Ramos Concentrates on Bettering Economy: Growth Rises, Inflation Falls under Policies

Article excerpt

Ten years after the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippines is on a roll.

President Fidel V. Ramos spearheaded the uprising against Marcos by using what he called "people power." Now he's employing the same strategy to direct his country's economic boomlet.

After Marcos' ouster, President Corazon Aquino may have invigorated the democratic process in the tropical archipelago, but she didn't succeed in boosting the Southeast Asian country's economy.

With his much-trumpeted deregulation policy, Mr. Ramos appears to be bringing economic momentum to the Philippines, once called "the sick man of Asia."

After nearly four years of Mr. Ramos' presidency, the economy soared from a mere 1 percent growth rate in 1992 to more than 5 percent in each of the past two years. At the same time, inflation has been brought down from 18.7 percent to about 7 percent.

Such economic indicators have boosted optimism and attracted more foreign investment, putting the Philippines closer to running in the same league with the other emerging Asian economies.

The Philippines is "somewhat behind the rest of the ASEAN," said Ralph Cossa, executive director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Pacific Forum in Honolulu. "[But] it has made dramatic progress in the last couple of years."

ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is made up of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Since he took office, Mr. Ramos opened up once-protected industries such as aviation, banking, energy and telecommunications. In March, he also signed into law four crucial deregulation bills, including amendments to the country's Foreign Investments Act that relax restrictions on the influx of foreign capital.

Mr. Ramos' unswerving economic strategy has brought bigger investments to the manufacturing sector, such as world-class factories, said Ernest Z. Bower, president of the U.S.-ASEAN council.

The United States is the largest investor, pouring $631 million into the Philippines last year. Both exports and imports have doubled since 1990 - to $5.29 billion and $7 billion, respectively.

American companies are "very, very bullish" on the Philippines, Mr. Bower said. "This year's economic growth has been driven by domestic demand, which is very positive."

Mr. Cossa said he saw "more construction activities and certain vibrancy" during recent visits to the Philippines that were not present three or four years ago.

"I attribute that to President Ramos' strong leadership, instilling the sense of confidence in the Philippine people," he said. …