Duterte warns of one downside of ‘globalization’: Brain and brawn drain

I WAS very pleasantly surprised when President Duterte, for most of his working life a city mayor in Mindanao and hardly known to be an avid reader, demonstrated a grasp of such a complex issue – “globalization.”

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Vietnam last week, after his speech, a British journalist at the press conference asked him about his views on the “rise in anti-globalization feelings in some countries.”

That journalist obviously wasn’t too familiar with the Philippines. Here, “globalization”—the dismantling of nations’ borders to allow untrammeled flow of capital, commodities, and even people—is believed in and embraced almost on the same level as the Catholic faith.

Not a few millennials even think that it is chic to declare that they are only secondarily Filipinos, but are “global citizens” — an oxymoron as citizenship imply a single nation-state. Even the concept of a Filipina beauty—just look at our recent beauty pageant queens—has been “globalized,” so have our basketball, why even our volleyball teams, and few notice.

The dogmatic belief in globalization is due to several factors, among them: our colonial history, especially the American occupation during which we were brainwashed to believe that we were Asia’s “brown Americans”; the fact that the education of our elites have been in the US, where the ideology of globalization—also called the Washington Consensus—was imbued on them; and the massive migration, permanent or temporary, of lower-middle-class to upper-class Filipinos to the US and elsewhere.

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Duterte seemed to have either studied the issue or saw its actual impact on ordinary people and was bold enough to tell the APEC CEO Summit of the downsides of globalization.

Damaged economies
Duterte started his reply: “Globalization, to a certain extent has really damaged poor economies. Globalization by itself is the deprivation of some, those who have been called ‘left behind.’ There has be to some remedial measures.”

Duterte zeroed in on one clear, very negative impact of globalization, for decades known in our country as the phenomenon of “brain drain.”

Duterte explained: “The best of our young minds, Filipinos—the summa cum laudes, the valedictorians—upon graduation, they go somewhere else, most of them to America. So, they are there, they are in Silicon Valley or New York and they tend to gather in places where there is already an economy that is thriving, and leaving behind a country getting bereft of talent.”

We have been underestimating the effect of our country’s brain drain, as globalization has accelerated not just the free flow of capital and goods, but of our educated elite. It is a myth that it has been our poor who have mostly migrated abroad. It is rather the lower middle class to the upper class, including even the crème de la crème. Half of my Ateneo batch in high school and college have migrated to the US and Canada

I was shocked a few years ago that even an old colleague of mine who had been one of the our top investigative journalists abandoned her country to live a New Yorker’s life — teaching Americans journalism in a top-notch (and expensive) university. And she was relatively well-off, one whom I had thought was imbued with the nationalism of the 1970s and 1980s, now all but vanishing.

Her case would be like a tuberculosis doctor educated in state-subsidized University of the Philippines and trained at the Philippine General Hospital who, after becoming a very skilled doctor, migrates to New York to practice cosmetic surgery there. How better would the state of journalism in our country have been – and therefore of our democracy – if she chose to remain in her country? Now she’s totally been brainwashed in US neoliberal ideology that she writes biased articles in US publications on the Duterte administration, in one case even using wrong data – as many other journalists who have moved to the US have done.

Human capital
The economic history of the world has one major lesson: It is human capital –- people’s talents, intelligence, and skills –- that is one of the biggest factors for growth. A very backward territory like Australia and New Zealand swiftly became developed nations in a few decades essentially because of the migration there of the British, who of course brought with them centuries of civilization that allow the blossoming of a human’s talents and skills. The same phenomenon with tiny Israel, which is even a nuclear power, in that case migration of mainly European Jews.

A rigorous economic study in Taiwan using actual industrial data concluded that “human capital accounts for 46 percent of output growth in the manufacturing industry.” A more recent study in Spain had similar results, emphasizing that economic growth is best accelerated by people with higher education.

Japan and Korea in the 1950s and 1960s and China in the 1980s sent hundreds of their youth to the US and Europe for studies in engineering, mathematics, and business – most of whom returned to help in the economic growth of their countries. How many Filipinos go to the US to study and never come back, and instead move to global economic centers? How many UP-educated doctors have left the country, many reportedly even agreeing to be nurses instead so they could more easily get jobs?

Duterte even pointed out that our problem isn’t only “brain drain” but what has been called “brawn drain.”

“The Philippines is having a boom in real estate but developers are having difficulties finding the workers and that leaves us behind in terms of how long it would take to complete a project,” he said. “They have to scrape the bottom to find who can work to build houses. These are the effects of globalization.”

Brain- and brawn-drain has certainly become a problem that has been colossally underestimated, and I hope Duterte walks the talk on this. Businesses, whether foreign or Filipino, would see no use for massive infrastructure if they are unable to find the skilled workers and intelligent staff to man their companies.

The need to replace millions of educated and skilled Filipinos who have migrated abroad, facilitated by globalization, has become more urgent, even as our educational system has deteriorated. The irony, if you can call it that, as I found out during my ambassadorial stint in Greece, is that a significant number of our domestic workers abroad are – school teachers.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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