Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Philippines 2050 BY ALLEN GABORRO (FilAm Star, January 20, 2012)


Did anyone see the recent Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) report that predicts that the Philippine economy, for reasons involving the country’s “improving fundamentals,” will develop into the 16th largest economy by the year 2050? This would represent a jump of 27 places from where the Philippines is now. Is this an accurate prognostication or is it a delusionary national aspiration that is never really going to happen?

I’ll give the HSBC report this much: it sure sounds encouraging for the Philippines which the bank says belongs to the select category of emerging “fast-growth” nations that are expected to magnify economically by an average of over 5% annually. More specifically, HSBC cites that the Philippines is slated for an average yearly growth rate of 7% in the next forty-year period.

These twinkling numbers and forecasts are based on such indicators like expanding economic fundamentals and “powerful” demographics (a swelling population that is adequately educated and skilled). It is only fair to point out that any future upsurge in these indicators is contingent upon widespread educational sustenance from generation to generation, a re-anchoring of society and government in democratic doctrine and conviction, and the responsible administration of society based on the rule of law.

The agony and the ecstasy of the HSBC report is that it adds high-minded and constructive yet exhaustively-sterile optimism to the national and international conversation about the Philippine economy. Let us not forget this truth: numbers, like pictures, can indeed lie. Numbers, if you want to look at them this way, are nothing more than imperfect arithmetical quotes on a said subject. It goes to follow that statistics do not and cannot tell the whole story.

It’s not that I don’t think the Philippines is capable of fulfilling the expectations of the HSBC report. If everything goes as it should, then the Philippines will be among the world’s successful emerging economies by 2050. But before Filipinos can stop and admire their economic momentum towards the top of the list, they have to revisit the harmful legacies of corruption, poverty, and socio-economic inequality that have created major barriers to development. As much as anything else, these legacies have led the Filipino people to ruin.

Filipinos can savor HSBC’s exciting forecast all they want, but the real drama will be in whether they can look past the favorable theoretical numbers and put themselves on the path to concrete growth. Throwing gracious stats and projections at impoverished Filipinos like so many strips of confetti to celebrate something that has yet to come—if it is coming at all—is a quixotic gesture unless it is backed up by action on the corruption and poverty fronts.

I remember how during the administration of Fidel Ramos economic experts were singing his praises for deriving statistical growth from his “Philippines 2000” macroeconomic endeavor. But Ramos’s policies and the numerical gains they produced had very little to offer to the Filipino masses that was tangible and immediately applicable to their everyday lives. Under Ramos, the national GDP grew as high as 5.2% while the GNP rose up to 7.2%. But so what? Millions of Filipinos were as poor as ever. You can’t eat statistics, can you?

The Ramos administration was possibly the last time international financial institutions gave the Philippines unflagging credit for inspiring hard confidence in its economic future. So the HSBC report is a godsend for the Philippines, a godsend that is expressly designed to feature the potential rise of emerging economies—the Philippines being just one of them—all over the globe.

What will prove the undoing of this rosy outlook is if Filipinos do not sufficiently break up the monstrous corruption that has had a constipating effect on the Philippine economy and society. And what about poverty, that historic scourge of the Philippine social body? Even assuming that the HSBC report is right on target with all its statistics and forecasts, it won’t mean a damn thing if its elevated figures don’t match the facts on the ground. Just ask China, whose spectacular economic statistics are in conflict with the country’s increasing poverty.
As in China, this situation in the Philippines cannot go on unattended indefinitely. Something will have to give, either socio-economic development or poverty-alleviation. The good thing is that the HSBC report still gives the Philippines until 2050 to realize the bank’s calculations. But can the Filipino poor wait that long?

ALLEN GABORRO

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