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Philippines: it’s more fun

We all know the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the place under about five metres of hot ash.

Most of us, however, are unaware that the people of Pompeii realised what was coming and all but a few reckless souls fled before the eruption, leaving it a ghost town.

Somehow, that fact can’t shift the emotive myth of the city’s entire population being suddenly engulfed and sealed in stone for all antiquity.

The same goes for the persistent myth that the Philippines is the region’s basket case: a dysfunctional place, saddled with rampant corruption and shackled by the medievalism of an all-powerful Catholic Church.

This nonsense is relished in places like Singapore, where, as the BBC World Service – as ever, entrapped in an outdated mindset – last week extolled the Red Dot’s cleanliness, affluence and hyper-efficiency.

Well, ask subway riders in Singapore what they think of their hyper-efficient public transport system and prepare to purge your ears of bile and other nasty substances.

But even Homer nods, so let us not digress onto Singapore but instead return to our Roman-inspired mythology and seek to leaven its daftness with a huge pile of steaming good news.

The Philippines is booming.

So ignore Vietnam, whose malignant economy slides deeper into despair.

And forget Myanmar, because, despite the uplifting reforms, it’s too early to tell how things will pan out.

Instead, focus on the Philippines, and note how its economy, which has been growing at a steady 5 to 6 per cent annually, hit 7.1 per cent in the last quarter and is projected to notch 8 per cent this year.

The rating agencies have bumped its grade up to near investment level, the stock market rose 32.5 per cent last year, the peso is strong, inflation is under 3 per cent and overseas remittances have tripled to $20 billion.

What’s not to love? Certainly, growing numbers of foreign companies seeking alternatives to China and Vietnam are renewing interest in setting up manufacturing plants there.

Already, the Philippines has surged ahead of India in call-centre revenue, and Manila expects the back-office business to haul in $25 billion by 2016.

On top of this good stuff, Manila has sealed a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to end a 40-year insurgency in Mindanao, which will give another positive
hike to the economy.

President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino also faced down stiff opposition from leading Catholic troglodytes and managed to push through a Reproductive Health Bill last month.

The long-overdue, but sensitive measure authorises free contraceptives, family planning, and reproductive health classes in schools.

Experts say it won’t curtail the fun, but it will reduce the unsustainably high birth by as much as a third.

Noynoy has also garnered kudos for his fight against corruption, and his campaign against tax evasion, particularly among the elite families – one of which is his own Aquino clan.

His tenacity in forcing out the discredited Chief Justice and taking legal action against his venal predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, also won Noynoy acclaim, as did his firmness over the territorial disputes with China.

Of course, a lot still needs to be done, especially given that two out of very five Filipinos exists on less than $2 a day.

To remedy that the Philippines must become more open to investment and must amend its laws to make it easier for foreign companies to come in and compete with the elite’s vested interests.

Currently, foreigners cannot own land and in most industrial sectors they are restricted to a 40 per cent stake.

Whether Aquino will have time to push through these changes before he leaves office in 2016 remains to be seen.

But meantime, we should ignore the barmy myths and relish the sunshine of success.

As the recent adverts promoting tourism there rightly extol: “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
It really is.

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