It is not a shocking fact that this archipelago composed of 7,107 tiny islands in Southeast Asia (SEA) was once the richest in the region, earning it the nickname “Tiger Economy”. The Philippines is rich in agriculture and is one of the foremost producers of pineapples, bananas and coconut products. It is also regarded as the fifth most mineralized country in the world because of its rich natural resources such as coal, copper and nickel. Its potential oil and gas sources also put forward great opportunities.
NO LONGER A TIGER ECONOMY, STILL A TIGER SPIRIT
While no longer considered a “Tiger Economy” in Asia, the Philippines retains its “tiger spirit,” constantly trying to bring the country back to its previous level of prosperity. Its agriculture sector remains to utilize over a third of its labor force. Overseas workers’ remittances accounted for 8% of the country’s GDP in 2012 and proved resilient even through the shock of the global financial crisis. It has, at present, a growing industrial sector producing semiconductors, microcircuits and finished electrical machinery. Its fiscal deficits for five consecutive years decreased to 0.1% of its GDP and its budget was balanced two years in advance of the original plan. Overseas remittances grew by 7.2% to $20.1B in 2011. The Philippines continues to move towards investment systems and liberalized trading through unilateral liberalization and strategic measures by regional and multilateral frameworks and partnerships. Trade growth and liberalization together reduced poverty in the Philippines though it is not totally evident because the results of trading are frequently indefinite.
THE PERILS OF FOREIGN DEBT
While these signs of improvement bring hope, there is still the matter of the Philippines’ lingering foreign debt. Owing a large sum to foreign creditors is very harmful to the economy. First, with the government’s focus on allocating budgets to pay the debt, it may overlook other focus areas such as poverty alleviation and unemployment. Second, potential foreign investors are discouraged from transacting with the Philippines due to this high external debt. Third, current investors may decide to pull their capital out of the country which can then lead to depreciation of the Philippine Peso. This depreciation can lead to an even more burdensome debt.
GOOD GOVERNANCE AND THE MEANING OF DEVELOPMENT
Thanks to the current administration under President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III, the Moody’s Investors Service rating as well as the Fitch Ratings for the Philippines have gone up. The government managed to attract more job-generating foreign direct investments, achieved lower rate costs and the appreciation of the Peso.
Foreign investment for the 4th quarter of 2012 posed the highest level since 19964. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board, a total by 12% increase or PhP289.1 billion worth of foreign investment pledges, were approved for 2012 which went beyond the record level in 2011 of PhP258.2 billion. Moving on to the labor force in the Philippines, the Labor Force Survey of the National Statistics Office says it accounted to 40.834 million in January 2013 from 40.226 million in January 2012, translating to about 1.5% increase. The unemployment level has slightly declined from 7.2% in January 2012 to 7.1%. In parallel, the employment level increased by about 1.6% or 37.940 million from 37.334 million. The industrial and service sector employment respectively grew by 4.3% and 6% and the cell center industry resulted to have the most number of employed workers having a total of 411,118 workers in 2010 which I believe has further increased today.
Somewhere amidst all these numbers and percentages I hope to see the effects of development on a human level: improved health, better nutrition, higher education, sufficient food, and access to good medical care especially in emergencies.
THE WAY FORWARD FOR CONTINUED DEVELOPMENT
Being rich in natural resources alone is not enough. Relying on the government alone is not enough, either. The secret to development lies in the hands of the Filipino people.
The Philippines is for the people, by the people. Filipinos makes up the Philippines. The Philippines needs its citizens to take action.
If each individual takes charge of developing themselves, of maximizing their resources, of fulfilling their duties as citizens, then they can make a difference. Taken alone, the effects of the individual’s actions may appear to have little to no effect on the bigger picture. Taken together, however, the collective effect can lead to a prosperous Philippines.
THE POEWR OF A TINY DOT
Back in the United Nations in New York City, when the proposed UN seal was shown wherein the world is to be represented, Carlos P. Romulo, a diplomat, politician, soldier, journalist, educator, author, and a strong advocate of human rights, freedom and decolonization, noticed that the Philippines is not present in the seal and asked US Senator Warren Austin, “Where is the Philippines?”
Senator Warren replied saying that, “It’s too small to include. If we put the Philippines, it would be no more than a dot.”
Romulo answered, “I want that dot!”
And today, looking at the UN seal, we see a tiny dot between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
You cannot paint a picture without a tiny dot. Pictures are made of a multitude of tiny dots and each dot counts. In the same way, each individual within these 7,107 islands count. Everyone has to do their part to paint the big picture of Philippine development.
Danielle Anne B. Marabe is an intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office.