UP’s centennial year marks the opening of the UP Ayala Techno Hub, which incidentally found its inauguration marred with violence as legal protesters were mauled and hauled off to jail without any charges whatsoever, by the Presidential Security Group (PSG), as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was a participant in the said event. If one wonders why a simple protest is met with seriously violent repression, the reason goes deeper than Ayala and GMA wanting the event to go smoothly.
The Techno Hub is among the growing trend of Science & Technology (S&T) Parks that have risen on the land of a number of academic institutions – UP Diliman being a prime example with 2 parks now up and running – under the guise that it is the wellspring of development and technology through private and academic partnership. Its inception was met with warm approval, given the common notion that it would lead to the formation of Research & Development (R&D) laboratories and facilities that will help local scientists and engineers espouse technological and industrial development. Patterned after the “Silicon Valley” technological sector of US fame, S&T park proponents invest in academic R&D to make our institutions supposedly market, and essentially, globally competitive.
This perspective, however, cannot adequately explain certain contentions to its intentions and projected outcomes, as advocated as early as 2003 by militant elements of the academe and other progressive sectors. At the most basic level, it is contended that the commercial partisanship in academic institutions have tainted the quality of education and profession, as it has essentially encouraged what political economists tout as the “Brain Drain”, the exodus of intellectuals to market-oriented careers and services, diverting them from courses and jobs required for nation-building and industrialization to quick-profit vocations.
And these signs of commercialization have been ever present in the Ayala parks. At the onset, majority of its facilities have housed Call Center (also known as Business Processing and Outsourcing or BPO) Industries like IBM and Accenture, perpetuating themselves as the R&D facilities themselves, and recently has found itself with more blatant commercial establishments like Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Time Zone, among others. As one mother told to her UP student daughter, “May bagong mall na kayo dito sa UP ah.” Fresh in the memory of the UP community is the recent bank robbery inside the UP academic zone that resulted in 3 deaths. PNP Officials themselves attributed the occurence to the presence of commercial establishments within UP, and with the advent of more profit-based establishments comes the probability of increased incidences of crime.
That is beside the point that these BPOs have already a substantial number of UP graduates and incumbents under their wings. Some opt to forego their studies and pursue BPOship full-time as they perceive BPOs to be financially secure jobs, even as the seemingly huge salary is actually not even close to 1/3 of the normal salary a call-center agent would actually earn on US soil. It is also under the context that the global financial crisis the US and other huge economies are facing has led to massive layoffs, particularly to our OFWs. This is an indication of how semi-skilled export labor services such as BPOs have no sustainable character to warrant itself to be called a self-reliant industry. The last two decades have seen such services like domestic care, nursing, information technology and semi-skilled labor such as construction collapse (or at the verge of doing so) as external demand wanes, and rest assured with the global free market in a state of crisis, demand will continue to reach record lows the likes never seen before since the last Great Depression of the 1930’s.
Our economy is kept afloat primarily by OFW remittances, outsourcing and micro to small-scale industries, with the largest industry being the semi-conductor industry that is in actuality semi-finished and counts as a raw material. If it is this export-oriented labor that our nation considers as a basic industry, it is then equivalent to condemning our national economy to remain an extension economy to US and other global powers. With our agriculture (our basic economic backbone) in shambles, and with genuine industries such as metallurgy, chemicals and electronics remaining subpar if not non-existent, focusing on industries and services that suffer with the smallest rupture in global boom-bust economies it is linked with means sustaining the chronic socio-economic crises that our country is already experiencing.
In the final analysis, such a perspective is actually adverse to the third world’s quest for national industrialization. The trend of failed market-oriented vocations has demonstrated how “industries” directly connected to the anarchy of global freemarket economies would plunge our own economy deeper in crisis and farther from development. In the first place, the huge difference between the social conditions of the Philippines in contrast to first-world countries should have been an obvious indicator of why auxiliary industries like information technology and advertising work in a market atmosphere with oversaturated basic industries, such as US, and not in extension economies like the Philippines’ that have nothing to begin with.
The idea of S&T Parks are of noble gesture, however the form and content of its current incarnation are otherwise. R&D that is incubated in our leading academic institutions should harbor technology appropriate to our country’s localized needs and conditions, such as developing sustainable agricultural implements and practices, renewable energy sources, and other technologies that supplements the basic industries that our nation needs. Unfortunately, the same economic crises that push colleges and universities to pursue commercialization policies also push students and professionals themselves to pursue the greener pastures of BPO and OFWhood, and so on.
This, however, is no reason to succumb to the vicious cycle neo-colonialism has imposed on its subservient nations. The struggle to oppose the complete sell-out of the Philippines’ basic social services is uphill, what with government policies like the Long-Term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP) for 2010 that fully subscribes to the self-serving doctrine of globalization giants in maintaining a commercialized, neo-colonial status quo in education and industry in general continuing to aggress the basic human rights of the Filipino people. The challenge is upon us to tirelessly expose the self-destructive nature of the illusions of grandeur capitalism has blinded our people, to enjoin them to participate in the mass movement that advocates for tactical gains in policy reforms, and to empower them with the structural reforms that would strategically resolve the core of the chronic crises that our country faces through the advocacy of national democracy.