Bernardo M. Villegas
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Intangible Export of the Philippines

           When economists talk about exports, there is usually a distinction between “visible” exports, i.e. goods and “invisible receipts”, services.  Thanks to the insights accumulated over the last five years by a group of academics and business people, led by former Chilean Ambassador to the Philippines, Roberto Mayorga, we can now talk about  a third category of exports:  the intangible ones.  Last December 2, 2015, the book entitled “Calidad Humana” was launched at the Cultural Center.  This book can be considered as a manual on how we Filipinos can preserve our most valuable contribution to global peace and joy, especially through the more than 10 million Filipino overseas workers the majority of whom are the incarnation of the “calidad humana” perceived in Filipinos by Ambassador Mayorga from the very first moment of his stay in our country in 2010.

          As explained by his number one collaborator in preserving and disseminating this intangible export, Oscar M. Lopez—Chairman Emeritus of the Lopez Group of Companies—“calidad humana” has no direct translation in English or Filipino:  “In English, it brings to mind words and expressions like ’human compassion’, ‘empathy’, ‘humanity’, ‘human tone’, and in Filipino, it brings to mind kabutihang loob, pakikipagkapwa, or busilak na puso.  It took a non-Filipino like Ambassador Mayorga to discover that calidad humana is prevalent and alive in the Philippines and it explains to a great extent the resilience, cheerfulness, and optimism of most Filipinos.  It also took a foreign diplomat who has visited over 60 countries all over the world to observe that Filipinos may not even be aware of this great treasure that they possess.  Having seen many developed countries in different parts of the world sacrifice this human tone, this joy of living, on the altar of material progress, Ambassador Mayorga sounded the alarm heeded by many Filipino thought leaders that, as Mr. Lopez wrote in the Foreword to the book, “in the process of aspiring for economic progress and development, Filipinos might, like has happened in other latitudes, lose their sense of calidad humana, something that would not be unthinkable if everything in life started to be defined poorly in terms of material worth and an attachment to material things.”  This is not an imagined threat.  St. John Paul II already referred to consumerism as the greatest evil of the modern world.

          I am one of the witnesses to the fact that since 2011, Ambassador Mayorga has been tirelessly working with diverse groups from business, academe, and civil society in general to preserve calidad humana in the Philippines and spread it to the rest of the world, in part through the more than 10 million Filipinos or work or reside overseas. This advocacy has at least three initial tiers to establish the conceptual and intellectual foundation for calidad human:  research, preservation, and dissemination.   As one of the founders of the think tank Center for Research and Communication, I fully subscribed to the need to do a lot of research before even attempting to preserve and disseminate this intangible quality.  As Mr. Lopez asked rhetorically, “For if we cannot identify, describe, and measure it, how will we go about preserving it?  And may I add, much less communicate it to our own people and to the rest of the world.

          As a social scientist, I am trying to relate the concept of calidad humana to attempts of economists in many parts of the world to measure what is called Gross National Happiness to complement the more known and ordinary measure called Gross National Income. Another measure used by economists is Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which in the Philippines has been growing at an above-average rate during the last four years.  The biggest complaint, though, is that this high growth is not trickling down, i.e., the poor are not benefiting from economic progress.  Without denying the importance of eradicating poverty, Ambassador Mayorga commented:  “We were fully convinced that we had discovered a whole new world (in the Philippine slum areas).  It was not a world of material poverty, which we knew too well in other places.  It was a world rich in humanity and humaneness, of men and women who would greet us along the streets and pathways with beaming smiles of children who would put our hands by their foreheads as a sign of reverence and respect; of everyone’s dignified  stance in the face of poverty; of the humility, amiability, and inner peace that everyone radiated…In my modest opinion, the human quality I encountered in  Caloocan is not exclusive to the poor sectors of Philippine society but true to all socio-economic levels…so elevated in comparison with the arrogance, pride, weakness of character, and indifference found in some other countries.  Unfortunately, what we see most daily in the news are the negative aspects, but we can affirm that the large majority of Filipinos have plenty of calidad humana, although in some of them it is sleeping.”  Here, in the eyes of an objective observer from the outside, we are assured that this Philippine treasure is inclusive, i.e. both the rich and poor are able to benefit from it.

            I share the aspiration of Mr. Lopez in his Foreword:  “together, we need to do our utmost to safeguard, preserve, and cultivate this national spirit.  But we should also be aware as Filipinos that our calidad humana can be our gift to the world and that it is both a privilege and responsibility to share what we have with the world.  Just as all countries seek to export their natural resources or their industrial and technological products, the Philippines is in a unique position to export its human richness to all the people of the world.  In a manner of speaking, we are already doing this through the more than 10 million of our countrymen who live and work overseas.”  As a keen observer of OFWs in my travels all over the world, I can say that indeed Filipinos are spreading peace and joy every where they are, even in the gloomiest environments.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.