthur Highway once you get off of the North Luzon Expressway.

One thing I immediately noticed are the various stores that line McArthur Highway. You wouldn’t really notice one store when you see it, however: you would notice it when a huge number of them are all selling the same thing, side by side. Around Bamban and Capas, both in Tarlac, it’s the stores that sell pastillas de leche and other milk-based sweets. By the time you hit Paniqui and Moncada, for around 10 kilometers it’s watermelons that line the road: there’s even a 250 meter stretch of watermelon stores. Reaching Urdaneta City in Pangasinan, a similar 300 meter stretch is lined, this time, with bottles upon bottles of bagoong. Once you reach Binalonan town, it becomes native corn, although with much fewer sellers. Leaving McArthur highway to head to Manaoag, near the church itself it’s not only religious icons and trinkets, but tupig (sticky rice and coconut meat roasted within banana leaves) is likewise peddled.

Copy this, copy that, copy cat

It’s no different from many places in the country, for that matter. Los Baños has its ubiquitous buko pie, and at one point all buko pie stores in Pansol, each one less than a hundred meters from the other were named “Colette’s”. Manila has had different “food fads” in its history; it has shifted from burgers, to shawarma, to lechon manok, to pearl shakes. But it has to be Cebu’s dried mango producers who are most guilty of gaya-gaya mentality, so much so that not only were the products the same, but even the branding was compromised.

The number of dried mango producers have skyrocketed from the 80s through the 90s due to the popularity of the delicacy as an export product, but they have some serious identity crisis. The pioneer dried mango had chosen a green package in white lettering, with a clear “window” at the lower part of the package to make the mango slices visible. Soon everyone packaged their dried mangoes in a green package in white lettering, with a window. Only one or two departed from the usual scheme (one of them went blue and green, the other changed to orange-brown).

Apparently, if the Filipino entrepreneur is efficient at anything, they are efficient in copying product offerings of seemingly-thriving businesses, down to the packaging.

A nauseating business proposition

The GEM Philippines 2006-2007 Report reveals that four out of ten Filipinos are entrepreneurs, and of those, 19% belong to the Class C segment, 54% belong to the Class D segment, and 20% belong to the Class E segment. While some people contend that these 54% are “following in the footsteps of the taipans”, it doesn’t present reveal the extent of planning, research, and marketing that these business owners apply into their business — in fact, one could assume that these businesses do not have any such activities in their enterprises.

The findings also affirm the observations I made above:

Survey results tend to affirm the common notion that the typical Filipino business person is risk-averse (segurista) and lacking in originality and innovation (gaya-gaya). Such attitude can be a hindrance to being able to exploit new opportunities and growth potentials, which is important in building dynamism in the enterprise sector. [GEM Philippines 2006-2007 Report]

The irony in this statement is that while the Filipino is, apparently, willing to go into business, they remain to be inherently risk-averse and lacking in innovation. The Report expounds:

There is a common observation (and lament) that most Filipino business owners are content with imitating other established firms rather than innovating with new and unique products and services, the so-called gaya-gaya (copycat) syndrome. This appears borne out by the finding that surveyed business owners predominantly believe that their products and services are not perceived to be unique or distinct from others. A dominant 71% of business owners indicated that they would not be seen by customers as offering something new or unfamiliar.[GEM Philippines 2006-2007 Report]

Unfortunately the effects are adverse, profit-wise. Put copycat syndrome and cutthroat competition together with a lack of marketing, and what you end up with is a bunch of palengkeras ready to kill each other off. Without the prosperity brought about by high profit margins, it seems that poor Filipino entrepreneurs will remain poor, in spite of the fact that they have chosen to put up a business.

They aren’t following the footsteps of the taipans, after all.

