Empowering the Filipino People

(First of Two Parts)

“By 2050, 31 of 49 Asia-Pacific countries remain in the laggard Third World – from Afghanistan… the Philippines… Timor-Leste… Vanuatu, etc.” — ADB (August, 2011)

MANILA, Philippines — LAST 01 August, FVR addressed the Emerging Markets Forum Seminar-Workshop in Tokyo to launch ADB’s “Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century.” This important event was co-hosted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation with the support of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) and SAGE Publications.

Undertaken by a group of global economists who conducted extensive consultations/dialogues, and obtained feedback from policymakers, think-tanks, and academia, ADB’s “Asia 2050” contains bad news; indeed, pointed wake-up calls by experts; and shocking eye-openers for the Philippines.

In the context of Asia leading the world out of recession and the shift of the global economy’s center of gravity toward our Asia-Pacific region, the ADB study crafted plausible scenarios — given existing indicators and trends — where our countries could be in the next three to four decades, and proposed essential national action plans.

It identified drivers of change and policy choices to be made, and suggested innovations to sustain Asia’s rise between now and 2050.

Likely risks; Future groupings

In our previous column, we outlined ADB’s predictions about six or more recurring socio-economic, environmental and political risks over the next 30-40 years.

In Latin America and Africa, new economic powers are also rising; but, since the most heavily populated and most economically weighty of new stakeholders are Asian – principally China, Japan, India, South Korea, and ASEAN-10 – the center of global economic gravity is moving away from the Atlantic toward the Pacific.

Three future groupings of 49 Asian economies have emerged: first, the High-Income/Developed; second, the Fast-Growing/Converging; and last, Slow/Aspiring (where the Philippines still remains lumped with small Pacific nations, having been overtaken by Cambodia and Vietnam which are expected to jump to the second group).

The EMF was organized in 2005 by the Washington-based Centennial Group to fill the need for an international platform to bring together top government and corporate leaders for high-level dialogues focused on key socio-economic, environmental, and political issues. Thru comprehensive studies, it continues to provide actionable policy proposals to address dysfunctions.

The incumbent EMF co-chairs are: Michel Camdessus, former IMF Managing Director; Haruhiko Kuroda, ADB President; Enrique Garcia, CAF President/CEO; and FVR. Among the 60 “eminents” who critiqued the ADB “Asia 2050” study were our own NEDA Secretary Cayetano Paderanga and “Asian Finance Minister-of-1996” former DOF Secretary Bobby de Ocampo.

Realizing the Asian century

ADB’s “Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century” assesses the outcomes of economies in Asia-Pacific by 2050 — on the basis of current national competitiveness, governance, institutional and leadership conditions, and future trends. The book further aims to develop a long-term vision and strategy for the Asian region as a whole — as opposed to parochial approaches by most nations that deliver only short-to-medium-term perspectives.

Sadly, given recent indicators based on above-cited parameters, ADB’s “Asia 2050” forecast the Philippines to be mired in the backwaters of “low-modest growth” economies together with Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga – unless real transformation takes place in the medium-term up to 2015 (which is when UN’s Millennium Development Goals are to be attained).

Consequently, in its march towards modernization, the region must tackle daunting policy, institutional, and governance challenges. It is in these fundamental areas where the ability of countries to achieve the promise of the Asia Century is being measured.

“Asia 2050’s” central thesis is that our home continent — particularly East Asia — is undergoing historic transformations that laggard countries (the Philippines included) must exploit.

Both a vision and roadmap

By 2025, Asia is projected to be the home of three of the world’s largest economies: China, Japan and India will then be sharing top honors with the US and the EU.

If Asia continues to follow its trajectory of the past 40 years, our continent could – by 2050 – account for more than half of global GDP, trade, and investment; and its people could enjoy well-being and modernization. Asian individual incomes could, conceivably, rise six-fold to equal the global average. Some three billion Asians now mired in poverty and deprivation would become affluent by today’s standards.

