Mar 24, 2011

Does the Philippines have a future in a technology-driven world and will Filipinos survive in it?

Dear Filipino,

As someone who has worked in Silicon Valley and who researches on and lectures about IT issues, I sometimes wonder what the future holds for the Philippines. It seems like we are only supplying resources (e.g., IT skilled labor) but not really in the forefront and "making things happen," so to speak.

So my question is: Do you think Filipinos will survive in an increasingly high-tech and competitive world?

The Filipina

P.S. By the way, I like love your new logo, too. But how come MuQ is in the logo while I’m not? Sob-sob-sob. :-(

To My Funny Brown Pinay,

First, I’m glad you like the new logo/banner.

Secondly, I’m really sorry that you’re not in the picture, but don’t you think it would look kinda silly if I were riding you instead of MuQ?

Thirdly, I feel bad not answering a lot of pending questions from readers, but I’m really super glad that you asked your question because it's of the kind I really want to write about.  Because if there’s one thing I am absolutely sure, it’s that Filipinos WILL survive. In fact, not only will Filipinos survive, we are on track to conquer the world!  Hah!

Yup, you heard that right! But don’t take my word for it – take instead the word of the former Secretary of Finance, Roberto de Ocampo, who, thanks to a reader who alerted me about it, has recently written about how Filipinos are really “The Chosen People.”
Consider that, according to some researchers, “in order for a culture to maintain itself for more than 25 years, there must be a fertility rate of 2.11 children per family. With anything less, the culture will decline. Historically, no culture has ever reversed a 1.9 fertility rate.”

The 2011 fertility rate estimate for Spain is 1.47, Italy 1.39, UK 1.91, France 1.96 and Germany 1.41, to name a select few. The average fertility rate of all Western Europe is about 1.5. In short, these nations are either on are perilously close to what population experts call an irreversible demographic decline. To put it more starkly, for example, by 2020 (or just nine years from now) more than half of all births in a country like, say, the Netherlands (1.66 fertility rate) will be of non-European Dutch origin. Furthermore, with the birth rate dropping below replacement, the population of such countries ages and the problems facing an aging population are numerous and startling enough to deserve a separate treatise.

Western Europe is not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. The US fertility rate is, at 2.0, just below replacement and Japan is at a worrisome level of 1.2. For Japan, this means a population decline of about 60 million in the next 30 years and an aging population that will have one out of every five Japanese at least 70 years old by 2020.

However, with the exception of Japan, the overall populations of the above-mentioned countries are not declining. The overwhelming reason for that is immigration (to which Japan is by comparison with others, still somewhat resistant). Guess who comprise one of the larger immigrant populations. Yes, dear—Filipinos!
De Ocampo concludes:
Now we have begun to creep into the world’s bloodlines. The 2010 World Series winning pitcher Tim Lincecum, 2011 best supporting actress Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld, head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat, and R&B star Bruno Mars are all Fil-Ams. It may only be a matter of time before nearly every race on earth has some Filipino blood.
In other words, if you think all these advanced countries are going to go high-tech, Filipinos will at least be tagging along for the ride!

But actually, the truth is, if we play our cards right, we’re not just going to tag along – we can make things happen too, and to a certain extent, we have. In fact, we are really in the position to design our own “ride” – literally!

Now, what do I mean by that?

Well, what I mean is that we have the right ingredients already in place. We have, as you mentioned, the skilled laborers; we have creativity; and, believe it or not, we have years of experience in the transportation field too.

Let’s talk about these ingredients one by one.

First, the skilled laborers.

Many people think of the Philippines as this low-tech country exporting nothing but tropical fruits and basic natural commodities. But in fact, electronics exports accounted for a whopping 61% of the country’s merchandise exports in 2010 which totaled $31 billion. Of that figure, semiconductors comprised 71%!

And Filipinos are not just at the bottom of the high-tech totem pole either, for Silicon Valley has several Filipinos who have achieved substantial success in the field. Dado Banatao, of course, is just one of the more well-known figures, having co-founded Mostron, Chips & Technologies (acquired later by Intel), and S3 Graphics.

All these means, of course, that we have the knowledge capital.  And I strongly believe we also have the creative capital, which, as mentioned earlier, is the second ingredient. 

