OF SUBSTANCE AND SPIRIT
We don’t know about our readers but we like adobo the way we prepare it in Bulacan. Pork belly is braised in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, pepper and salt until it is tender. Pork is seared in its own, copious fat and cooked slowly in lots of garlic cloves to make adobo exquisitely savory with a distinct soy flavor. Hands down, adobo is our favorite eaten with tomatoes from simmering rice and fish sauce on the side.
For this reason, our very own Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) which must have been hopelessly enamored with adobo, is now setting a national standard for adobo to promote it before an international audience. Very quickly, DTI clarified that it’s not so much about setting standard but ensuring that our traditional recipe would not be mistaken for say, a Mexican adobo. DTI wants a “basic traditional recipe that would be promoted abroad.”
Believe it or not, but DTI’s Bureau of Philippine Standards went as far as establishing a technical committee precisely to draw up a national standard on popular Filipino dishes starting with yes, adobo.
We don’t think the pandemic produced this peculiar thinking because faced with a health crisis that, according to Worldometer two days ago, has infected nearly 1.5 million people and claimed more than 26,000 lives in the Philippines, one would be more sensible and focused on preventing the spread of the virus and its variants. Economic scars from deep recession, unprecedented unemployment and worsening poverty should force those in authority to think big and with the urgency of a national emergency.
We are seeing the emergence of the adobo syndrome in public policy. Shakespeare would call it “much ado about nothing.” It’s like brewing storm in a tea cup. It is no less than pathetic for our industry authorities to engage in something that can wait after the pandemic. Contrary to official statement, this would definitely distract them from the more urgent task to mitigate the pandemic and ensure economic recovery. We are far behind in pandemic mitigation, we are far behind in economic recovery.
I recall our participation in the ASEAN investment conference in London many years ago. We were just in the early years of the GMA presidency; we had yet to establish a record of uninterrupted positive economic growth for decades. After the finance ministers spoke about their respective economies, their dynamics and prospects, we retreated to break-out rooms where potential investors, market analysts,and media could flock for more engaged discussion. We failed to attract even a quarter of the room’s full capacity. Indonesia and Malaysia put up decent attendance. Vietnam was the crowd-puller of the London conference. It was standing room only.
No, the Vietnamese delegation did not speak the Queen’s English. But they had excellent message to convey to the overflowing crowd. Their trade minister spoke broken English but his message was solid. He assured investors they could obtain their permits to operate in just about a week if the documents were complete. He presented the blueprint of their overall industrial plans for the next few decades — the general direction, which sectors and specific lines of activities needed foreign capital, expected number of jobs that could be created. The Vietnamese who triumphed against the US just less than 50 years ago were purpose-driven. They invited partners with assurance of good infrastructure, consistent public policy on business activities and clearly-defined set of incentives.
The Vietnamese came out in the global markets with such clarity of an economic blueprint that investors could always consult as a playbook. In the last 50 years, Vietnam chalked up great strides in urban and rural planning, industrial growth and agricultural development. Vietnam has gone a long way because it majored in major issues and avoided being held back by trivialities.
Here, the five years of President Duterte, according to the recent Ateneo report by Michael Yusingco, Ronald Mendoza, Gabrielle Ann Mendoza and Jurel Yap, aptly titled “Duterte @ 5: The Administration by the Numbers” show some hint of the adobo syndrome. As the broadsheets reported, “Mr. Duterte’s administration ‘fared well’ in terms of passing legislative reforms compared to previous administrations.” But the Ateneo researchers concluded that like previous governments, it still failed to produce what they called “systematic change.”
Many of the laws passed under this regime allocated funds for the benefit of local governments. Some involved the establishment of schools while the rest changed the names of provinces and streets.
Duterte was reported to have the lowest number of priority bills passed — 10 in the 17th Congress and only six in the 18th Congress. This is particularly sad because the President appeared unwilling or unable to fulfill the many bold reforms he promised during the campaign. One good example, as many have pointed out, the Anti-Terror Act was prioritized by Congress over the Bayanihan law which aimed to address the very heart of today’s crises. The President’s legislative priority “cannot be said to have responded to what we ultimately need as a nation.”
We are therefore not surprised at the recent news that more debt watchers may revise Philippine credit outlook to negative, as started by Fitch ratings. The pandemic drag may be transitory but the economic scars may be more long lasting.
We need more than templating adobo recipe.