Before the country took a break from earthly concerns over the weekend, it got a foretaste of Easter. That was in the form of the Fitch Ratings raising the country’s credit rating to investment grade.
I saw the news on Yahoo and Google before I saw it in the local news, with the reports highlighting its remarkableness in light of the horrible shape many countries, including developed ones, were in. Fitch noted that the record flow of dollars into the Philippines from foreign investors and overseas Filipino workers had put it into an enviable state of being awash in cash, boosting its stocks and currency and promising growth rates of 5 percent or more in years to come. It was the first time an upgrade of this scale had happened, prompting President Aquino to enthuse that this signaled a shift from the country being a “perennial laggard of Asia” to one that had finally taken off.
Now, whether his prognosis is accurate or not, two things are unquestionable.
One is the impressiveness of the accomplishment. True enough, this is happening at a time when many other countries are in bad shape. Which is a gross understatement: Some of them are positively on the verge of collapse, if they have not indeed collapsed already. The latest casualty is Cyprus. It has now taken drastic measures to prevent a bank run, including limiting bank withdrawals to 300 euros a day and stopping depositors from moving their money to other euro countries. Which defeats the purpose of the euro zone and poses a threat to it, the point of a unified currency being the free movement of money across its borders.
Greece, Spain and Portugal are in the direst straits, the severe austerity measures they’ve implemented to stave off bankruptcy, including huge cutbacks on health and welfare benefits, adding more to the disease than to the cure. They have only sparked a health crisis on top of an employment one, new diseases appearing out of nowhere amid those countries’ newly debilitated state health-wise. Psychological problems have risen by leaps and bounds. In Greece, suicides have increased by 40 percent.
That we are going against the grain is impressive.
Closer to home, what makes it so is that it debunks completely the position of the previous regime’s camp that fighting corruption, or taking a high moral ground generally, has nothing to do with running the economy. That was the line of attack then: Aquino’ s unrelenting sloganeering about “’pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” prosecuting his predecessor in particular, was just a ruse to hide his failings, specifically his inability to push the economy forward. That was something, they said, that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whatever her faults, did so well.
That proposition started crumbling in the second half of last year when the economy surged to unexpected heights. Not in time to have been proclaimed in the State of the Nation Address, but it was too dramatic to ignore. This one is even more impressive, drawing the attention of the world to it. The accomplishment was not trumpeted from within but from without, scuttling any suspicion the figures, and acclamation, were manufactured or fudged. Of course that was so too because the news came in just before the country went into cloistered mode. I should expect Team PNoy to make a big deal of it over the next weeks.
The accomplishment is impressive, and it is unassailable. I did wonder early this year what gas was left in the “it’s the economy, student” tank of the Arroyo camp. This one empties completely. The Aquino camp can always fling the line back: “It is the economy, teach.”
What all this proves beyond a shadow of doubt is that fighting corruption, or taking the high moral ground generally, has everything to do with running the economy. Contrary to the argument that “too much obsession” with fighting corruption retards the economy, it proves that “too much obsession with fighting corruption” advances it. It is the best investment you can make. Indeed, contrary to the dig that you cannot eat principle, it proves that you absolutely can. You can eat honesty, you can eat decency, you can eat morality. What you cannot eat is lying, cheating, and stealing. Those are the surest guarantees to hunger. Those are the surest paths to economic disaster.
What all this shows beyond a shadow of doubt is that the economy is above all about confidence, the economy is above all about trust, the economy above all is about people. If anything has an incalculable “multiplier effect,” it is fighting corruption. It goes beyond saving a lode of wealth that is lost to looting, it builds a culture of pride, which is the mother lode of progress. It brings in investment, which is based on trust. It makes people willing to sacrifice, which is based on belief. It brings in a culture of bayanihan, which is based on goodwill.
And it brings in economic breakthroughs.
Enough for us to climb out of the pit of being the perennially laggard country in Asia and join the ranks of the fit and prosperous? Well, it remains a long hard climb, not unlike many things in this country, among them peace in Mindanao. One question is how far cleaning up government (and business, the two being as linked as mami and siopao) has actually gone. Another question is how far the economic performance can be sustained. But the stirrings are there, the first steps in the journey of a thousand miles have been taken. And they are producing impressive results: Bursting through a tide of adversity is an impressive result. I myself, having despaired over the years over what has happened to us each time I took a trip abroad and was greeted by the spectacle of how far our neighbors have gone, will never underestimate the power of a people rediscovering their pride.
It has been known to resurrect the dead.