Taking a road less travelled

According to the Principles of Entrepreneurship publication of the US State Department, the concepts and ideas that make or break the business can be categorized into four:

  • An existing good or service for an existing market. This is a difficult approach for a start-up operation. It means winning over consumers through merchandising appeal, advertising, etc. Entry costs are high, and profit is uncertain.
  • A new good or service for a new market. This is the riskiest strategy for a new firm because both the product and the market are unknown. It requires the most research and planning. If successful, however, it has the most potential for new business and can be extremely profitable.
  • A new good or service for an existing market. (Often this is expanded to include modified goods/services.) For example, entrepreneurial greeting-card makers use edgy humor and types of messages not produced by Hallmark or American Greetings – the major greeting-card makers – to compete in an existing market.
  • An existing good or service for a new market. The new market could be a different country, region, or market niche. Entrepreneurs who provide goods/services at customers’ homes or offices, or who sell them on the Internet, are also targeting a new market – people who don’t like shopping or are too busy to do so.

Emphasis mine.

Note that while the ordinary Filipino would-be entrepreneur thinks that the safest route to go is to offer products and services that has an existing market, they do not realize that going up against existing competition makes the business less viable. Unfortunately the illusion of safety — and perhaps, the misconception that it is easier to mimic an existing operation — leads them to the cutthroat, opportunity-devoid copycat market that typifies the business environment of the unsuccessful Filipino entrepreneur.

Blast-freezing one’s way to success

That being said, local taipan wannabes must learn to focus their efforts on the more fruitful ventures of offering a new or modified good or service to an existing market, or offering an existing good or service to a new market.

There are some businesses that are becoming big this way. Lety’s Buko Pie in Los Baños is a good example of a business that was able to find ways to offer a new or modified product to an existing market, and at the same time offer an existing product to a new market.

Deluged with numerous buko (coconut) pie competition, Lety’s turned its attention to an unsolved problem with buko pies: microwaving them would turn the pies soggy. With the help of the Department of Science and Technology, Lety’s was able to find a solution: blast-freeze the pies to prevent ice globules, which form during conventional freezing, from coming up. A nice side-effect: their buko pies can be frozen up to 12 months, which allowed Lety’s to export their products abroad.

Going off-road to genuine entrepreneurship

It is clear that while the Filipino is not bereft of technical skills and capability, they have much to learn with regards to business savvy, risk-taking, and innovation. If Filipinos (beyond the usual Filipino-Chinese) are going to achieve success, much effort should be taken to be able to help them think out-of-the-box, reduce risk-aversity, and evangelize the virtue of innovation (or more specifically product-development), which in turn would lead to a much productive and high-profit business environment.

The lessons of the current state of entrepreneurship in the country should not be ignored, or worse dismissed — further education in entrepreneurship should be nurtured for the lackluster nation to be able to catch up with its more prosperous (and under the hood, more adventurous) neighbors. It’s high time the Filipino entrepreneur should learn to drive off of the unentrepreneurial, risk-averse, copycat road.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Ekonomiya · Industriya · Negosyo · Uncategorized

You could lose stuff in your checked-in baggage

October 27th, 2008 · 11 Comments

luggageTwo weeks ago in our return trip from Davao via Cebu Pacific, my wife checked-in her backpack, along with the boxes of durian and mangosteen we purchased as pasalubong. Around half-an hour later she was called back to the check-in counter. Apparently her backpack ended up in the cart of Philippine Airlines, without the claim tag/sticker that’s supposed to indicate it should be on the Cebu Pacific flight. Good thing a dutiful PAL employee (thanks to you whoever you are) managed to find her address book in the bag, found her name, and returned the backpack to Cebu Pacific after verifying that her name wasn’t in the PAL manifest. Her backpack and its contents were intact.

That wasn’t the end of story though: when we got back to Manila, the box of mangosteen we had was in shambles. Apparently it rained hard while the luggage was being loaded onto the plane, and parts of the carton box disintegrated. Several pieces of the 150-pesos-a-kilo mangosteen fruit fell out of the box, hopefully to be retrieved by airline cleanup crew so the darn things don’t go to waste.

