“The signs of this growth are palpable in the frenzy of construction of malls.”
For a long time the Philippines was admired in the world after World War II, a country more likely to succeed amid the ashes of war. More than Taiwan or Korea which were touted as the tiger economies of the Far East.
Then decades later we were overtaken by Malaysia and Thailand. A Thai newspaper even editorialized the Philippines’ predicament some 10 years ago, considering that Thais used to admire the Philippines in terms of economic growth and development.
The Philippines has been hyped a few years ago by global investment houses as one of the world’s fast emerging economies. The Aquino administration capitalized on this considering that for a number of years economic growth has been steady. These rates rival China’s growth rates which have been dampening in the face of a weak global economy.
Everyone should be pleased that the Philippine economy is now enjoying better growth.
The signs of this growth are palpable in the frenzy of construction of malls, office buildings and residential condos.
I have been traveling around the country and also around the world now as a public speaker, educator, writer and researcher, and also engaging with international organizations and intergovernmental associations like the United Nations on issues of development and human rights. Though in the recent years I have been principally engaged in global issues of people’s development as director of IBON International where we have also focused our involvement in specific countries like India and Kenya, I remain proudly a Filipino and involved in the concerns of our country.
I am even more proud when people around the world express their admiration for the Filipino people and society – our strong social bonds, our hospitality and genuine care for others, countrymen and foreigners alike, creativity and resourcefulness, ethic of hard work, our gregariousness and more.
On the other hand, most people I meet also express their profound sympathy for the Philippines as a challenged country, to say the least. We are the second highest in the world in terms of natural disasters. We can cite even the largest volcanic eruption this century (Mount Pinatubo) and the largest and strongest typhoon (Yolanda/Haiyan) that made landfall in recent history. We are only second to the US in number – but the US is a rich and large country Arguably, this would mean the Philippines could outrank the US and be considered the highest in terms of per capita and proportion to land mass.
Our country more regularly catches the attention of international public opinion, not just because of our innumerable natural disasters, running political conflicts, civil war and poverty but more so our recent economic growth, and remarkable, nay admirable world-class achievements, including those by our prominent kababayan.
Most everyone understands that we are a poor Third World country. The more than 10 million of overseas Filipino workers and immigrants whose presence alone is a constant reminder to the peoples in more than 200 countries of poverty in the Philippines.
A polite description of our country is that it is challenged. But I think a more appropriate depiction of the Philippines is that it is a dysfunctional society in many ways.
On one hand, we are proud of our educational system compared to many other developing countries which are far behind in ensuring capacity for people for development. But jobs and livelihood for the mass of high school and college graduates are scarce.
There are few opportunities in agriculture for peasants because land is locked in landlord control. Individual farmers show the way for rural entrepreneurship but they lack government support and become victims of contract growers, especially the large plantations of commercial crops.
Our entrepreneurs regularly catch global attention for their innovative inventions and products that are successfully promoted in their areas, but there is weak support for entrepreneurs from government and the banks. What should have been the strong economic base composed of micro-enterprises and SMEs remain weak. And the economy remains top-heavy as commerce and industry are under overweening control of big business and of multinationals.
Imbalances in society are common but the Philippines suffers from more than an imbalance – a dysfunction in the social, economic and political fields. We need to set it aright if we want to end the deep issues of urban and rural poverty.
Mr. Antonio Tujan Jr. is one of the founders of IBON Foundation and currently its international director, a researcher, editor, educator and writer. He has written and/or edited various articles and books on food sovereignty and globalization.