June 20, 2024

Sometime last month, a Korean firm submitted a plan to introduce a technologically advanced plant to be established at the strawberry fields in La Trinidad, Benguet so as to enhance the production of strawberries by using scientific means.

On paper, it looks good for the Cordillera strawberry industry. Yet, hardly has it been presented when adjoining local farmers engaged in the production of strawberries entered their staunch opposition, claiming that a commercially assisted strawberry producing factory shall put them out of business.

The local farmers desire to protect their own production not realizing that in doing so, they are wasting the opportunity of obtaining scientific advancement in improving their craft. This, in itself, is protectionism at its worst. In the end, it is the farmers themselves and ultimately, the consumers who suffer.

This is not the first instance the consumers have to bear the stagnation of production and service due to the protectionist mentality. We don’t have to look far. We only have to look inside the backyard of our beloved city.

Long before, there was a plan to develop the city market which, obviously, needs whole scale renovation if only to promote its cleanliness and orderliness which is in a state of disarray. The plan was repeatedly made not only by one corporation but several corporations which, through the years, submitted proper bids.

Alas, when the contract was about to be signed, vested interests intervened and promptly thwarted the development plan. These groups intervened for the sake of protectionism. The result is that the city market remains to be dormant and every conceivable attempt to develop it is almost always put on hold.

Just what gives confidence to the Filipino people to stop development plans for the sake of protectionism? Well, no less than the Constitution enshrines protectionism. Several provisions thereat disallow some forms of development to be undertaken by specific individuals in order to, accordingly, protect some industries that are worth protecting.

For instance, the retail and media industries must be 100 percent Filipino owned otherwise, it is illegal. This, therefore, put Nobel Prize winner Maria Ressa into trouble notwithstanding that in putting up her media outfit, her main purpose was to promote equality of space and a fair competition in reporting events as they happen.

It is not different in the case of the Manila Hotel. In this case, the government advertised a bid to rehabilitate the century old Manila Hotel. A Malaysian firm submitted its bid, it offered to raze down the structure, put up a state-of-the-art hotel and promote Manila as a tourist destination. Ironically, it never materialized.

Upon a case filed in court, it was ruled that the old building is an edifice worthy of protection and preservation due to its sentimental value. To raze down the edifice is to erase the memories of a number of momentous events celebrated there.

There is nothing wrong with protectionism. In fact, it is one of the means by which local producers are guarded against unfair competition. However, from the economic standpoint, there are more negatives than positives if we adhere to protectionism. It prevents growth. In the examples that I cited, had protectionism not reared its ugly head, there would have been modern advancement in our country.

Protectionism prevents the transfer of technology. It stagnates any undertaking it protects by making those who are on its side idle. The thought that the status quo will always be maintained builds overconfidence thereby removing any incentive to rise to a higher level.

In a sense, protectionism is anathema to our system of society because in a democratic country, the growth of its economy is dependent on competition. There can be no fair competition with a protectionist kind of mentality.

Without competition, services and products shall not improve and if there is no improvement, there will be failure of what we expect from the government. It stunts the economy and creates some sort of a cartel out of every industry.

This is why we have so-called “bawang queens”, “sibuyas kings”, “jueteng lords”, “political kingpins”, etc., etc.” Because of protectionism, only a few who are privileged and have the proper connection can supply the chain of demand. This is not what we envision.

No wonder, there are moves to amend the constitution in order to remove the protectionist provisions. But, with people and politicians who are by nature protectionist by orientation, this planned amendment is far-fetched and is doomed to fail.