This was President Benigno S. Aquino III’s remarks at the Asia Society in Sydney on the 25th of October 2012. He talked about the Philippines being a bright spot in the global economy and the reforms his government has enacted to gain investor confidence and improve social equity.
After delivering an eight minute speech, PNoy took questions from the audience.
What was missing from the discussion was an explanation as to why despite the country being one of only a handful in the region that has exhibited robust growth in the first semester of this year has foreign direct investment not returned even when as the president remarked so many attempts at good governance have been made. Instead, it is the stock market that has surged as “hot money” has flowed in helping to drive up the value of Philippine stocks and with it the peso. This in turn has driven down the competitiveness of our exports be they in manufacturing, mining, agriculture or services.
What is needed from the president at this point is a vision for the Philippines, a strategy that would position it well in this, the Asian century, with the rise of China, India and Indonesia. What role will the country play in this century? Will it join these other nations in lifting millions out of poverty? Will it see a rapidly growing middle class earning between $10 and $20 a day (these being the poverty threshold in Brazil and Italy, respectively)?
The president spoke of his mining policy recalibration, at a time when commodity prices globally are declining from their peak prior to the Global Financial Crisis, with the rebalancing of China’s economy driving demand for commodities down, and with global supply about to catch-up with global demand. In Australia the pipeline of investments amounting to around $350 billion has now been cast into doubt as evidenced by BHP Billiton’s suspension in August of projects worth $30 billion in Western and South Australia. In addition, the Mining Resource Rent Tax expected to generate billions for the Federal government raised nothing during the first quarter of its operation due to weaker mining profits.
Now they say, the next big boom will come in agriculture and services as the Asian middle class switches its diet from grains to meat, requiring more agricultural output to supply livestock feed, and as they seek better quality education and travel experiences abroad. As the West deals with its ageing population and demands skilled workers to fill the seats of retiring baby boomers in the next few years, how will the country cope with this race for talent?
Indeed, there are many important questions that need to be considered. The country needs a strategist-in-chief who will demonstrate leadership by tackling these broader long-range issues. Yes, we need honest government, but more than that, we need to know our strategic direction so that our government can navigate through the treacherous terrain our nation faces. There are many things going in our favour: proximity to the world’s fastest growing markets, a large, literate and highly skilled population, and now a government that wants to do things above board.
We need to now harness that latent potential and drive the country forward.