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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on The Philippines



Update No: 080 - (26/10/10)

The art of the possible
President Benigno Aquino III appears determined to be a president for all the people but while he may enjoy massive support among the population at large, will it be sufficient for him to make a difference during his term of office – assuming he is able to complete his term?

Corruption and violence have become so deeply rooted in Filipino society that the sheer inertia of a political system based on self-interest is working against him and will take considerable effort to turn around. Then there are the hurdles being placed in his way by powerful vested interests. These range from the conservative Catholic hierarchy to politicians and powerful families intent on maintaining the status quo and their privileged positions.

It should not be forgotten that during the presidency of his mother, Corazon Aquino (1986–1992) there were no less than seven coup attempts made against her.

Two cameos from recent weeks demonstrate the difficulties he faces.

Local elections marred by violence
On October 25, fifty million Filipinos again went to the polls. This time it was to vote in local elections.

In the Philippines, the barangay (village) is the smallest self-governing political unit. There are 42,025 of them scattered throughout the country and each one elects a barangay chair and seven members of the barangay council — a total of 336,200 positions. Concurrently elections were held for a similar number of youth council positions – again one council for each barangay. Originally these youth councils were intended to foster a new generation of political leaders but they too have become corrupted perpetuating the vicious cycle of self-interest that pervades politics at all levels.

No wonder then that, just like the national elections held earlier in the year, these local elections have been marred by political violence, intimidation and rampant vote buying. Since the campaign started on September 25, 33 people have been killed and another 14 wounded in 47 election-related incidents including four people murdered on the day of the poll itself. Organisers within the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) congratulated themselves on the fact that the poll was “more peaceful” than in 2007 when 67 were killed in 101 election-related incidents including 23 on polling day. True, it does represent progress of a sort.

Delayed distribution of voting materials forced postponement of the election in 1,732 barangays and allegations have surfaced that the delay was deliberately caused by a faction within the poll body seeking additional “monetary consideration” for doing their job. This may or may not be true but to many people it has a ring of plausibility, such is the low esteem in which the COMELEC is held in many quarters. President Aquino was reported to be angered by the lack of professionalism shown and has vowed to investigate. Corruption and violence is alive and well and extends to the village level.

Reproductive health bill angers the Catholic Church
Then President Aquino has the Catholic hierarchy to deal with. The bishops, who remained blissfully silent throughout the tenure of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo while she and those around her plundered the country, are up in arms at the introduction into Congress of a reproductive health bill that would give families freedom of choice in birth control matters.

The church in the Philippines claims that artificial contraception is a form of abortion and is against giving families informed choice. Aquino has incurred the wrath of the bishops not for advocating contraception but simply by expressing the view that families should have freedom of choice. Aquino, himself a Catholic, at one stage was threatened with excommunication, but church officials have back-pedaled on this claiming that this was merely “one possibility.” A more likely outcome, should the bill be passed into law, is that the church will put pressure on medical practitioners at the local level to counsel their patients against using artificial contraception. While constitutionally, there is total separation between church and state, a spokesperson for the Catholic bishops claimed that “if a law or a state policy is against Christian teachings, persons, Christians, Catholics are not bound by conscience to obey that”.

At this stage both sides have backed away from outright confrontation preferring dialogue; however (and as the secular press has been quick to point out) it clearly reveals to all the priorities of the bishops who are prepared to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and rampant corruption but who take the moral high ground when it comes to making birth control advice available to the poor and needy.

Even prominent Catholics have warned that the bishops need to tread carefully or risk alienating significant elements of the population especially the urban educated elite, most of whom – according to surveys —practice contraception in defiance of the teachings of the Church. As is so often the case, it is the poor, whose faith is born out of desperation, who stand to benefit most from passage of the bill and most to lose if it fails. Perhaps unsurprisingly, former President Arroyo now a congressional representative for Pampanga is supporting the position of the bishops.

Positive news on the economic front
News that the economy is regaining its health has come as welcome news and may give President Aquino some wiggle room. In recent weeks both the World Bank and the IMF have released revised growth forecasts for the Philippines which exceed earlier expectations. With the economy growing, there will be less incentive to rock the boat – that at least is the theory.

Citing better than expected growth in both internal and external demand, the World Bank now expects the Philippine economy to grow this year by 6.2 percent – up from its previous estimate of 4.4 percent. Continued strong inflow of remittances from overseas Filipino workers has stimulated domestic consumption and new investments from abroad, particularly into the business process outsourcing industry have been among the main drivers. Growth in the first half of 2010, at 7.9 percent, was the best semestral outcome in more than 30 years. However, account must be taken of the low base effect since the figure for the corresponding last year was only 1.1 percent.

The IMF is now punting on seven percent growth this year – well above the forecast of 3.2 percent made at the start of the year and the revised April figure of 3.6 percent.

Remittances, which kept the country out of recession during the GFC, continue to rise. Total remittances for the first eight months of the year stood at $12.2 billion, an increase of 7.4 percent over the same period last year.

Inflation for the first three quarters averaged 4.1 percent and well within the official target of 3.5 to 5.5 percent for the year as a whole.

A government for the people
In a speech marking the first 100 days of his presidency, President Aquino announced that with a strengthening economy, the Philippines was now “ready for takeoff.” Filipino politicians are well known for making extravagant claims but compared to that of President Arroyo who announced just before the GFC hit that the Philippines would be a First World Country by 2020, this claim was downright modest.

Baby steps have been taken. The new administration has resolved the disputed contract relating to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 which had festered throughout the Arroyo term; it has revised the bidding process for public works contracts to make the process more transparent, and has revised some defence contracts where the tenders were drafted to blatantly favour one company. Other achievements include the setting in place of a monitoring system for public projects ad an overhaul of the excessive payments and bonuses made to the fat cats of government-owned corporations. Savings have been directed at improving the budgets for health, education and social welfare programmes as well as the conditional cash transfer programme which helps the poorest of the poor.

A new system of public private partnerships – which throughout the Arroyo years existed in name only – has been introduced to encourage private investment into mass transit, airports and schools.

Positioned for takeoff may be an overstatement. That baby steps have been taken in the right direction is certainly true.

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