Boom Time

MANILA, Philippines - Looking around, one cannot deny there is a construction boom in the country, especially in Southern Luzon. Added to that is the continued increase in remittances from our overseas workers. There was an increase of 5% over last year's remittances in the first quarter of this year, bringing the remittances to close to the level of 20 billion US dollars on an annual basis. As you drive along Cavite and Laguna, the new homes and structures look like New Jersey or Shanghai. With all of this new wealth, what are we supposed to do? First of all we have to thank the Lord. We make holy what we are grateful for. We are still far from Singapore that provides for housing for every one of its citizens. But we are getting there. I remember the five-story housing complexes flying the Singapore flag in the 1970's now replaced or backed up with 25-story luxury housing. We have to keep this ideal for our urban dwellers. One problem is that it may depopulate our rural areas too rapidly.

Housing development and job availability mutual reinforce each other. We need good paying jobs so our workers can afford to pay for the new housing and erase the blight of squatter areas. Without the job creation, the building boom will fizzle out and bring us back to recession. For the present, it is the overseas workers coming home buying housing condominiums for their families or parents. These housing units or condominiums are a big improvement over the tenements in Tondo or Paco.

After this construction boom, what will sustain the good times? We have to do some manufacturing for our consumption. We probably do not have to go through the smokestack type of industrialization to get to a modicum of prosperity. This type of manufacturing we may be able to skip. What we will need is cheap and available power.

A good supply of energy is what will push the country to another level of prosperity. We now have almost all of our big boys steeped in energy production. And this can only result in lowering cost of power. Power from imported hydro-carbons has kept us a second-class nation economically. And yet we have tremendous untapped power sources. We have not yet really put our shoulders to the development of our geothermal resources and ignored the tremendous hydro resources. By the time we have fully harnessed these two, photovoltaic power would have come down in price to make them affordable. Once we have abundant cheap energy available there is no way we can be left behind.

As policy we cannot subscribe to the precautionary principle. In life there has to be some risk-taking. Without some risk-taking we cannot go forward. As the Exxon president said, a precautionary policy can only lead us back to the cave. On the level of implementation we need to take precaution seriously but as a policy it will spell ruin, as it has done in the past. We cannot sit on our hands or prohibit risk-taking even of the environment. We cannot risk becoming lily pure because we have done nothing. Life is filled with normal risks. <emeterio_barcelon@yahoo.com>

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