Philippines Will Win Economic Marathon

The following article is written by economist Bernardo M. Villegas and printed on Manila Bulletin on February 9, 2021

The winning of the economic marathon by the Philippines over the next decade or so will be further made possible by major reforms in the educational system. Parents and the youth must be convinced that their chances of being gainfully employed will increase significantly if they take less interest in diploma-oriented college courses in the traditional universities and colleges that have proliferated in the Philippines—aping the American model. They should be taking technical courses that will prepare them for employment in the construction industry, health and wellness sector, agribusiness sector, tourism and travel and other labor-intensive industries which do not require college diplomas but practical skills that are better honed in technical institutes modelled after the European educational institutions when Europe was in a stage of development similar to where we are now. For example, the educational institutions owned and managed by one of the largest investors in education, the PHINMA group, are really more technical in nature, producing people for the security industry ( i.e. courses in criminology), health and wellness, and other technically-oriented rather than purely academic courses. There should be more schools for sea farers, care givers, automotive repair and maintenance workers, electro-mechanical workers, etc. like those produced by such schools as DUALTECH in Canlubang, the Centre for Industrial Technology and Enterprise (CITE) in Cebu, MFI Institute in Ortigas, and in-house training programs put up by firms like the DMCI group, the Makati Development Company, the Monark Equipment Corporation, the Transnational Diversified Group, the Magsaysay Lines, etc. It is hoped that the major restructuring of Philippine education that will result from the pandemic will de-emphasize the pursuit of a college diploma for its own sake but will lead to greater interest in the cultivation of practical skills needed by an industrializing society.

`Needless to say, growth rates of even 12 per cent per annum can be attained in the next decades if there is also a significant improvement in governance that will prevent the diversion of billions of pesos of public funds away from productive investments in building physical infrastructures and in alleviating poverty towards the pockets of corrupt government officials conniving with equally corrupt members of the private sector. It is heartening to see that this improvement in governance is appearing more and more at the level of LGU units such as those in Pasig City, Manila City, Bataan Province, Baguio City, Cebu City, Davao City, Quirino Province, Batangas, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo City and Palawan Province, among others. Under the principle of subsidiarity, which is enshrined in the Philippine Constitution, much can be done at the grassroots level to attain rapid economic growth while reducing poverty incidence if there are competent and honest governors and mayors. Everything should be done by civil society to support the right leaders at the LGU level .

Many more of those below thirty years of age should be convinced that if they have the appropriate leadership qualities, running for public office at the LGU level can be both fulfilling personally and a very effective means of contributing to the common good. As Pope Francis wrote in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “In the face of many petty forms of politics focused on immediate interests, I would repeat that true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building, much less in forging a common project for the human family, now and in the future. Thinking of those who will come after us does not serve electoral purposes, yet it is what authentic justice demands As the Bishops of Portugal have taught, the earth is lent to each generation, to be handed on to the generation that follows.”

Over the last two decades, we have succeeded in establishing institutions run by qualified and honest professionals competent in managing our monetary and fiscal sectors. During the height of the pandemic, the Philippines was rated among the best in financial strength and stability, thanks to our having one of the best managed central banking systems in Southeast Asia and our team of competent fiscal managers who have succeeded in maintaining low levels of debt and fiscal deficit. We have accumulated a large pool of well trained bankers and fiscal managers who can always take over from the present ones, irrespective of changes in political leadership. We have also been fortunate that the present leadership in the Department of Agriculture is in the right hands. We are seeing the laying of strong foundations for long-term reforms and development in this most vital sector of the economy. With abundant and continuing feedback from civil society and the business sector, the other departments of the Executive branch are also busy introducing reforms that will improve governance over the long run.

We have to spread far and wide the message of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti: “Recognizing that all people are our brothers and sisters, and seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian. It demands a decisive commitment to devising effective means to this end. Any effort on these lines becomes a noble exercise of charity. For whereas individuals can help others in need, when they join together in initiating social processes of fraternity and justice for all, they enter the field of charity at its most vast, namely political charity. This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.” We cannot over-emphasize the truth that the common good, as it is defined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987, is not “the greatest good for the greatest number” but is a “social or juridical order which enables every member of society to attain his or her fullest and integral human development.”