Magazine article Multinational Monitor

The Politics of Economic Chaos in the Philippines

Magazine article Multinational Monitor

The Politics of Economic Chaos in the Philippines

Article excerpt

MANILA - Philippine President Fidel Ramos fears the future may be slipping away.

The gap between the booming economies of the Asian tigers (Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore) and the emerging tigers (Malaysia, Thailand), and the Philippines is huge and growing. While the 1991 Philippine per capita gross national product was $730, the per capita GNP in Thailand was $1,570 and $6,330 in South Korea. These countries grew rapidly in the 1980s, but the Philippine economy constricted; the Philippines' average growth rate from 1980 to 1991 was negative 1.2 percent, while Thailand achieved a 5.9 percent annual growth rate and South Korea 8.7 percent. And the disparity shows no sign of narrowing; all of its regional competitors registered significantly higher growth rates in 1993 than the Philippines' estimated rate of approximately 1 percent. Even nearby competitor Indonesia is preparing to pass the Philippines in per capita income.

Signs of the economic chaos besetting the Philippines are apparent to even the most casual observer in Manila.

Poor families, mostly immigrants from the countryside, have established squatter communities throughout the Philippine capital. Virtually every Manila neighborhood is now dotted with shanties; the only exceptions are the most exclusive, guarded enclaves, which stand as a testament to the country's extreme concentration of wealth. In neighborhoods with names like Forbes Park and Bel Air, streets are blocked and guarded, the mansions within accessible only to residents and authorized visitors.

Thousands of Filipinos support themselves by sifting through huge garbage dumps in Manila, pulling scrap metal and other items for recycling or reuse out of people's trash. The scene is repeated in other big Philippine cities, though on a smaller scale. Dump-site residents are among the poorest of the huge numbers of Filipinos living below the poverty line. The government's official statistics show 40 percent of the nation's 66 million citizens living in poverty, but the actual percentage is undoubtedly far higher.

At crowded intersections all over the city, vendors rush to cars and buses caught in Manila's paralyzing traffic, offering to sell cigarettes, gum, candy, newspapers or trinkets. The cigarettes are sold individually, not by the pack, to accommodate the tiny budgets of most Filipinos. Some of the vendors are adults, but many are children, 10 or 11 years old. An estimated two-thirds of Philippine children work.

Taxi drivers explain to foreign passengers that their dream is to improve their English so they can get a job abroad. People throughout the city - even those with steady jobs - echo the sentiment. They have given up hope of succeeding economically in their own country; instead, women aspire to work as foreign domestics, and men hope for shipping or construction jobs with foreign companies.

Ear-shattering noise plagues the streets in office districts of downtown Manila, the result of small, private electricity generators operated by individual stores and office buildings during the city's daily brownouts. For more than a year, the energy shortage on the main island of Luzon has caused daily brownouts lasting 4 to 12 hours. The resulting loss to industrial and commercial output has been immense; the difficulties imposed on individuals in the form of lost wages, wasted time - much of it literally spent in the dark - and discomfort are incalculable.

Despite his worries and the economic and social misery so pervasive in Manila - and equally apparent in the desperately poor countryside - Ramos is optimistic about the future. He expects to go down in history as the man who transformed the Philippines from an economic basket case to an economic powerhouse similar to the Asian tigers.

Ramos' vision

Ramos's plan for economic rejuvenation, known as the Philippines 2000 program, aims to have the country join the NIC (newly industrializing country) family by the year 2000. …

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