This morning, something worse happened to one of my wife’s clients, part of a party of 27 people going to Bohol today. His cellphone went missing, from inside his luggage which was checked in for the 4:50 AM Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Cebu. Fortunately his wallet and digicam, which were also in the bag, were not taken, but it’s absolutely alarming that you could lose valuables while your baggage is being handled by airport personnel. We’ll file a report with Cebu Pacific and NAIA 3, and perhaps with the Mactan International Airport when they come back from their Bohol trip on Wednesday.

What many people don’t realize is that the handling of checked in luggage is absolutely horrid and utterly unsafe to check luggage in, in any airport or with any airline in the world. Baggage handling is rough, with machines constantly and violently shoving, pushing, and tumbling your luggage around as it makes its way from the check-in counter to the plane, when baggage handlers will likewise pass them around like basketballs in a hurried bid to get the plane flying on time.

While you can opt to lock your luggage, it’s no guarantee that contents will not be lost, and there’s absolutely no guarantee that your luggage will arrive intact. Here are some guidelines to prevent luggage from getting lost and mishandled on your flights:

  • Get some good pieces of luggage – Hard-cased and heavy duty luggages are expensive and all, but they’re quite sturdy and dependable hence their popularity. For hard-cased luggage, there’s also the guarantee that the bag won’t be squeezed in when tons upon tons of other luggage are put on top of it. Try buying luggage that can be contracted/expanded, depending on load, however, or ones with straps to hold down your things, as they are quite necessary as I’d point out in the next item.
  • Use an appropriate-sized bag for your luggage – Use a bag that is just right for the job. A bag that’s too loosely packed will tend to be crushed and/or its contents will toss and tumble inside; a bag that’s too tightly packed might be torn apart at the zippers when additional weight is applied. Make sure you pack your bag just right. You could opt to look for luggage with straps that could hold down your stuff, however, so your things won’t fly around the luggage when they’re too loose.
  • Do NOT check in your valuables and electronics – While several types of electronics (especially cellphones) are prohibited for in-flight use, it’s not worth risking having them thrown around in bags or luggage. This is especially true for laptops, where dropping and mishandling usually spells the bitter end for hard drives. Hand-carry your electronics, especially your laptops and cellular phones, as much as possible.
  • Lock your luggage with padlocks – Buy a good, small padlock to keep your luggage from being opened up. One can never be sure that there is no airport personnel who won’t be tempted to swipe a nice cellphone or iPod if your bag’s zipper fails and unravels its contents. Unfortunately if you are traveling to and within the United States this might be a bad idea, since the Department of Homeland Security sees it fit to destroy each and every padlock in sight in a pathetic attempt to “prevent terrorism”. Of course, to make this step unnecessary, refer to the previous rule.
  • Put identification on your luggage – Use hard-to-remove bag tags or labels to properly identify the owner of the luggage. I never realized how important this is until the incident in Davao: the backpack had no bag tag, and the airport employees had to rummage through my wife’s things to figure out who she was. Make their lives easier by indicating your name clearly on your bags.

Of course the best and safest way for circumventing the need for these is to pack light and have everything on your hand carry luggage. I still have to replicate Art’s amazing luggage crunching feat, which is especially difficult for a man with my large and bulky frame, but if there’s a will, there must be a way!

→ 11 CommentsTags: Transportasyon · Turismo

Electric dreams of Filipino industrialization

October 25th, 2008 · No Comments

This article is cross-posted from FilipinoVoices.com

G Car

While the racetrack-like Elliptical Road in Quezon City rumbles with noise, fumes, and traffic, a few silent automobiles make their own rounds in the Quezon Memorial Circle that the road borders. Humbly seating four persons max, the curious rides called G Cars (in a pun-loaded attribution to their inventor, Gerry Caroro) can be hired for PHP30 per lap. Caroro laments, however, that he never intended his invention as an amusement park curiosity. He intended it to be the solution to the country’s dependence on imported oil, as well as reduce pollution in the metropolis.

