Time to ditch ‘Filipino time’

MY LATE DAD described me as in ritardo for always being late in attending family affairs. My wife also has the same complaint. For instance, she quipped on our wedding day that she arrived at the church, and I was nowhere to be found. That was 25 years ago, and I still haven’t kicked the habit of being in ritardo.

So is being late naturally me? Can I find comfort in the fact that we have a Pinoy time, in which being late by an hour is still acceptable? A day after the new year celebration, to celebrate his wife’s birthday, mybalikbayan cousin treated the whole family to a lunch buffet in a Makati hotel. I was late by 15 minutes, well within the acceptable time limit. Fernando, the cousin, said he was likewise expecting two nieces and he knew they would follow Pinoy time. Indeed, on the dot, an hour after, the nieces arrived.

In ritardo has become predictable. And just think that Manila time is Bangkok time. How come the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has not thought of that idea — set back Manila time by an hour for one’s arrival for an appointment? It’s as brilliant as the MMDA proposal to ban the entry of private cars on EDSA during rush hours.

In his recent visit to Manila to speak in a conference (and the conference, though hosted by a German foundation, predictably observed Pinoy time by starting an hour late), the Geneva-based economist Butch Montes shared a couple of surprising stories about the relationship between tardiness and economic development.

Butch narrated the story of the late economist Harry Oshima, who resided in the Philippines for many years and became a visiting professor at the University of the Philippines (people are more familiar with his son, Neil, the celebrity photographer). Oshima would tell his associates and students that before the time of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese time was 15 minutes late. Today, in Japan, one is expected to arrive for an appointment 30 minutes in advance.

Butch also cites the Korean heterodox economist Ha Joon Chang who wrote that once upon a time, the British insulted the Germans for being lazy and tardy! Remember that the British had the head start in the Industrial Revolution, making them superior to those in the Continent.

The stories of Oshima and Ha Joon Chang, as narrated by Butch, suggest that the value of time is correlated with economic modernization and growth.

So there’s hope for me and the Philippines — that Pinoy time will no longer be about in ritardo. As we progress and modernize, we can expect Pinoys to value time and expect institutions to work that will reduce the cost of time.

Being late to work because of traffic congestion, decrepit public transportation, and deficient infrastructure is bad for growth and productivity. On the other hand, the state of inefficiency, non-competitiveness, and low productivity does not make people appreciate the value of time.

But wait. What’s happening is Pinoy time becoming more late; add another hour of delay to Pinoy time. That cannot be a sign of progress. Yet, the presidential spokesman explains that the worsening traffic situation and the overstretched infrastructure are but the result of our rapid economic growth. The way I look at it, the present administration is ill-equipped to address the new binding constraints. (The metro railway mess is proof of the incompetence and unpreparedness.)

Surely, it will take many years before Pinoy time is equated with being on time. The next administration faces the challenge of shortening the delay associated with Pinoy time.

That administration cannot be a Binay administration. Jejomar Binay sells the idea that he will make the Philippines a Makati. And that includes building world-class parking lots as part of the solution. With Binay, expect the culture of in ritardo, plus retarded development, to remain.

Filomeno S. Sta Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.

www.aer.ph

This article was first published on Business World last January 4, 2015.
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