Before I even say anything, I would like to thank GoodNewsPilipinas.com for inviting me to write in this space and willingly express my thoughts about how I see the Philippine economy from where I stand. Like this noble news website, I am an advocate of good news and positive stories that can lift spirits in a world where more of the bad and negatives news are highlighted.
GoodNewsPilipinas.com is an excellent space to balance our mindsets so we can further create a cycle of positivity.
One that strikes me as I continue to analyze how economic structures are evolving globally, is how unique and fairly insulated our economy has become. How this came about is worth giving serious thought.
Our economy is now growing at a steady pace of between five to six percent, that is, from growing at a measly two to three percent a decade ago, and flat to negative for decades before that. What once was called the sick man of Asia is now back to health, strong and kicking, mindless of the rotten politics and politicians that continue to suck blood money out of its system. What brought it back to health was the collective heroic efforts of the millions of Filipinos who toil both abroad and are here at home. We have become a global workforce. It doesn’t matter where or what time; a great majority of Filipinos work hard because they love their families and will do everything to support them.
And while each administration tries to take credit for this remarkable recovery; in reality, politics and poor public governance had been the cause for slowing growth, even up to now. We are still dreaming to grow our economy at a pace of eight to ten percent. After all, we are just playing catch up with the rest of Asia.
Real credit goes to the diaspora, the outsourcing sector and the private businesses. From the first two alone, they collectively generate nearly US$40 billion every year, constantly fueling domestic spending and raising the country’s net international reserves. We don’t need to store gold bars in vaults to create value. Our goldmine lies in the hearts of those making names for themselves in many parts of the world. It lies in our youth who now service the world at night while we oldies sleep tight.
Not to be entirely scratched out of the picture, the Philippines is blessed with some of the most brilliant minds in monetary and financial management that despite the much heralded political corruption, our economic managers over the last five decades faithfully and squarely dealt with our debt problem. I never thought I’d live to see the day when we can be a net lender to the IMF and a credit-worthy country with domestic inflation and interest rates at low single digit levels. Yet, somehow now, WE ARE. Good news isn’t it?
This growth, some would argue, still leaves much to be desired. Leakages abound and good infrastructure remains an aspiration even in Metro Manila. Squatter colonies are everywhere. I can’t dispute that. In fact, I don’t have to look far. Each time I travel, our airports remind me.
But it’s also indisputable that the middle class is fast expanding. Our workforce is highly competitive. We have a young English-speaking population eager to climb the ladder of success. Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) pepper and spice up the global employment arena. The Philippines also is the among the biggest in the call center business these days.
For a very long time, I have been observing the Filipino diaspora. My first real encounter was when I started travelling for work to and from Hong Kong in the late eighties. I was a stockbroker then. It was eye popping to see thousands of Filipino domestic helpers spend their Sundays having picnics and get togethers in the alleys, covered bridges, and the streets of Hong Kong. I mean literally, they go by the thousands and spend their whole day off from work literally sitting on the streets, mostly around Statue Square in Central, which were eventually closed for vehicluar traffic because public parks are not enough to accomodate the numbers. While it’s a shopping haven, Hong Kong doesn’t have the large malls like the ones we have here in the Philippines where people can just hang out and not have to spend much. And of the ones that exist there, shops and restaurants are way too expensive. Often, I heard some of the women saying, “Naku, kung alam lang nila kung paano tayo dito nagtitipid. Akala nila, madali ang buhay dito.” This self sacrificing mentality for the sake of the family stayed with me. As I traveled more around the world, the message I often heard was pretty much the same.
The Filipino diaspora is unique in many ways from those of other countries. It has reached a critical mass. More than 30 percent of our labor force works outside of the country, a great majority of which still sends money back home and collectively generating over US$20 billion. Even those who had been away for two to three generations still send money to extended families and friends in need.
For many countries, this amount of money has to be generated either from foreign direct investments (FDIs) or exports. Or their governments inject money to stimulate growth. Otherwise, their economy won’t grow very much. In the case of the Philippines, the collective wisdom of dignified labor without borders has helped the country rise out of a huge foreign debt burden, grow our international reserves, and more importantly continue to nurture and send our youth to schools.
The Filipino diaspora is a quiet revolution against a system that can’t seem to find the heart to sufficiently provide jobs for its own countrymen. It is a symbol of unconditional love and inexplicable generosity.
Couple that with a still fast growing outsourcing business. A lot of our youth are currently under employed because they are doing jobs beneath what they have been taught in schools. Many of the jobs they are tasked were offered to High School graduates in the US. But given the brilliance, the patience and the heart to deal with all sorts of customer complaints and technical problems, Filipinos are thriving in the outsourcing business. Their employers feel they get better value out of their money hiring our countrymen than those back home. Never mind if they have to work at night and sleep during the day. Thousands have learned to cope with the lifestyle, and businesses have learned to support their needs. Many stores and restaurants are now open 24/7 and thrive as well.
I can tell so much more about the subtleties of how we Filipinos helped one another recover from near economic demise. But I should save them for later. For now, these points I highlighted prove to me that talent and wisdom come from within, honed by hard work, perseverance, guts and a lot of faith that sits deeply in the heart of millions of Filipinos. We have learned to resist and even revolt against bad politics, not by using arms, but by choosing to close our eyes and ears to the negativity. Instead, a great majority focused on looking for opportunities beyond borders, both distance and time. This kind of silent and dignified revolution makes me proud as a Filipino.
In this country, the wheat has learned to thrive among the weeds. Soon enough, perhaps, the genome of the wheat will be even stronger and overpower the weeds until they become scarce and eventually extinct. I am pretty hopeful.
(Cora is a CPA and economist by training with many years of experience as an investment analyst, stockbroker, investor relations and communications. She was in stockbroking for nearly 15 years with multinationals such as BZW, Citibank, UBS and ABN AMRO. She eventually shifted to investor relations, her job in the last 14 years with Metro Pacific Corp., the Philippine government and her current employer. She is now Senior Vice-President for Investor Relations and Corporate Communications at SM Investments Corp.)