• Wanted: Efficient communicators

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    GIL H. A. SANTOS

    WE are already in the 17th year of this 21st century, popularly predicted to be the Asia-Pacific Era. And the 10 economies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are expected to be the world’s fastest growing region. Overall, the United States is predicted to lead the global development but China will be a secondary trigger.

    Presumably, the leaders of the ASEAN 10 have gone through their strategic planning and well into their implementation to attain the region’s rightful place–-hopefully with inclusive economic growth—among the progressive nations with far, way smaller number of poor or marginalized peoples.

    Realistically, however, this dream cannot be realized without hard work within the realm of realities. It is a lot easier said or imagined than done. All factors affecting this coming future must be reckoned with: 1) geopolitics, 2) the economic race all countries are now in, 3) the varied socio-cultural factors in each nation’s life amassed due to the different colonial histories of each, 4) the demographics and population growth, and 5) the total environmental situations—considering the global issue of climate change.

    As far as can be reasonably estimated (or guessed if you wish), the military and political tensions in the Asia-Pacific region between the superpowers and China will not explode into a third world war because of all the economic stakes the US, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and the ASEAN do not want to be razed down into oblivion. However, the probability of a war still cannot be ignored because a trigger-happy, miscalculating or misinterpreting field commander can fire the first shot.

    The economic derby which is now predominantly influenced by the advances in technologies—information and communication, transportation, industrialization, trade, logistics and raw materials for production, productivity—will always take top priority in any equation. That’s because economic factors caused the last two world wars, specifically, the sources of energy and land for the growing population pushed miscalculating military commanders/dictators.

    Another deterrent to the next war is the total environmental degradation which has pushed political and economic leaders to urgently iron out the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emission and environmental pollution and conserve the world’s polar icecaps and prevent the oceans from submerging island states and about 30 percent of huge land masses. Don’t forget that natural disasters could result in chain reactions of underwater volcanoes in the Pacific “ring of fire”. These catastrophes do not respect sovereignties and territorial borders either.

    Our world history is filled with accounts of these catastrophes. We must learn from these and be prepared to minimize the losses of human lives and properties—and the costlier reconstruction process that must be accomplished. Because we must survive.

    As of today, the World Bank estimates that the ASEAN 10 will have about 666.7 million population by 2020. By 2045 that is projected to be about 787.3 million although the member governments are all projecting population growths of less than one percent.

    Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, will maintain its lead with 300.18 million in 2045, the Philippines will be next with 155.38 million, Vietnam will be third with 111.17 million, and fourth will be Thailand with 66.06 million. The fifth largest in ASEAN will be Myanmar with 70.67 million. Sixth will be Malaysia with 42.9 million while Cambodia will be seventh with 21.6 million while the eighth, ninth and last will be Laos, Singapore and Brunei with 10.06 million, 8.6 million and 615,000, respectively.

    All these can be simply reduced to one vital goal: food and water security for the population and sustainable development equals reduced poverty. Decent survival and progress, in other words.

    The hitch is that in all the ASEAN 10 excepting Singapore and Brunei, the poor are all in the rural areas. And in my own experience as a newsman for the Associated Press, the (defunct) International News Service, AP-Dow Jones and Time-Life for more than 50 years, the poor farmers and fisherfolk refuse to accept technologies for better production and productivity.

    Their reason: “We are not sure if these will really work. Will you answer for our survival if these fail?”

    Of those I have interviewed over the years—and they are still of that mentality today in Laguna, Rizal, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, in the Plaine des Jarres (Plain of Jars) in Laos, Java and Sumatra, in East Timor (Timor Leste)–-still mouth the same question. They are not sure of their future should they accept the changes.

    Considering the low educational attainments of these rural and coastal dwellers, this situation can also be attributed to their lack of education—most of them did not even finish their elementary education.

    I do not know of any quantifiable scientific or scholarly survey made to come to my conclusions but I grew into my teens during World War II and lived in the rural areas of Panay (Iloilo, Antique and a part of Capiz) and my news correspondence work are sufficient for these qualitative conclusions.

    Even some of the government’s rural extension workers, pest control managers, scientists and plant breeders, fail to convince these poor farmers and fishermen because they cannot simplify scientific terms and processes. Their target audiences just do not have the capability to comprehend technical terms.

    In simple words: the messages are not absorbed because the message giver (the communicator) is not understood by the receiver. And this is true in almost all, if not all, of the ASEAN 10.

    For the ASEAN to grow as expected, with 7.6 percent of gross domestic product from 2018 onwards in the case of the Philippines, scientists, managers and professionals capable of simplifying in the different dialects and languages of each country are urgently needed. The scientists must go down to the learning, mental level of their audiences for ASEAN to attain its economic goals.

    Government information offices and agencies must be able to use even graphic illustrations in the local dialects in their messages for production and productivity progress.

    The multinational telecommunication companies have the ability, through mobile phones and portable devices, to even assist the producer farmers and fishermen in facilitating prices and market information.

    ASEAN 10 should now–and can–promote micro-small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the effort to reduce poverty region-wide.

    The World Resource Institute of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund estimates that there are four billion, out of the seven billion population of the world today earning less than US$4 daily, the ASEAN poor included.

    Obviously education, effective and efficient communicators and government assistance to make financial capital available to MSMEs –after the rural and coastal populations are taught to accept and use new technological advances for production and marketing–are needed to keep up with the international economic race.

    The Philippines is the chair of this year’s ASEAN summitry. We should initiate the unified push for the MSMEs. In developed economies, the World Resource Institute says, SMEs account for 60 percent of the world’s employed population, contributing 50 percent of the GDP. That can be definitely improved in ASEAN—after a couple of generations.

    I hope sooner so I can be wrong!

    (Comments and reactions to gilshj99ph@yahoo.com. Gil H. A. Santos teaches journalism and geopolitics at the Lyceum of the Philippines University, and is the president of the Center for Philippine Futuristics Studies and Management.)

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