25 October, 2007

Malaysia’s success

Malaysia’s success

By Antonio C. Abaya
(Manila Standard Today)

Our neighbor Malaysia celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence last Aug. 31 and the months-long festivities that marked that event were highlighted by the launch into space of its first cosmonaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a 35-year old medical doctor and practicing Muslim.

“Muszaphar was chosen from thousands of hopefuls in a nationwide competition that generated tremendous excitement in Malaysia,” wrote the French news agency, AFP.

He was launched into space on Oct. 11 (while governors and congressmen were being bribed in Malacañang) from Russia’s Star City cosmodrome, with two others: an American woman astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut. The trio spent 11 days in space, including a sojourn in the International Space Station, and returned to Earth on Oct. 22.

A historic moment for Malaysia , said its deputy prime minister, Najib Razak, that made his countrymen “stand a few inches taller.”

“This is a very momentous and historic occasion for Malaysia. It will go down in the annals of our history because this is a first for Malaysia in space and he has returned safely,” gushed the understandably ecstatic Najib.

Now, how come the Philippines’ national leaders never ever thought of sending a Filipino astronaut into space? I know I made such a suggestion to one of President Corazon Aquino’s lieutenants sometime in 1990.

But either the suggestion was not passed on to her, or she did not think the idea was worth the bother. She had just survived Gringo Honasan’s two coup attempts against her, in 1987 and 1989, and she was probably too engrossed in trying to prevent a third coup to think about sending a Pinoy into space.

A pity. I did mention that suggestion to a subsequent US Ambassador, Dick Solomon, and he thought it was a good idea that he would have endorsed to Washington if a request had come from the Philippine government. And he took a small notebook from his vest pocket and made a note of it. But the Philippine government obviously never made such a request, and that was the last I ever heard of it.

About 10 years ago, a Fil-Am woman in her late 20s came here and announced that she was making representations with the Russian government to enlist in Russia’s space program. Obviously she was looking for financial backing from the Philippine government: It would have cost several million dollars

But such backing never materialized, so she went back to the US , her dreams of orbiting in space discarded into her mental trash can.

Perhaps the post-Arroyo government will re-consider my suggestion. A Filipino orbiting in space would be a boost to our sagging national ego. After decades of almost endless defeats and humiliation, a Filipino astronaut in space would be a much needed victory and triumph that we all need to restore our sanity and self-esteem.

It would give Philippine media something worthwhile to focus on, aside from its almost exclusive fascination with scandals, predatory trapos, mercenary coup plotters, showbiz fornicators and tiresome communists.

And it could trigger a paradigm shift in our national psyche. Such as, for example, inspiring more Filipino students to take up science and engineering, rather than law.

I know it did something like that in the US when the Soviets launched their first Sputnik satellite 50 years ago last Oct. 7. I was a student at Northwestern then, and the success of the Soviet launch plunged American leaders, media and the public into much soul-searching and breast-beating, about how they had been overtaken by the Soviets, how their education system was inferior to the Soviets’, even to Western Europe’s and Japan’s, how they were not producing enough scientists and engineers etc.

Americans also became more cosmopolitan. I was enrolled in a Russian language course. When the course started in September, we were only six in class. But after the Sputnik launch in October and the subsequent soul-searching and breast-beating, our class ballooned to more than 60 and had to be divided into several sections.

The soul-searching did much good. The Americans were able to rebound from their collective depression and, prodded on by President John F. Kennedy (who was to be assassinated in 1962), went on to beat the Soviets in landing the first men on the Moon, in 1969.

We Filipinos have undergone years of soul-searching. What we need is a major symbolic triumph to lift us out of our depression. Manny Pacquiao is not adequate: His ill-advised detour into politics and his obvious lack of education do not make him a good role model. A Filipino astronaut in space would be a more compelling symbol of our aspirations.

(OK, OK, Some wise guys will suggest that we send GMA and her husband into space, and leave them there. But to be fair, we have to include some senators and congressmen, as well as some bureaucrats and generals. It would be too expensive, guys.)

But to get back to Malaysia, Boo Chanco e-mailed me a short article titled The Malaysian Miracle, written by Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank and outspoken critic of free trade and globalization. It can be accessed at www.project-syndicate.org

Stiglitz writes that at independence 50 years ago, Malaysia was “one of the poorest countries in the world.” Its gross domestic product then “was comparable to that of Haiti, Honduras and Egypt and some 5 percent below that of Ghana. Today, Malaysia’s income is 7.8 times that of Ghana, more than five times that of Honduras, and more than 2.5 times that of Egypt. In the global growth league tables, Malaysia is in the top tier, along with China, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand.

“Moreover, the benefits of growth have been shared. Hard-core poverty is set to be eliminated by 2010, with the overall poverty rate falling to 2.8 percent. Malaysia has succeeded in markedly reducing the income divides that separated various ethnic groups, not by bringing the top down, but by bringing the bottom up.

“Part of the country’s success in reducing poverty reflects strong job creation. While unemployment is a problem in most of the world, Malaysia has been importing labor. In the 50 years since independence, 7.24 million jobs have been created, an increase of 261 percent, which would be equivalent to the creation of 105 million jobs in the US….”

Stiglitz’s short article did not go into some details. In the 1980s, Malaysia followed the examples of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong and geared its economy to the export of manufactured goods. The Philippines did not, until the presidency of Fidel Ramos in the 1990s.

In 2005, Malaysia’s exports totaled $147.l billion, compared to the Philippines’ $41.3 billion, or $105.8 billion more than the Philippines. Malaysia has been actively selling itself in the global tourist market since the 1990s, as anyone who watches cable TV can see from the ubiquitous “Malaysia Truly Asia” ads in CNN and the BBC. The Philippines had an ineffectual “Wow Philippines” campaign which, mercifully, was withdrawn about three years ago, but not replaced since. In 2006, Malaysia drew in 16 million tourists, the Philippines not even three million, or 13 million more than the Philippines.

If you convert into jobs Malaysia’s surplus over the Philippines of $105.8 billion in exports and 13 million in tourist arrivals, you will come up with millions of jobs that Malaysia generated, and the Philippines did not, in just two sectors alone. This would explain why the Philippines exports its people (eight to nine million) and Malaysia does not.

Another key ingredient in Malaysia’s success, which Stiglitz only briefly touched on, is the effective and total exclusion of Communists from their national life, through the Internal Security Act, which gives the Malaysian (and Singaporean) state the right to put them in jail indefinitely and without trial.

Unlike in the Philippines where Communists are and have been allowed to organize fronts among workers, peasants, fishermen, students, academe, public school teachers, government employees, medical workers, etc; to edit newspapers, write columns, host radio and TV programs; to become presidents of state universities; and even to run for Congress.

Guess which country has more peace and stability, and which country is bogged down in endless conflicts.

Stiglitz also did not mention in his article that much of the entrepreneurial activities in Malaysia came and come from its large Chinese community, estimated at 24 to 30 percent of its population (compared to only about 3 percent of the Philippine population). Without its large Chinese community, it is doubtful if Malaysia would be where it is right now.

Dear Malaysian Readers, what say you ?



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