The boldest economic statement made by Mr. Duterte, bar none, is his push for a manufacturing resurgence. Those who grew up in the 1960s to the early 1980s, regardless of persuasion and inclination, cheered and why not. Those with political awareness were reminded of the days of unionized factory workers spread across Metro Manila areas and they made up the de facto middle class. Those keen on sports and the like remembered the days of major basketball teams–Crispa that manufactured shirts, Toyota that assembled cars and U-Tex, then a thriving textile firm with a giant factory of more than a thousand workers along the Marikina River banks.
Those were real manufacturing workers and real factories. And real products that were worn, consumed and used were turned out by those factories. The ratio of manufacturing and service workers was probably 5 to 1 and between 12 percent and 15 percent of the total work force outside of agriculture belonged to trade unions.
And the political force of the workers was clear. During the peak of the anti-Marcos protests in the early 1980s, the late Ka Bert Olalia only needed to clench his fist to push the workers out of their factories in the Camanava area to bravely march on the streets, alongside with priests, students and leaders of the anti-Marcos political opposition.
In those years, we had the basic industries that formed the real core of a viable manufacturing sector: steel, rubber, textile and chemicals.
For instant recollection and easy identification, I will now ask these questions and provide the depressing answers.
Where is Crispa? Totally gone, along with the Floro family’s exit from economic prominence. There is probably not a single steel frame left from the old Crispa factories that produced those iconic and durable off-white and yellow shirts which we, the poor kids, considered as our prized wardrobe. The rich kids wore Munsingwear and Hang Ten. We, the poor ones, would strut around and walk proud if we had our Crispas on.
Where is Toyota? Reduced to selling vehicles from Thailand with a little assembly here and there.
Where is U-Tex? Gone. Just like Crispa, there is nothing left of its once-thriving Marikina-based factory.
Where is Mariwasa? It has been reduced to just another tile wholesale and retail outlet.
Realistically, with these sad turn of events as backdrop, we need to find answers to the original question: Can we really, really usher in a new age of manufacturing resurgence?
One answer I got was this. Mr. Duterte’s grand dream of manufacturing resurgence is just as hopeless as Donald Trump’s recent promise in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to revive the steel jobs there and to bring back the good old days of decent-paying factory jobs . Pittsburg’s main employer is now the university medical center . It has more health (nurses, caregivers, etc ) workers than steel workers. That is the new reality and Pittsburg cannot be “ Steel Town “ again.
Looking at our own context , the Philippine realities , we can only see the great odds that would have to be overcome to fulfill Mr. Duterte’s dream of a manufacturing resurgence. Let us first look at the employment landscape .
In the Marikina-adjacent Libis area where the textile/steel factories also used to thrive, there is no sliver of evidence that factories once boomed here. It is an area of modern office towers that stretch up to the sky. The main economic engine is …. business process outsourcing (BPO) .
A energetic BPO community has to be built on real estate that employs a few maintenance and repair people after the building constructions are over and done with . And service entities of all kind, mostly food establishments, those generally lumped up as wellness, hotels, banks–and the most ubiquitous of all–malls.
The Libis landscape, which was among the first to build its fortunes on the back of the BPO, is replicated even in the larger, more expensive developments in the metropolis, such as the Fort area that hosts the so-called “Manila hubs” of giant US-based technology firms. Almost 100 percent of the activity is service-related, including the hospitals that cater to Filipinos from overseas that want to seek critical medical attention here.
Even in the Camanava area, more so in the city of Valenzuela, the factories are 90 percent gone. The former factory sites are now mass housing developments that cater to, the answer is easy, the BPO and retail workers who cannot afford decent housing near the main BPO sites.
Outside of Metro Manila, there are PEZA-registered sites that do soft manufacturing and assembly–all for the foreign market. What is being done in these sites is not the real and genuine manufacturing envisioned by Mr. Duterte but basically assembling important parts supplied by the foreign locators.
Products ordinary Filipinos need on a daily basis, from clothes to kitchen utensils to household appliances, are mostly foreign brands. If there is any “manufacturing,” all it involves is little assembling and tinkering with the supplied foreign parts.
The efficiency of China’s factories, their economies of scale, the quality of their production lines give us no opening, even just a small entry point, for the revival of our manufacturing sector.
So the big dream to have another family like the Floro and a factory like Crispa, which would mass-produce quality and durable shirts for the masa, looks like a pipe dream, even with all the good intentions of Dutertismo.