No Free Lunch

Sustaining success

/ 05:22 AM January 02, 2018

By my usual PiTiK yardsticks of presyo, trabaho and kita, the Philippine economy has hardly improved in the past decade, and is even slightly worse off in two of the measures. Ten years ago, the Philippines’ gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 7.2 percent, just before the global financial crisis slowed it down to 4.6 percent in 2008, and 0.9 percent in 2009. The price inflation rate averaged 2.8 percent, but shot up to 9.3 percent in 2008, easing back to 3.2 percent in 2009. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent, and hardly changed in succeeding years. The exchange rate was P41 to the dollar, and rose to P47 in the following year, then eased to P45 in 2009.

In the year just ended, the economy has grown shy of 7 percent, after having exceeded 7 percent in 2010, 2013 and 2016. Inflation has averaged 3.2 percent, after having gone down to 1.4 and 1.8 percent in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Unemployment is at 5.7 percent, after having gone down to 4.7 percent a year ago. The exchange rate has averaged P50.40 to the dollar this year.


As I examine the figures over the years, I notice a remarkable up-and-down (boom and bust?) movement especially in GDP growth, particularly in the past seven years, with alternating years of acceleration and slowdown. It would seem that we have trouble with sustaining success. In contrast, our erstwhile more dynamic neighbors sustained high growth rates for well over a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, and thereby achieved faster reductions in poverty and unemployment. I have heard it said in the past, half-jokingly, that we Filipinos are afraid of success: Just when we begin to do well, we blow it and slide down again. This is a cycle of which we must break out.

We have inherent rich blessings on which we should be able to build sustained success, and we all know what these are. It is well-established that our biodiversity is among the richest in the world. We have also been described as having the world’s richest mineral resource deposits per capita and per unit area. But our foremost asset is our people, millions of whom are now all over the globe. Not a few 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 why our compatriots have been driven to all corners of the globe through the years.


Meanwhile, global economic trends have been working in our favor. As I’ve written before, 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 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 demand for business process outsourcing due to rising labor costs in affluent economies—artificial intelligence and US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy notwithstanding—is yet another boon for Filipinos. Call centers, 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.

Perhaps we as a nation ought to be making some serious New Year resolutions if we are to be able to sustain success. Foremost among them is to set our divisions aside and resolve to work together in building a truly strong nation. Rather than heighten our divisions, whether between “Dutertards” and “yellows,” Christians and Muslims, rich and poor, and in other things that divide us, we must consciously bridge those divides and strive to row our national boat together in the same direction so we can speed ahead.

A more united, happy and blessed 2018 to us all!

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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, GDP, No Free Lunch, Philippine economy
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