Crisis can be a big blessing
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-08-10
Mediocre CEOs fear crisis. Afraid that the crisis will overwhelm them, they’ll do anything to avoid it. This accounts for the “Quest for Status Quo” mentality or otherwise known as the “Let’s not rock the boat” mentality that eventually demolishes corporations.

The quest for status quo runs counter to natural order. The wise man will know that everything evolves. The mode for coping with today’s challenges is no sooner superseded by the need for a new coping mechanism.

The best CEOs will look forward to crisis and the opportunities that come with it. They know only too well the natural cycle — that the weapons of today, be it for war or peace, are no sooner rendered irrelevant by developments. It is natural for problems to outwit their solutions.

High solid walls used to protect cities from invaders, but that solution to a threat was rendered inutile after the canon was invented. Like the Biblical Jericho, city walls crumbled from artillery bombardment and invaders poured into the foolish cities that did not evolve another invasion remedy.

The defense layout of Corregidor would have been perfect to prevent the naval invasion force headed by US Commodore George Dewey when he fought the lopsided Battle of Manila Bay that forced Spain to turn over the Philippines to the US. But under the new reality of aircraft carriers in World War II, Corregidor hardly figured in the successful capture of the Philippines by invading Imperial Japanese forces in 1942.

It is through crisis that the best output is drawn from individuals and nations. The crisis that was spawned by the murder of Senator Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983 created the conditions that resulted in removing dictatorship and restoring democracy on February 25, 1986.

It would therefore do the Filipino a lot of good to look at the bright side of the current oil price and food price crises that are affecting the country.

It was on a delightful picnic near Stanford University in May 1979 when I had a most memorable discussion with a Czech-American — Ed Meko. Ed is a transportation specialist and the brother in law of Q Pastrana, the former president of an ad agency I spent many memorable years with. I eventually succeeded Q as president of the ad agency when he opted to join a multinational ad shop.

At that time, California was reeling from a gas crisis. Vehicle owners had to queue to get gas because of a supply shortage. For a state that did not prepare for mass transport, it was a mega nightmare.

But while everybody was complaining and comparing inconveniences suffered, Ed surprised me because he was happy that the gas crisis happened. When I asked him what was the blessing of the crisis, Ed said that it was the best thing that could have happened to a nation that was living in a fantasy land — the mindset that gas will always be available at the convenient price people are used to buying it.

Ed said that if not for crises like what happened during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 (when the Arab world lashed back at US support for Israel by raising oil prices to unprecedented levels that sent economies reeling from the shock) and the then current gas crisis in California ­— folks will never take cognizance of the need to prepare solutions for the future when oil becomes scarce and very costly.

I never forgot that wonderful insight from Ed and his message is simply more relevant today than when he first said it to me 29 years ago.

Thanks to the crises of oil and food prices, we are now seeing a new way of thinking in how our mediocre government is approaching food security and energy sourcing and generation.

Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo thought that she was being smart by opting to abandon the rice production program and resort to food importation. From a net exporter of rice, we have become a net importer. It took the food crisis and its concomitant threat to power for her to shift gears. Look at the mad scramble of Arthur Yap to revive the junked food security program.

We made the mistake of being so anti-Marcos and mothballing the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). It was understandable why we did that in the mid-1980s. There was the discovery that the BNPP sat on an earthquake fault line coupled with the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Now, 22 years later, with Marcos long gone, we are starting to view the BNPP with a new set of eyeglasses. We are now wiser that our neighbors have had successful experiences with nuclear energy and are inclined to use more nuclear energy while we, who would have been the first to have it in our region, is beginning to envy them for making the wise and bold move.

Thanks to the oil price crisis, we are now seeing a lot of vehicles being produced to run on alternative fuel — hydrogen the most promising of them.

The Mindanao Deep is known to have the biggest deposit of deuterium — concentrated hydrogen. This has been discussed since the 1980s and touted as the future of clean energy. Nobody ever ventured to develop deuterium because the cost would have been prohibitive. It was a great idea whose time has not yet come.

But with oil supplies dwindling and prices expected to keep rising as supply ebbs, crisis will prod capitalists to invest in deuterium development. When that happens, and assuming Mindanao remains a Philippine territory, our poor country will transform overnight from a borrower to a lender

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