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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: 086 - (26/04/11)

As is so often the case when looking at the Philippines, good news coming out of Manila always has to be tempered with a fair measure of caution and this month is no different to others. President Aquino’s efforts to bring greater investment and employment to the Philippines in an effort to reduce the country’s grinding poverty may be undone from within.

Despite the traumatic events that rocked the world in recent months, ranging from the cataclysmic earthquake, tsunami and consequent nuclear ‘incident” (for such is it still classified) of Japan to the political turmoil throughout much of the Middle East, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) is still optimistic that the economy can still post overall growth in the 7–8 percent range for the first quarter of this year and comparable to the 7.8 percent achieved in the first quarter of 2010. Achieving a similar result for the whole year and for the next five years is among the goals of the current Philippine Development Plan 2011–2016.

Indeed, there are a number of challenging targets that the government has set for itself under the Aquino presidency. These include 100 percent participation of school-age children in primary education; 1:1 ratio of girls to boys in primary education and a 50 percent share of women in non-agricultural wage employment; 26.7 under-five mortality per 1,000 live births; 52 maternal mortality per 100,000 live births; zero prevalence of malaria and tuberculosis.

These targets are ambitious. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) in its own recent assessment of the prospects for the economy has raised its forecast from 4.6 percent to 5.0 percent. This revised outlook is based on the better than expected result for the last half of 2010 and rising domestic investment. Less than the government forecast? Understandable. More believable? Probably. But at least all the numbers are moving in the right direction; well, most of them anyway.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Philippines is the need to become more attractive to foreign direct investment. Among the ASEAN countries, especially the original ‘ASEAN-6’ the Philippines has remained the laggard for many years and when considered on a per capita basis, the poor numbers are especially striking. Another key area is that of labour productivity. The two are, of course, related to one another.

As of January 2011 (latest published data from the quarterly employment surveys), the size of the labour force was estimated at 39.2 million (based on a labour force participation rate of 63.7 percent). The unemployment rate stood at 7.4 percent while the underemployment rate (those who would work more hours if they were available) stood at 19.4 percent. These numbers were line-ball average based on analysis of the quarterly averages over the past four years.

But there are two problems with these numbers. Firstly the survey data counts ‘employed’ as anybody who has worked for a wage for one hour or more during the fortnight prior to the survey period; secondly it hides the fact that by far the greatest number of ‘employed’ are self-employed – those working in the grey economy including domestic helpers, drivers and street hawkers.

Despite the economic growth, and the new growth expectations under the Aquino administration, the goal of finding additional employment opportunities is proving elusive. Between January 2007 and January 2011 the ‘job gap’ (the difference between the size of the labour force and the number of available jobs in the economy) has averaged around 2.8 million. Of greater concern is the fact that despite seasonal fluctuations, the trend line shows the gap to be increasing. If economic growth is to be ‘inclusive’ and to benefit all sections of society, this job gap will need to be closed. Leave aside for the moment whether the additional jobs are to be created in the formal sector where wages, salaries and other benefits are paid according to the Labor Code or in the informal sector where individuals are reliant on their own resources without any kind of safety nets, employment is employment especially within impoverished societies.

It is of course, too early to say that the Aquino Administration has failed in this area; we merely suggest that this could be one useful indicator of whether the government is meeting the challenge of reducing poverty in the country.

The employment problem is compounded by population increase. Employment is simply not keeping pace with population growth. Over the past four years, and assuming the medium growth assumptions, the number of Filipinos has grown from just under 88 million to around 95 million – an absolute increase of seven million. The working age population (those aged 15 years and above) has increased by 5.4 million while the number of jobs has grown only by 2.75 million. Reducing the general growth rate of the population is of critical importance.

The Reproductive Health (RH) Bill is a measure at present before the Congress of the Philippines intended to guarantee universal access to information and methods on birth control and maternal care. In any other country it would be unremarkable. Not so in the Philippines. Two versions of the bill, one introduced into the House of Representatives and the other into the Senate were consolidated into a single bill on January 30.

The birth control aspects of the bill have proven to be especially contentious with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines strongly condemning the bill and threatening to excommunicate Catholics who speak out in defence of it, including President Aquino. Aquino, in carefully worded statements, has taken no position other than to encourage debate. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter calling on local Catholics to fight against it.

Cebu Archibishop Emeritus, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, a scion of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, is the latest Church leader to come out publicly and in a bewildering statement called for an end to talks between the Church and Malacanang Palace over the issue. The archbishop claimed that President Aquino had made up his mind and that dialogue was pointless: “When you are into a dialogue, there should be no stand yet, but with the stand that they have already made, there’s no need for it.” Excuse us, Mr. Archbishop, but does not that work two ways?

In fact President Aquino’s statement, as reported in the press stated that he (Aquino) was against abortion but favoured giving couples the right to choose how best to manage their families. Archbishop Vidal sees such a statement as a contradiction claiming that the Church believes that contraceptives and abortificants are one and the same thing.

In this overwhelmingly catholic country, the official stance of the Church has divided the people. The wealthy go to Mass each Sunday and pop their pills during the rest of the week ignoring the teachings of the Church; young people who with their Facebook and YouTube accounts are plugged into the global community and international mores are becoming increasingly alienated and setting their own standards. It is the poor who suffer the most. Indeed, the press has carefully pointed out that many local priests who deal with the problems of the poor on a daily basis who quietly encourage an enlightened approach to sex education and birth control.

The nexus between population and employment growth has already been recognized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). The Philippine Labor and Employment Plan 2011–2016 that defines the employment policies of the Aquino Administration notes that one reason ‘inclusive’ employment growth remains ‘elusive’ in the Philippines is because “employment growth barely catches up with the population growth” of the country.

Yet interestingly, Article 134 of the Labor Code of the Philippines that deals with the rights of female workers already contains measures to promote birth control. This article requires employment establishments to maintain a clinic or infirmary that is able to provide free family planning services to employees. The law also states that such advice “shall include the application or use of contraceptive pills and intra-uterine devices.” This law dates from the Marcos era.

As one senior government official in the Labour Ministry recently pointed out, when families have too many children, employees cannot focus on their work when their children are not feeling well.

The vitriol being vented against the current president of the Philippines by church leaders contrasts starkly with their silence on moral issues during the Arroyo presidency. More than a few press commentators have noticed the mixed messages being sent out. To believe that all citizens of the Philippines have the right to be informed about sex education and family planning merits excommunication in the eyes of some, while plunder of the national coffers and the salvaging of those who would expose corruption at the highest levels, was met largely with silence. The dichotomy is plain for those who would see it, and more and more – young people especially – are recognizing that it is not only the emperor who has no clothes.

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