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Counting our blessings

Publication Date : 31-12-2013


Ten years ago, the Philippine economy was growing at just above 4 per cent. Prices were rising at around 3 per cent per year. More than one out of every 10 workers (11 per cent) was unemployed. Twenty per cent of Filipino families were poor. The exchange rate was 55.6 pesos to the dollar. The government’s tax revenues made up 12.1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2013, the economy has grown by more than 7 per cent. Price inflation rate has averaged 2.8 per cent. Unemployment rate is 7.3 per cent (under a new definition of unemployment that chipped around 3 percentage points from the old definition in use back in 2003; even then, actual employment situation today is better than it was 10 years ago). Poverty incidence is at 19.7 per cent of families. The exchange rate is 43.4 pesos to the dollar. Tax-to-GDP ratio is 13.7 per cent.

By those yardsticks at least, the Philippine economy appears better now than it was 10 years ago. But things actually got worse after 2003, before they got better. The global financial crisis had slowed down the Philippine economy’s growth to as low as 0.9 per cent in 2009, and brought inflation to double-digit rates in 2008.

Unemployment had gone as high as 12.7 per cent under the old definition (or 8.3 per cent under the new definition) in 2005. Poverty incidence actually rose to 21.1 per cent of families in 2006. And tax-to-GDP ratio had dipped to 11.8 per cent in 2004. It is thus a double blessing that things are better now than they were in 2003.

Even then, 2013 was a year of mixed blessings and challenges. The economy saw private investment growing at rates not seen in many years, reflecting much improved business confidence on the part of both domestic and foreign investors. The manufacturing sector sustained an impressive resurgence, with growth in the first three quarters nearing 10 per cent. Remittance income from abroad has continued to grow briskly, reflecting resilience in this important source of foreign exchange earnings and a boost to internal demand for the country. And in spite of a decline in exports prompted by a world market slowdown that actually brought neighbouring Thailand into recession, our economy bested the rest of the region in economic growth.

Still, 2013 was also a year that brought much hardship due to a string of manmade and natural calamities: the Zamboanga rebellion by members of the Moro National Liberation Front in September, the Bohol earthquake in October, and Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in November. Some observers have begun to draw a parallel between the two Aquino presidencies, both seemingly jinxed by natural and manmade disasters, with Corazon Aquino’s presidency having been beset with repeated coup attempts, the Baguio earthquake, and the Mount Pinatubo eruption. It is unlikely, however, that the recent string of calamities will bring the Philippine economy to a standstill the way those occurring under President Cory Aquino did.

In the past, I had likened our country to the Biblical character Job, who suffered misfortune after misfortune, yet remained steadfast in his faith in God. In the end, God rewarded him with prosperity far beyond where he began. Our country has seemingly been going through Job’s incessant travails, but many among the faithful believe that God has a special plan for this nation. Indeed, it doesn’t take much to see that ours is a land particularly blessed. We have been endowed with such an abundance of natural resources of various kinds. It is well established that our biodiversity is among the richest in the world. We are also described as having the richest mineral resource deposits per capita and per unit area in the globe.

But our richest resource by far is our resilient people, millions of whom are now deployed all around the globe. Many are convinced that Filipinos are ordained to play a strategic role in the world, be it in the economic, political, cultural or spiritual realms.  Writer Jessica Zafra once described it, half-tongue-in-cheek but also half-seriously, as our impending domination of the world. If one is to believe that this is part of our destiny as a nation - to be a “nation without borders,” as another writer had put it - then there begins to be rhyme and reason to all the hardship that has driven our compatriots to all corners of the world through the years.

Through it all, global economic trends appear to be working in our favor. Aging populations in rich countries are providing a wide array of opportunities for Filipinos at home and abroad, ranging from caregivers, physicians and nurses to retirement estate developers and medical transcribers. And we are best positioned to cash in on these roles, given the acknowledged loving and caring nature and culture of the Filipino people. The sustained trend toward business process outsourcing due to rising labor costs in affluent economies is yet another boon for Filipinos. Call centers, medical transcription, architectural and engineering designs, animation, financial accounts management, and many other backroom processes are among the services now providing higher-than-average compensation to many thousands of young Filipino workers and entrepreneurs. And we are already world leaders in this industry.

By many indications, a bright future awaits the Philippines. Along with countless other Filipinos, I believe that God has much in store for our beloved country. To my mind, we as a people just need to mend our ways, turn humbly back to Him just like Job did, and allow His Divine Plan for us to be fulfilled.

A happy and blessed 2014 to us all!


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