More opportunities mean better opportunities

Published June 5, 2021, 12:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

How to create them for Filipinos

By Tara Polo

For an ordinary person like myself, there are so many things wrong with the Philippines. I have constantly heard about the idea that completing a bachelor’s degree is the ticket out of poverty, but that is not really the case. 

When I graduated from Nursing, there was an oversupply of nursing graduates, which led to the rise of unemployment and an increase in the number of Overseas Filipino Workers counted that year. Many newly registered nurses scrambled to obtain work experience from different hospitals, many of which weren’t offering open positions for new nurses at that time. The new nurses ended up working as “volunteers,” and some even had to pay the hospitals in order to do volunteer work. Still, thousands left the country in order to work as nursing aides, hoping to pass foreign nursing licensure exams and earn the coveted registered nurse’s salary in more affluent countries. This scenario not only happens in the nursing industry. It happens to all other professions in the Philippines as well. And if job positions are scarce for professionals, it’s even worse for undergraduate skill or trade workers. 

I’ve talked to different Filipinos about this phenomenon. Some blame the workers for wanting higher salaries than those offered to them. Some blame sitting governments for not mandating the increase of the minimum wage and making it equal across all regions. Others blame the Filipino mentality of complacency. The root cause, however, of all this has been identified for many years now. The root cause is the lack of economic activity. For how can our country employ millions of workers each year if businesses aren’t sprouting faster than graduates being produced by universities and training centers? The formula is very simple. Workers need jobs. Jobs are provided by employers and employers own businesses. The Philippines needs more businesses to come in to generate more jobs for Filipinos. I have worked in the call center / BPO industry for eight years. The reason workers from different backgrounds flock there is because of the higher wage offers. The job opportunities they open are available to anyone who can do the job. 

Opportunity—that’s what workers are hungry for and many found it in industries like the BPO industry. The crazy part is that most companies in the BPO industry are foreign-owned. It’s like being OFWs working on our own soil. It’s great! Gradually, I have heard of Filipinos from Luzon moving to the Visayas (where I was working) to work in the BPO industry and eventually settles in with their families.

Generating more job opportunities in regions that lack economic activity is one of the keys to solving poverty and congestion of metropolitan areas. Let’s face it—people need money. And if the job opportunities that they find can sustain more than their needs, they will be more than happy to work. Now, the next problem is how? How can we generate more job opportunities in the poorer regions?  

TREASURES OF THE LAW The 1935 Constitution and its tabernacle displayed at Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon City (Photo by Julan Shirwod Nueva)

Think about it. All regions started out with little economic activity. These “rich” regions gradually accumulated wealth over time. What they have done was no mystery. They made themselves friendly to businesses. Those businesses employed their citizens, the number of poor citizens lessened, therefore, the region progressed. We hear from uninformed Filipinos saying so many preemptively negative things about attracting businesses. They talk about foreign invasion, slavery, and colonial mentality. They refuse to accept the reality—businesses are essential for developing countries to get out of poverty. 

As of the moment, I am more concerned about my home region, Region 8. Regardless of which administration runs the country, this region has been left behind because of the lack of economic activity. I cannot even blame the provincial and municipal officials! Attracting businesses to our region depends on the laws and policies set forth by the national legislature, seated in the National Capital Region. Sure, we have representatives in Congress. Because of the centralized nature of policymaking, however, Region 8 isn’t able to craft its own investment policy based on its own peculiarities. That is something that needs to change in our laws, especially in our constitution. The Philippines must completely remove all investment restrictions in the constitution, and leave it up to statutory legislation to regulate or bar certain kinds of investments. Restrictions must never be set in stone. Along with this, the Philippines must give regions like mine the power to craft their own investment policies tailor-fitted to the needs of their constituents. Lastly, the Philippines must allow the formation of lawmaking bodies for each region in order for it to continuously debate, discuss, and craft the necessary laws and policies for such investments. Having said that, I am pointing out the necessity of constitutional reform. 

Being part of a social media-based advocacy group, the CoRRECT Movement, I am fully convinced that the Philippines requires the three basic reforms as stepping stones to prosperity. Note that I am saying these are merely stepping stones, and not the only “final solution” to our economic problems. 

The first reform is economic liberalization, where the constitutional restrictions on investments must be totally removed and be left to legislators to craft, debate, and change investment policies based on the needs of the times. Face it, what we require today may not be sufficient for the economic landscape of the future. We must have the appropriate legroom to change when we need to. We must not be rigid. This liberalization of the economy will be a big breather for the investors, whether foreign or local. They won’t be afraid to invest in the Philippines on a long-term basis because they know that the laws in the Philippines have the flexibility to suit their needs. 

The second reform that the Philippines needs is federalism, where all regions will have the power to chart their own paths toward prosperity. One group of about 250 people located in the central capital cannot possibly be able to understand the different economic needs of each and every region! Each region needs to have a regionally elected body tasked with taking care of the needs of constituents in the region. 

Opportunity—that’s what workers are hungry for and many found it in industries like the BPO industry.

The third reform that our country requires is the parliamentary system. The national government as well as each region requires a lawmaking body to collectively decide on the policies, laws, and implementation. Learning from the ARMM experience, one person running the entire region is neither good nor efficient, for he will not have the ability to know and understand the needs of every province within the region. The region’s needs must be taken care of by a collective body—a parliament—a chamber of legislators. We must learn from the past—Never place all executive power in just one man. 

POWER CALL The Philippines is a top business process outsourcing (BPO) destination, having an estimated $150-billion industry

These three reforms will provide the very thing that has been restricted by our current constitution—opportunity.

The opportunity to invest and employ more Filipinos.

The opportunity to have a wider variety of employers to choose from.

The opportunity to create laws and policies specific to regional needs.

The opportunity to pitch in ideas and principles from different political stances in a legislative body.

For nurses, these constitutional reforms will provide a vast sea of opportunities. Nurses can choose to work for the government, private facilities, schools, companies, and many more. The competition to hire nurses can become so robust that the salary offers could go crazy high. If that could happen in the nursing industry, how much more for all other professions and skilled trades! There would be so much economic activity that almost everyone could get hired for various job positions! This is my dream for the Philippines. This is my dream for Region 8. This is my dream for my hometown. 

This should be your dream, too. This simple formula of creating more opportunities has been tried and tested in so many other countries. There is absolutely no prerequisite to adopting these systems. We just need to take the first step to make this dream possible. We must get rid of our thoughts of self-hate, low self-worth, and fear of the unknown. We should not think that our citizens do not have the mental and physical capacity to take on challenges once these systems are in place. I believe that Filipinos are capable of achieving great things. If we can achieve great things while working overseas, we can achieve great things while working here on our own soil.

I do not believe we should fear this move for system change, because the outcome is already known all throughout the world. Even the renowned Dr. Jose Rizal mentioned in his writing “The Indolence of the Filipino,” that removing obstacles from achieving the fullest potential of the Filipino is needed to change the attitude prevalent in our country. What he means is that Filipinos need the opportunity in order to succeed. 

Regardless of the administration, we must all work toward system change: Constitutional reform to create more opportunities for our countrymen. Onwards, Filipinos!

Tara Polo is a BS Nursing graduate from Hilongos, Leyte. She has worked in the BPO industry for several years. She is a staunch advocate of constitutional reforms.