Thank Ambassador Cuisia for this Soapbox Moment

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Jose Cuisia, the Philippine Ambassador to the United States. It was a pretty neat experience – It took place in one of the intricately decorated ballrooms of the Little America Hotel, and a lot of community leaders were there, including representatives from the Asian Association of Utah, the Asian Chamber of Commerce, and other Filipino community organizations. I was invited by Consul Jaime Ascalon from the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco because I was the only applicant from the whole state of Utah for the YALFA program that was spearheaded from the Ambassador himself. Though I obviously wasn’t selected for the program, it was still a neat consolation prize.

Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia with Utah Filipina-American Young Professionals at the Little America – October 2012.

It was really interesting to hear what Ambassador Cuisia had to say about American-Filipino foreign relations and international commerce from a Filipino standpoint. I wrote an essay that accompanied my application for that program, and I described all the areas where the Philippines needed to improve – a public debt that is 50.9% of GDP, weak tax collection and infrastructure, and corruption on all levels of government from the local police all the way up to the federal government. Widespread poverty and lack of access to adequate healthcare are also major issues I advocated. I wrote about the need for greater participation by the electorate, as less than 1% of the Filipino population actually gets out to vote. If more effective leadership could be put in place, a lot of these issues could be changed.

Ambassador Cuisia painted a completely different picture of the Philippines. He talked about how it is the second fastest growing country next to China. He talked about how he is confident that the Philippines will move to the sixteenth strongest nation in the world by 2050. He talked about how corruption has been significantly reduced in all levels of government, and he commended the Filipino government on their leadership.

This blew my mind. I understand that as the Ambassador, he needs to sell the Philippines and paint its economic situation in the best light possible – but I also think it’s important to be realistic. I did a little more research, and I read that the Philippines is indeed experiencing rapid GDP growth, but the industries that are growing are service-based or agricultural based. This is due to heavy outsourcing by more developed countries who are taking advantage of the cheap, quality labor in the country. The corporate executives in Filipino countries are experiencing all the growth, while the income gap is growing wider in disparity. There needs to be a solution that benefits everyone, especially those at the bottom. The numbers are duplicitous – high GDP growth doesn’t necessary indicate the well-being of a country as a whole when only one group is benefiting.

This situation is nothing but a more extreme version of the United States. The rich are getting richer and the poor aren’t moving at all. This doesn’t indicate progress. I don’t even think that a “tide that lifts all boats” is the solution. I think there needs to be a way to create more equality. Of course, those at the top earned their status, but they also need to acknowledge the help they had along the way. Their families needed to start somewhere – at square one just like everyone else. I don’t know what it’ll take for everyone to realize the importance of looking out for one another. The rich can’t survive without the middle class, and the middle class can’t survive without the rich. Everyone who wants to live the American Dream should have the opportunity to make it. But sometimes working hard isn’t all that it takes – Some people have extra barriers to entry that they need to overcome before they can actually get moving forward. It could be something everyone is experiencing collectively, like a weak economy, or a person could be a victim of creative destruction, and their labor-intensive job could be outsourced or replaced with technology. It could even be race or stereotypes that hinder a well-qualified person from even getting an interview. Something needs to be done to establish equality, and to create a more level playing field. There really needs to be a paradigm shift in attitude where people actually acknowledge each other and try to see the world from different perspectives.

I kind of went off on a tangent, or two or three, but what can I say – I’m a liberal, and here’s another soapbox moment.

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