Town Hall Meeting at Harvard

Manila Bulletin, June 14, 2013 | Go to article overview

Town Hall Meeting at Harvard


The investment road show led by Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. which I joined last April 22-27 culminated in a very memorable town hall meeting with members of the Harvard community with special interest in the Philippines. There were some 100 Americans, Fil-Americans, and Filipinos in the Greater Boston Area who responded to an invitation to a traditional town hall meeting. It was held at the Harvard Student Organization Center right in the middle of the Harvard campus. For me it was a sentimental journey since it marked the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. It was with some emotion that I faced Filipino students in the various schools of Harvard University who were there to listen to a briefing on the state of the Philippine economy. I saw in those young and bright looking faces the future leaders who will help sustain the economic success that my fellow road show speakers and I had been heralding in three key cities (Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston) this year after another three-city journey last year (Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco).

I was ready for a more academically challenging encounter since many in the audiences were either professors or graduate students at Harvard and the surrounding universities, as compared with the predominantly business backgrounds of the audiences we addressed in the three cities. True enough, the questions were more penetrating about how sustainable will be the present high growth of 6 to 8% in GDP once a new leader takes over in 2016. What if the next President is not as committed to fighting corruption as President Benigno Aquino III? The same question was asked in all the encounters we had but at Harvard, the audience expected a more intellectually satisfying answer. Fortunately, I remembered that the authors of the book on which I am basing my analysis of sustainable inclusive growth are well known in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The first author is Dr. Daron Acemoglu, Killian Professor of Economics at MIT, and the second is James A. Robinson, the David Florence Professor of Government at Harvard University. They authored the best seller entitled "Why Nations Fail."

As I have discussed in previous columns, President Aquino himself acknowledges that the strong recovery of the Philippines under his watch can be attributed to a series of reforms that spanned at least the last 27 years since the Administration of his mother, former President Cory Aquino. He has said that he is only standing on the shoulders of other leaders who came before him. Gradually through more than a quarter of a century, the Philippines has been undergoing reforms towards more inclusive political and economic institutions. Under President Cory, democratic political institutions were restored and strengthened. Under President Ramos, there were significant market-oriented transformations consisting in the privatization, liberalization, and deregulation of the economy. Under both Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Philippines took quantum leaps in countryside and agricultural infrastructures. Finally, under the present Administration, governance reforms together with even more substantial improvements in infrastructures through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) route have earned for the country investment grade ratings from credit rating agencies, such as Fitch, Standard and Poor and the Japanese Rating Agency. …

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