SOMEBODY said some time ago that the Philippines is a rich country pretending to be poor.
If my memory serves me right, the first who said that was a flamboyant lady who wanted to justify her lavish lifestyle at the expense of the Filipino people.
I heard that again from the head of a government agency, using it to justify the purchase of a Momi Momi massage lounger, an expensive high-tech chair that scans a user’s body and adjusts its pressure points automatically.
These things came to mind when we had a dozen visitors at The Manila Times College (TMTC) last week from the University of Kyodo in Kobe, Japan. They were Japanese and Chinese graduate students taking up Masters in Business Administration (MBA)
In the course of exchanging views with our students on their impressions of the Philippines, most of the visitors spoke of how amazed they were about the big shopping malls here despite images in the press that the Philippines is a poor country.
The students had gone around the SM Mall of Asia and had seen the malls in Makati and Pasig/Mandaluyong during their first four days of stay in Manila.
In restaurants, they said they were impressed with the hospitality of the service staff, although they did notice slow serving of their food orders in some places they visited. But in one restaurant, a Chinese student said they were served one dish for free.
They have seen some of the slum areas, and one Japanese student said he was surprised and found it strange to see a Mercedes Benz car parked in one poor community. He said he didn’t know however if a resident owned it, or somebody else did and was just dropping by there.
They said they anticipated the traffic congestion because they read it in the news before coming here. They also knew about the “tanim-bala” extortion racket and were worried about the possibility of falling victims to it.
While they were thankful that none in the group was found to have a bullet in the luggage, they did not expect the traffic jams to be worse. And about the Filipino time? Oh, they were visibly disgusted about locals showing up late for appointments.
A Chinese student who had visited St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig City said he was impressed to find out that the country has a number of medical facilities that are well-equipped to be globally competitive, especially in medical tourism promotions.
Having been around Metro Manila for four days, one of the students had observed the large gap between the rich and the poor. He said he was curious to find out how the government has been helping the small and medium-scale enterprises to push economic growth.
Being MBA students, our visitors said they believe that small businesses need support to grow in terms of infrastructure, capital and tax perks from government.
The traffic congestion around the megacity is an indication, they said, of the urgent need for an efficient mass transportation and adequate infrastructure like roads and bridges. The Japanese students suggested that subways would alleviate and eventually solve the road congestion in the Philippines, just like how it has worked in their country.
Nevertheless, the students said the country has positive economic outlook and that they believe that solutions to problems like infrastructure are underway. They have seen the road constructions as they moved from one city to another around Metro Manila such as Skyway 3 that would connect the south to the north expressways from Makati to Quezon City.
One of the students said the delicious food and “nice” Filipino people are among the things they would remember most about their week-long stay in Metro Manila.
Listening to them and sharing some stories with them was a welcome respite from the vicious name-calling, twisted and propaganda stories on politics in the mainstream and social media.