Bernardo M. Villegas
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Japanese Lessons for the Filipinos

           Nobuo Fujii, executive director of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines, Inc. (JCCIPI) had some very important pieces of advice to Filipinos, as reported by E.J. Diaz in the Business World (September 13, 2011).   From what Mr. Fujii said, I could conclude two important facts about the future of the Japanese economy. First, despite all the obstacles posed by their "lost decade" and the triple whammy of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster, the Japanese have enough strengths, resources and creativity to sustain high standards of living for their aging populations.  The second is that one of the major solutions to their stagnating economy is a close partnership with emerging markets like the Philippines in which they can invest their surplus capital, source their manpower and develop export markets.  We should gladly welcome working closely together with Japanese society for a win-win situation.   We can benefit a great deal from their capital and technology.  In the future, as we resolve problems of language and insurance portability, we can offer to their senior citizens a retirement haven in many secure places in the Philippines.   Although at a diminishing rate, we can continue to provide their consumers with the labor-intensive products that can be produced in the Philippines, such as automotive parts, electronics and semi-conductor components, furniture and garments.  Their economy will be increasingly open to the high-value agribusiness products that come from our farms, such as bananas, pineapples, and mangoes as well as aquaculture products that are very vital to their diet. 

          Mr Fujii has a high regard for the quality and quantity of our work force: young, English speaking, trainable from middle management to worker, reasonably compatible with the Japanese culture.  He compares the Philippines favorably to such countries as Vietnam, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.  He says Vietnam suffers from scarcity of appropriate manpower, language barrier and increasing wage and labor conflicts.  Thailand has similar problems of language barrier and scarcity of manpower (it is aging too rapidly for a developing country). Besides, it leaves little room for small- and medium-sized investments.  India is too  distant  both geographically and culturally.  Indonesia and Malaysia suffer from the same comparative disadvantages.  Finally, he says that the Japanese are uncomfortable about the overly aggressive practices of Chinese business people to maximize profits. 

          There is a fly in the ointment, however.  It is not easy to do business in the Philippines with rampant corruption and endless restrictions against foreign direct investments. He said that until the recent natural and man-made disasters, small and medium-sized firms were slow in moving to other countries.  Now, there is a rush to relocate to keep their competitiveness because of the strong yen and power shortages in Japan.   But the Philippines has to improve in FDI friendliness, especially among LGU units, simplify business procedures and reduce corruption. Unless these challenges are met, the Japanese firms will tend to locate only in export-processing zones where the investment climate is more predictable and there is no undue interference from local government administration. 

          The most important reason, however, why I believe that the Japanese will be able to sustain their high standards of living, despite the almost insurmountable obstacles posed by their demographic winter, has to do with the strengths of their culture.  This was summarized in an email message I received from a foreigner who lives in Japan.  His email was entitled "Ten Things We Must Learn from Japan."  They are:

          --Calmness.  In the midst of the horrors of the recent triple whammy, there was not a single image of anguish and self-pity.  Pain and suffering were endured with much dignity.

          --Discipline:  The patience in queuing while receiving food and water assistance.  There was no harsh word nor rude gesture.

          --Competence:  The buildings started to swing during the earthquake but did not fall, thanks to the rigorous work of the architects and engineers.

          --Benevolence:  People bought only what they needed for the moment, so that there would be enough for everyone.

          --Order:  There was no looting in the stores.  No driver used his horn in traffic and  there was no overtaking.

          --Spirit of sacrifice:  fifty workers remained behind to throw sea water to the nuclear reactors, without thinking of whether or not they would be paid for their heroic work.

          --Tenderness:  The restaurants reduced their prices.  The strong took care of the weak.

          --Training and formation:  Both old and young alike knew exactly what they had to do.  And they acted accordingly.

          --Responsible media:  The means of communication treated the news without sensationalism.  The news reports contributed to maintaining calm and serenity.

          --Conscience:  When light went out in a store, the shoppers put back the goods in the shelves and went out in silence.

          All these are manifestations of the culture of the "common good" that has been cultivated in the long history of Japan.  Parents and the educational system in the Philippines can do much to foster these virtues most of which are rooted in the love of benevolence or what Pope Benedict XVI called in the encyclical Charity in Truth, "gratuitousness."   Hopefully, our closer contacts with Japanese people as they invest more heavily in the Philippines and send their retirees to live among us will help us to emulate these outstanding characteristics that were highlighted by the natural and man-made disaster that recently hit our neighbors from the land of the rising sun.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.