Kenneth Cobonpue's Phoenix
(Source: TopGear Blog)
In fact, just a few days ago, I read the Inquirer article about Kenneth Cobonpue, a well-known Filipino furniture designer. Apparently, he just outdid himself and designed “Phoenix” – a concept car made out of bamboo, rattan, steel and carbon fiber -- which has drawn raves in a Milan exhibit entitled “Imagination and Innovation.” I saw the picture and it looks awesome – indeed, “a bird posed to take flight.”

What I didn’t like about the Inquirer article is the lead sentence which says in part that “Cobonpue has designed what must be the first and only bamboo and rattan car in the world.”


Because it’s not true! And this brings me to the last ingredient I earlier mentioned: years of experience.

Actually, the honor of “first and only” bamboo ride rightly belongs to the – note the following adjective closely – out-of-school youth and the former mayor of the remote municipality of Tabontabon, Leyte who actually manufactured public taxis made out of bamboo!
Want a ride aboard the bamboo taxi of Tabontabon, Leyte?

And if you think it’s just superficially bamboo, you’re wrong: It’s 90% bamboo!

But wait, there’s more: According to John Voelker, Senior Editor of
The ECO taxis built by Tabontabon Organic Transport Industry [TOTI] come in two sizes: ECO1 seats 20, whereas ECO2 carries eight passengers. Each is said to run for eight hours on a gallon of biodiesel, which in this case is derived from coconut oil.
Did you read that? The thing actually runs on biodiesel! How about that, my dear Pinay?
Honestly, I was floored when I first read about it on Fast Company. I couldn’t believe it because Tabontabon, Leyte does not exactly exude high-tech. In fact, it’s a poor farming town and is considered a fifth-class municipality by Philippine standards!

I said though that the third ingredient is years of experience. Well, these ECO taxis were built in 2009, so a couple of years do not exactly years of experience make.

But by years of experience, I am referring also to our decades of churning out our very colorful jeepneys (a portmanteau of "jeep" and "jitney") which started when the American forces left us with hundreds of surplus jeeps used during the Second World War. We stripped them, elongated them, re-roofed them and made them culturally our own.  That should count for something, right?

FAAIE's enviable jeepney: The Ambassador
As you probably know also, the jeepney used to be notorious as a smoke-belcher, but it has since evolved over the years. Nowadays, there’s even a lot of interest in making them more environmentally friendly and high-tech by making them electric-powered. You better believe it -- e-jeepney is on the way!

In sum, I want to emphasize that we do have the ingredients to not just survive but to thrive in an increasingly high-tech world. All we need now is a cook, a really good chef.  And I hope purpose-driven businessmen will step forward to play that role. Additionally, I hope the government will also step up and at least play the role of sous-chef.  We really need them to up their game big time.

Because believe me, I strongly think that demand for Philippine-made rides will increase, especially from Pinoys abroad because, at least Stateside, I am really sensing a growing pride about their ethnic background among Filipino-Americans. For instance, the Filipino-American Association of the Inland Northwest, which is involved in various humanitarian and socio-cultural activities, has bought a club jeepney. So as a group, they now roll and roar aboard the machine they proudly call The Ambassador.

Good for them! And honestly, I envy them because I too want to roll with one -- and because MuQ has been wanting a break from carrying my heavy bum bum.  What do you think I should call it? (I meant the jeepney, not my bum bum.)

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at


Ephesus said...

I just wanted to inform you that in Los Angeles there is a district officialy dubbed or titled as "Historic Filipino Downtown" - it is "historic' in the sense that Filipinos were the predominant ethnic group in this area in Downtown Los Angeles during the 40's and 50's and 60's - but now the ethnic change has shifted such that the area is now populated 80% by Hispanics. The marker "Historic Filipino Downtown" can be seen visibly along Highway 101 at the Alvardo Street exit.

By the way, there is a Jeepney Tour of this Historic District (yes on a 1946-vintage Jeepney imported from Manila) conducted by a non-profit group called Pilipino Workers Council located at 153 Glendale Boulevard in Los Angeles, 90026

Here is a youtube on the Jeepney Tour of L A

Goldie Lad Po said...

Sa tingin ko wala nang ikauunlad ang Pilipinas. I'm not downgrading our country or anything, pero dahil napaka-corrupt ng mga pulitiko natin, wala ng pag-asa ang bayan na ito!

Anonymous said...

The corruption issue is not a permanent one but just one of the many negative but passing experiences of an emerging economy like ours.

The recent Napoles scandal. I think, had struck the national conscience so hard that it may lead to the Filipino electorate to grow up.

We should all actively support this momentum and not just shrug our complacent shoulders.

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