Philippines: Steering A Difficult Course


Associate Professor Mark Turner

This year is the centennial of Philippine independence from Spain and a major program of activities has been arranged to celebrate the event. But in contrast to the festivities, 1998 like 1898 promises to be a hard year for individual Filipinos. On the credit side the Philippines has received plaudits for its management of the Asian currency crisis. A panel of the region's top executives recently identified President Ramos as the 'most adept' Asian leader in this regard. But his term is at an end and a new President and Congress will be elected in May. An undoubted problem for the new incumbents will be inflation. The annual figure is creeping upwards from 5.1 per cent in 1997 to 7.4 per cent for the year to February. If oil price deregulation is successful then inflation rates will accelerate as oil prices will rise in this archipelagic nation where freight rates are a highly significant component of consumer prices. Furthermore, the drought caused by the El Nino effect is making inroads into agricultural production thus threatening rural livelihoods and pushing up food prices. Employment is another problematic area. Labour leader Filemon Lagman estimates that up to 100,000 jobs have been lost in the three months to the beginning of February. The ranks of the jobless are being swelled by returning overseas contract workers who Secretary Habito of the National Economic Development Agency reports are 'losing jobs by the thousands'. And this must be set against a backdrop of relatively high population growth (2.2 per cent per year 1990-95) with increasing numbers of young Filipinos entering the job market each year. A final area of concern is the persistent pattern of pronounced social inequality which characterise Philippine society. The economic gains of the past few years do not appear to have been equitably distributed. The incidence of poverty may have declined slightly but it is still widespread. A Social Weather Station survey in 1997 found that 43 per cent of respondents perceived most of the people in their locality to be poor. The government's Social Reform Agenda, launched in 1994 to promote poverty alleviation and countryside development, has not brought about any major changes in the quality of life for the poor. Prominent social commentator and academic Randy David believes that the people power movement which toppled Marcos has 'not produced any meaningful change in the structure of property and power in our society'.

WATCHPOINT: Will continued perceptions of good economic management and 'sound fundamentals' keep the Philippines off the critical list of the region's economies?


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