Unfortunately Caroro has difficulty finding an investor for his invention, a plight shared with most of the country’s inventors. As any dutiful citizen of the Philippines tends to do, Ronald Talion of the Filipino Inventors Society blames the government for this:

“It’s already mandated under Republic Act Act 7459 (Inventors and Invention Incentives Act) and yet, for some strange reason, our inventors have to fend for themselves,” Talion noted.

“The only support we get is the P178,000 that is given to us every November to celebrate National Inventors Week (NIW). Obviously this is not enough, which is why a lot of my colleagues were forced to seek support from abroad,” he lamented. [Inquirer.Net]

An automotive industry that never was

The plight of Caroro’s fledgling effort to produce a viable automotive technology is but an addition to the tragic history of the country’s automotive industry, shared with its ubiquitous mode of transport and cultural icon: the jeepney. Originally coming from surplus and left-behind military jeeps, roofs were installed and lavish decorations applied to convert former war-wagons into colorful passenger vehicles able to seat six to ten people at a time. From the 60s until the 80s, a vibrant backyard industry emerged, where jeepneys and “owner-type” jeeps were manufactured as low-cost alternatives to lavish, large-engined American cars or their cheaper Japanese counterparts.

The jeepney manufacturing sector was never able to make it beyond “backyard” status to become a genuine car-manufacture industry, though. Beyond metal pressing and stamping, and fabrication of various “mods” to adorn and embellish each jeepney, they never went to the stage of standardization, efficient mass production, and assembly line automation. Over fifty years of jeepney manufacture remained in the realm of hand-pressed, hand-crafted, hand-painted methods. Moreover, it is peculiarly unclear if any two jeepneys are exactly alike, and it is even dubious if any of them had followed a clear cut blue print of any sort.

The last straw, however, is the country’s dependence on Japanese-made surplus engines. Despite whatever expertise local mechanics could boast about in the knowledge of assembling, maintaining and repairing car engines, not a single company has attempted to create its own internal combustion engine with the intent of mass production. The country was relegated to using surplus engines for jeepneys, as well as assembling completely knocked-down (CKD) body kits for various Japanese and American car manufacturers (and even one type of Armored Personnel Carrier for the Philippine Army). Never was the country able to completely manufacture of any mass-produced automobile from top to bottom.

Due to higher-quality offerings of truck-cabbed alternatives with passenger modules in the rear, the jeepney is now dying a slow death. While they are still “King of the Road” in Manila, low sales and profitability has killed all but the most persistent jeepney assemblers of Cavite. Their demise, however, is more pronounced in Cebu, where Chinese manufactured “multicabs” and truck-cabbed jeepneys with Isuzu Elf and Toyota Hi-Ace engines, chassis and driver modules now rule.

An industrial pariah

This situation isn’t even isolated to the automotive industry: while the Philippines has been home to several multinational companies, none of these had resulted in the creation of large local counterpart enterprises. The Philippines hosted Intel since the 1970s, but has yet to have any local company that manufactures PC components (S3 Graphics, while founded by Filipinos Dado Banatao and Robert Yara, was established in Silicon Valley). This is in stark contrast with Taiwan, which is home to computing giants Acer and Asus, among others. Texas Instruments has long had its electronics plant in Baguio, yet no local electronics company has become prominent. American Power Supplies and International Business Machines has been in the country longer than Intel has. The list goes on and on.

It is obvious that, despite the brain drain brought about by the labor export industry, the country does not lack, or at least at several points in its history, has never lacked the means to produce technical expertise that industrialization requires. Neither is there a lack in investment and funding, as evidenced by the continued presence of big-name corporations in the country, notwithstanding moves to shift factories to China. Further evidence of the above is the continued establishment of business process outsourcing firms in the country, which implies both investment and skill.