Asia as a whole would regain the leading global economic position it held some 300 years ago – before the Industrial Revolution. And, the 21st century could, indeed, become the Asian Century.

The book “Asia 2050” is, therefore, both a vision of what is attainable for our respective countries, and a roadmap of how they could get to that desired future.

Hence, it makes a good guide to transformational development against which individual Asia-Pacific governments — and corporations — should measure their progress. Philippine leaders, especially lawmakers and executives, should study this book.

Development is never easy

However, “Asia 2050” offers no free lunch. ADB President Kuroda repeatedly warns that Asia’s ascent is “by no means pre-ordained.”

Asia, in fact, needs not only to sustain the world’s highest growth rates. It also must mitigate environmental degradation amid Earth’s expanding population, and manage the proper consumption of finite resources. And – most important – it must narrow the widening gap in most Asian countries — between rich and poor, between urbanization and countryside development.

Because uneven progress creates cleavages between the rulers and the governed — particularly the youth and labor sectors — these become more and more difficult to reconcile over time. Current violence in Middle Eastern and North African countries do not augur well for Earth’s better future.

The same is true for unsettled territorial/maritime conflicts in the Asia-Pacific. In the Philippines, non-inclusive development has already caused our people to separate into “two nations” of the rich and the poor — differing not only in material wealth but also in culture, and especially opportunity for upward socio-economic mobility.

Asia’s economic clout lies in the phenomenal growth it has so far achieved; but, development always sharpens disparities and inequities, and breeds bloody insurgencies. Even now, messy conflicts simmer in many parts of Earth’s Asia, particularly in the Sea of Japan, and the South China Sea (Spratlys/Paracels). Beyond local dissidence, our region is also vulnerable to larger — and more dangerous — political crises.

During this last half-century, it has taken a great deal of statesmanship and much backdoor diplomacy to preserve the bubble of stability that enables East Asia to grow at the world’s fastest rate.

The middle-income trap: Some avoided it, many haven’t

Asia’s “miracle” of growth has been so dramatic that people often forget that it has also been selective.

Only a few economies have grown so rapidly that, in only one generation, they have been able to cross over “from Third World to First.” This elite group includes Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Macao SAR. These economies have already realized their dream of the “Asian Century.”

Another 11 countries grew consistently fast-forward over these last 20 years. Among them are China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. These second-tier states are reaching “newly industrializing country” status, and are on the threshold of realizing the Asian Century.

A third group of 31 Asian economies — caught in what is called the “middle-income trap” — has achieved only low/modest long-term growth. This laggard group includes (inexplicably to most Filipinos) the Philippines.

In the last decade when Asia’s economies, particularly China, began a new surge of growth as the US and other Western nations became engrossed in recession woes and costly conflicts against international (but stateless) terrorism, the Philippines has been unable to make the transition from the Third World to the second tier of modernization due to its dynastic/cronyist political culture.

Filipinos have not competed successfully — whether in manufacturing exports against low-wage economies, or in scientific innovations against advanced economies.

One century after independence from the US

When, on 04 July 1946, the Philippines gained its independence and sovereign nationhood after 400 years of struggle under foreign subjugation, President Manuel Roxas proudly proclaimed in ringing words:

“The Philippines aspires to greatness… We will search for and find that happy formula for security, friendship and dignity that can be combined with the elevation of the economic status of Filipinos and the preservation of our liberties in a world of peace and equal opportunity.”

A century thereafter, the ADB’s economic experts, in their prognosis on our Asia-Pacific region by 2050, have concluded that the Philippines would be only a “low/modest growth economy” in the same backwaters as small island-nations and land-locked countries — considering present indicators and trajectories.

How come? Didn’t Jose Rizal’s “A Century Hence” envision a unified and prosperous Philippines, illumined by the brilliance of Filipino intellect?

Abangan – next week: Challenges of the next 40 years: “What To Do.” –Former Philippine President FIDEL V. RAMOS, Manila Bulletin

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdev.org. Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.