The Philippines in the Asian Century

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.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

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  • UPnnGrd

    By the way, wanting to do things is not exactly automatically synonymous with “being able to do things”. ( Surely it would be written as a Nonoy-admin goal — eliminate smuggling…. but ) Tigla of Inquirer-dot net writes that smuggling in current administration exceeds smuggling-numbers of GuLLOO and other administrations.

  • UPnnGrd

    An electric jolt to Pilipinas economy would be NUCLEAR.

    But PersiNoynoy appears to be stuck in a time-warp. maybe whenever he thinks of Nuclear-Power, he can’t get past the image of his mother saying “NO!!” to Ferdinand Marcos Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

  • UPnnGrd

    I still support Doy’s thesis —- having many more Manny Villar’s even if the process is via Wild Wild West is acceptable for Pilipinas. Pilipinas needs a much more explosive wealth-building. Wouldn’t it be super if Risa Hontiveros, Tiglao, the ChairWrecker, Mong Palatino, deQuiros and Harvey Keh and Walden Belllo were all a fifth-as-rich as Manny Villar so they can put together maybe ninety-million or even a hundred forty million personal money to backstop Grace Padaca for a try at Malakanyang?

    Wouldn’t it have been better had worrying about her monthly retirement checks was not an issue and Merceditas via courtroom fights put a spotlight on the constitutionality and legallities when she was eased out as Ombuds-woman? Many Pinoys of Pinas lament the hacendero-class just lording it staying on and on and on forever and ever and ever in the House Of Lords. Having more Villars (the manny’s, not the missus) pitting himself as another choice versus a child-of-a-former-President —- a plus for Pilipinas.

    Pilipinas now? Seventy thousand pesos is all it takes. Sadness for Pilipinas that it only took P70,000 pesos and Grace is a done deal creditility had been bought her integrity compromised. What a waste!!!!

  • I regret to say that I have turned pessimistic. Two acts define my pessimism: (1) the President’s eager support for an oppresssive cybercrime law, and (2) his failure to support FOI. It is clear that President has little vision, not big vision. Big vision is the idea that liberty energizes ideas and motivates investment, and it escapes him in favor of authoritarian controls. Withholding information, failure to push FOI, is one of those authoritarian controls, freezing out the good governance of transparency. He equates good governance with jailing people. Fine. Jail the crooks. But where is the uplift? Where is the Philippines soaring?

    It takes much more than a mining agreement. That is just a tree in a very little forest.