Bernardo M. Villegas
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Prophet of Boom (Part 2)

 

         I have not stopped being a “prophet of boom” even during these difficult times of the pandemic.  More than ever, I am convinced that God will bring out a lot of good from the numerous vicissitudes and tribulations that have descended on the whole world during this pandemic.  I do not even have to wait for the pandemic to be put under reasonable control worldwide and locally to show evidence that “everything works unto good for those who love God.”  Even in the midst of the pains and sorrows that sickness and death have brought upon us, there are already some very obvious benefits of the lockdowns made necessary by COVID-19.  What we call Industrial Revolution 4.0 has been significantly accelerated even in emerging markets like the Philippines.

The digitalization of education, commerce, banking, logistics, retailing and many other aspects of daily life—which would have taken place in three or more years—have happened in less than a year.  For example, online teaching and learning have become almost second nature to many of us in the teaching profession.  During the forced confinement at home, the previously difficult task of balancing work and home has been made easier as the entire family had more time together.  I have known numerous families who have managed to say the Holy Rosary together and even attend online Masses, spiritual practices which were difficult to adopt during pre-pandemic days of hours and hours spent in traffic.  Families have also learned to be more frugal, avoiding the vice of consumerism, learning the hard way that, as St. John Paul II always insisted, happiness consists not in “having” but in “being.”  I am sure others can add to this  list of blessings in disguise brought about by the so-called evils of the pandemic.

As we look beyond the next six to twelve months, during which the negatives of the pandemic may still outnumber the positives, there will be more reason to be optimistic about the long-term future of the Philippine economy, even if we continue to suffer from the many ills  of Philippine society enumerated above, such as lack of global competitiveness, the weak application of the rule of law, the many obstacles to doing business posed by our Constitution and other restrictions to foreign direct investments and the very low productivity of our agricultural sector.  Despite these weaknesses that tend to make it difficult for the economy to grow and for poverty to be diminished, our demographic dividend is our greatest advantage in a world that is ageing and is in dire need of young people to support their sustainable and inclusive development.  Our young, growing and English-speaking population will be the foundation of our strongest engine of growth, i.e., OFW remittances, the BPO-IT sector, and a booming consumption sector that accounts for 70 percent of our GDP. 

The large population which is now at 110 million and will swell to close to 150 million in twenty years will be the foundation of a vibrant manufacturing sector that will finally be blessed with a domestic demand that will enable manufacturing and other industrial enterprises to reach the economies of scale necessary for highly efficient and productive operations.  We may not be a major exporter of manufactured goods but our local industries, with the help of the tools of Industrial Revolution 4.0 (Artificial Intelligence, Robotization, Internet of Things, Data analytics, etc.) can finally compete with imported goods.  We can say the same thing about our basic food products such as rice, sugar, poultry and  hogs.   Improvements in agricultural productivity will enable us to reach close to self-sufficiency in these food items, even if we may not be able to export them.  In food exports, our objective is to increase the list of high-value food products that will add to the list of bananas and pineapples in which we are already a major exporter.

The 6 to 7 percent GDP growth rate that we managed to achieve from 2011 to 2019 (straddling the Administrations of President Noynoy Aquino and President Rodrigo Duterte) were achieved despite many of the weaknesses of Philippine society enumerated above.  Projecting from this past experience into the next decade or so, I am confident that by 2022, we can attain also an average of 6 to 7 percent GDP growth for at least the next decade or so on the bases of the strengths we have and opportunities we face in the Indo-Pacific region.  Extrapolating from the experiences of our more successful neighbors, we can actually attain higher growth rates of 8 to 10 percent if we are able to overcome some or all of the weaknesses we have, such as the low agricultural productivity, the many obstacles and barriers to investments (especially FDIs), the low quality of basic education, the shortage of technical skills, rampant corruption and poor governance and the ill effects of climate change and natural calamities. I have just enumerated the major tasks that we will be assigning to the President who will be elected in May 2022.

Whether God will listen to our prayers for us to finally elect the right person to the Presidency, one who will really work for the common good of the Filipino people, only time will tell.  Whatever the results, I will continue to be optimistic because, I repeat, God always draws good out of misfortune.  Even if God wills that we continue to go through a political dark tunnel, I will continue to be a prophet of boom, telling people that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  That light proceeds not only from the many human assets we have in our private sector—selfless members of civil society, the academe, media, and the business sector working in tandem with people in government who are truly committed to good governance.  At the spiritual level, that Light is the Lumen Christi, the Light of Christ who came to the world to redeem sinful humanity.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.