The Philippine miracle at the WEF? WEH….

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Friday, May 30, 2014

DON’T look now but while Filipinos were busy being caught up in the Napolist(s) and the Luyledger, apparently the Philippines
had changed enough that it would merit being called the “new tiger economy of Asia”.

Foreign affairs and economic analyst Richard Javad Heydarian cited the significant foreign exchange reserves of the Philippines, its above-average growth rate, and fairly low inflation and interest rates as signs that the country has become “one of the most promising emerging markets in the early-21st century.”

So much so that it was considered fitting that the May 21 to 23, 2014 World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia, which assembled international leading lights in government, business and civil society, was held in Metro Manila.


It was anticipated that the prestigious WEF would provide government the vehicle to make claims to “The Philippine Miracle”. Prudently, officials like Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. avoided the miracle route and instead said that the economic turnaround was far from miraculous and could actually be explained, and in a big part, could be ascribed to good governance.

While it is important to recognize change such as growth in traditional economic measures, it would indeed be foolhardy for the Philippine Government to do hard sell on messages like “The Philippine Miracle”. For instance, although past GDP growth surpassed 6.5 percent, fluctuations and reversals cannot be ruled out.

The GDP for the first quarter of 2014 for instance was only at 5.7%, which is below the target.

The WEF is noted for encouraging discussions and debate rather than speeches on themes reflecting its three pillars: achieving equitable progress, advancing models for sustainable growth, and realizing regional connectivity.

It makes sense to not to limit the discourse to the participants at the WEF, and to not confine it to a formal format at all. Protest actions, such as those held by militant groups during the WEF, are themselves statements and contributions to the discussion, and as such are not distractions. We are after looking at futures that, while shared by different nations and peoples, really belong to generations after us.

Civil rights activist and writer Maya Angelou who recently passed away had this to say on the importance of being educated -- about us, our economy and our past -- so that we can make better choices about our future. Although framed in the American context, it is a message that speaks to everyone dealing with complex, challenging and even contentious realities in their economies, politics and cultures today.

“I do believe that the ways in which economies stabilize themselves will depend upon the young men and women of today, black and white, Spanish-speaking, Native American, Asian. All of you will influence the ways in which economies stabilize themselves and continue to grow. Continue to ask the question and continue to study, see what has gone on before. When King Cotton fell, what happened then? See how George Washington Carver brought in the soybean and the peanut and stabilized the economy after slavery.

You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been. So I would encourage you to see how the economy now is. See what is happening with the great corporations sending their business to Asia and to South America, and what has happened to the economy as a result.”

Notwithstanding the WEF’s engaging and participatory format (for those who could afford the registration fee that is, or at least access the technology to discuss online) and its dramatic themes, it is still worrisome that the focus is still on natural resource access and use, which can be a powder keg for inequities and conflicts.

Heydarian in one of his write-ups threw the spotlight on Mindanao’s “$300 billion in untapped mineral reserves”, stating that Mindanao is “poised to benefit from large-scale foreign investments amid an increasingly promising peace process”.

Whether mining in Mindanao would lead to equitable progress instead of exploitation; be a model for sustainable growth rather than resource plunder; and foster connectivity rather than divisions will be hotly debated and contested.

The WEF also took place around the time airlines and airports around the country experienced problems that caused delays and severe discomfort to travellers. Wittingly or unwittingly, the inefficiencies, long wait and sweltering heat at the airports demonstrated to the international community “unparalleled opportunities for investment and growth in areas such as the transport network, energy…”, which was one of the sales pitch made by the WEF about the Philippines.

All these do not assuage the rising sense of alarm that many groups have, that the positive effects from the WEF and the adjustments called for by the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) would lead to a charter change process that would be hijacked by those who would want to further intensify and entrench neo-liberal economic policies in the Philippine Constitution and rid it of nationalist provisions.

The milestones achieved by the Philippines in certain aspects of governance and the economy have to be recognized. But it would be foolish to say that we have witnessed and are benefiting from miracles – after all, these are changes that can be explained. They are also changes that, unless we are vigilant, can be undone, by charter change, by future incarnations of the Napolist(s) and Luyledger, and by rhetoric.

It was just as well no one trumpeted about “The Philippine Miracle” at the WEF. Otherwise, such claims would have just earned a resounding “WEH!”

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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 31, 2014.


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