by : Jimmy Ragos

Forty prominent figures in the government, academe, and private/business sector gathered together on 14 August 2012 at Traders Hotel during the focused group discussion on technological innovation and competitiveness, with guest speakers of high caliber present to provide inputs on the present state of the country in technological innovation and competitiveness.

 Focus Group Discussion on Competitiveness and Innovation Inspired by Michael Porter’s famous quote that “competitiveness of a nation depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and improve,”  Dr. Filemon A. Uriarte, Jr., former DOST Secretary and researcher of the ongoing NRCP research project “A Macro-Micro Analysis  of the Technological Innovation  and Its Processes to Enhance Philippine Competitiveness”, said that there is a strong nexus between innovation and competitiveness. A country is competing for investments, trade, people, brand, and image.

The discussion shows that the Philippines lags behind in many respects.  It scored low in the global competitiveness index of 2011 at 75th, 2010 at 85th, 2009 at 87th place, respectively, and was 126th from among 142 countries on government procurement on advanced tech products. In the global innovation index of ISEAD and WIPO, the Philippines is above Indonesia but below Vietnam. And based on the 12 pillars of competitiveness, the Philippines only ranks 108th.

The Philippines is lagging behind in foreign trade. It has not been attracting foreign investors in the last 5 years, barely hitting US$2B against Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. averaging at US$9-10B. Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand have surpassed the Philippines in foreign trade. Compared to Singapore, which is in the innovation-driven stage, the Philippines is in the transition stage.

As Chairman of the National Competitiveness Council (Private Sector), Mr. Guillermo A. Luz said that quality of education in the Philippines is lower compared to other ASEAN countries. He said that what other countries take roughly 1 year to half a year, it takes the Philippines in 4 years.  What others have finished in 1 or 2 years, the Philippines will finish in 4 to 5 years.

To make the Philippines competitive, he said there is a need to instill a culture of excellence in governance and to use public-private collaboration as development engine. The more competitive a country is, the greater its ability to attract investments and trade. The key is not research but how to build research and commercialize it. Corruptions and inefficient government bureaucracy, among others, are among the key constraints that make the Philippines lag behind its ASEAN counterparts. It also does not meet the ASEAN standard in all 12 pillars of competitiveness except in market size.

Prof. Fortunato T. De La Pena, DOST Undersecretary for S&T Services, identified other ASEAN countries’ national and R&D priorities and policies to become competitive. Among others, Brunei Darussalam in on halal foods, distribution of downstream oil and gas industries, development of ICTs, while Laos is into agriculture and natural resources, innovative technologies on soil quality, modern agriculture production. Myanmar’s national priorities are on import substitution, defense support, development of new and renewable resources, rural development support. On the other hand, the Philippines aims to strengthen government programs that contribute to socioeconomic development through advancement of science, technology, and innovation particularly those that support the Filipinnovation project.

“What the Philippines will become in 2013 is what Malaysia and others were in 2010”, Prof. Federico M. Macaranas of the Asian Institute of Management, pointed out. He said our scientists do not know how to sell things to politicians which is pity to this country that does not learn on political mobilization on scientific inquiry. He stressed that innovation is neither science nor technology but the application of knowledge of all types to achieve desired social and economic outcomes.

In contrast, the Philippines ranks excellently in business processing outsourcing that it is no. 1 and emerging no. 2 or next to India in global market. “IT BPO is a much bigger market,” Mr. Benedict C. Hernandez, President of the Business Processing Association of the Philippines, said, “that this decade is about ICT which showcases Filipino professionals to be able to compete with India, the US, and the rest of the world.” Recognized currently as the best BPO place in the world, the Philippines’ power lies in harnessing, harmonizing, and energizing what its people have. He said that the Philippines has appropriate pool of talents, cost competitiveness, excellent infrastructure, government support and public-private partnership, proven tract record.

The panel discussion was moderated by a distinguished political economist, Prof. Jose P. Tabbada.

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