The government is not entirely remiss in its support to local industry either. Just last month the Department of Science and Technology launched the One-Stop Information Shop of Technologies (OSIST) website (http://www.osist.dost.gov.ph) to assist technology experts and inventors in finding venture capitalists and buyers. While several online pundits question the PHP20 million funding of what essentially is a turtle-paced-loading website, the project will hopefully take off and become a useful tool in aiding inventors like Mr. Caroro in fielding tech innovations like his G-Car. It has to be noted, however that this is not the first time the DOST attempted to set up a program that it hoped would help local industries take off.

Asia’s uncommon manufacturing industry roots

Asia has, arguably, three main manufacturing powerhouses: Japan, China and South Korea, but they each have unique histories in terms of the growth of their manufacturing sectors.

Japan embarked on a sizable Meiji Emperor-sanctioned industrialization effort during the late 19th century, and while for most of mid-20th century they had the reputation of producing cheap imitations, relentless improvements in process and technology eventually allowed them to come up with advances above and beyond their Western counterparts.

China, meanwhile, isolated for much of the half-century after the Second World War, had to rely on reverse-engineering much of Western technology, as well as technology-sharing with the USSR, and thus almost forcefully expanded its local manufacturing capability, even before its shift to the capitalist market model.

South Korea, on the other hand, was a little bit more orchestrated, with the regime of Park Chung-hee implementing continuous 5-year development periods during the 1960s that nursed and encouraged industrialization, in a rapid expansion that was eventually termed as the “Miracle on the Han River”.

During the 1950s and 60s the Philippines enjoyed a vibrant economy and an apparently advanced manufacturing sector. The sense of security this brought, however, was false: the industries that the Philippines relied on were primarily American and non-indigenous; and whatever prosperity Filipinos enjoyed rested on the mistaken belief that these foreign investments will remain on the country indefinitely. By the time the problems brought about by the Marcos dictatorship manifested itself in economic collapse, the happy-go-lucky era of American-funded industrialization was already on the way out.

An unwanted local manufacturing industry

The local market was, itself, a challenge. While the Chinese had no choice but to use whatever products are allowed by the Communist government, and the Japanese and Korean markets are fiercely nationalistic in patronizing their own products, moneyed Filipinos were obsessing themselves with everything “state-side”. Everything imported from the US was a godsend; anything local was cheap and “bakya” (out-of-fashion).

Whatever local manufacturing industry offering there was on its own, save for those that were American-branded (e.g., Concepcion Industries’ locally manufactured Carrier air conditioners). Probably the only thriving local manufacturing industry was involved in textiles, clothing, or jeepney manufacture: the latter was even threatened to be usurped by the introduction of Asian Utility Vehicles like Ford’s Fierra and Toyota’s Tamaraw.

What eventually killed the jeep industry, however, were steady albeit imperfect improvements in the local transport systems, as well as increased spending power that weaned private vehicle owners to vans and cars and away from locally crafted jeepneys and owner-type jeeps. It did not help that the local market did not have a genuine automobile product to respond to the demand.

Questions in catching up with a global economy

It is not difficult to surmise that it is now nearly impossible to catch up to the manufacturing behemoth called China. It’s hard to compete with the business viability of going Chinese: cheap labor, power, and highly developed infrastructure trumps any sort of nationalist lament; it simply dictates against the principles of profitability and sustainability. It would be rather ironic to even note that Caroro and his G-Car might turn out to be better cheaply manufactured abroad than made in the country. It should be noted that the e-jeepneys in Makati, Bacolod and Cebu are all made in China.

However, the ill-effects of the Philippine labor-export industry tend to undermine whatever benefits, both real and unrealized, that the said industry has. Large populations of disunited families will be more damaging in the long-run, and skilled overseas labor has brought neither expertise nor industry that the country could positively exploit. The questions now arise: should the Philippines try, daunting as it may seem, to catch up with the Asian manufacturing giants? Should it refocus on other sectors, particularly in services (perhaps, business process outsourcing), which might have been effective for some economies (Hong Kong comes into mind)?

Will Filipino industrialization remain as an electric dream?

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