Bernardo M. Villegas
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A Moment To Dream Big (Part 1)

 At the height of the pandemic, when the whole world couldn’t have been more depressed and pessimistic, Pope Francis wrote his document “Let Us Dream.”  Not only to dream, but to dream BIG.  In his words: “This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities—what we value, what we want, what we seek—and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.  What I hear at this moment is similar to what Isaiah hears God saying through him:  Come, let us talk this over.  Let us dare to dream.”

Understandably, always his feet on the ground, Pope Francis started his dreaming in the realm of economics.  It is difficult to talk to a starving person about heaven.  He reminds us: “God asks us to dare to create something new.  We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis.  We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life:  to land, lodging, and labor.  We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded, and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that impact their lives.  We need to slow down, take stock, and design better ways of living together on this earth.”

Today, there is no shortage of dreamers in Philippine society.  Dreaming has become part of the process of long-term strategic planning of entire government agencies, industrial groups, business corporations and non-profit organizations.  Anyone familiar with national economic planning in the country is familiar with Ambisyon 2040 prepared by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) as a dream for the entire nation.  It represents the collective long-term vision and aspirations of the Filipino people for themselves and for the country in the next 25 years.  It described the kind of life that people want to live, and how the country will be by 2040.  As such, it is an anchor for development planning across at least four presidential terms.

            Ambisyon Natim 2040 was the result of a long-term process that began in  2015.  More than 300 citizens participated in focus group discussions and close to 10,000 answered the national survey.  Technical studies were prepared to identify strategic options for realizing the vision articulated by citizens.  The exercise benefitted from the guidance of an Advisory Committee composed of government, private sector, academe, and civil society.

So what is our dream for Philippine society 2040?  The Pope will be very glad to know that those who participated in this effort of dreaming were strongly influenced by both the declaration in the Philippine Constitution and the Christian doctrine about the family. Article XV of the Philippine Constitution of 1987 categorically declares that the State has the duty to strengthen the family as the foundation of society and to protect the inviolability of marriage as the foundation of the family.  The first and foremost dream found in Ambisyon Natin 2040 is for the Filipinos to be strongly rooted in their respective families.  To quote:  “Filipino families live together; there is work-life balance so that there is time to spend with family even for members who work.  On weekends, families and friends enjoy time together in parks and recreational centers.  It is a high-trust society with strong sense of community.  There are volunteer opportunities, and Filipinos spend time to serve the community, help others who are in need, and contribute to various causes.

The dream clearly includes inclusive development because it foresees a Philippine society where no one is poor, no one is ever hungry.  Filipino families live in comfortable homes with the desired amenities and secure tenure.  Families and friends are within reach because transport is convenient and affordable, and they can take a vacation together within the country and abroad.  Children receive quality education so that they realize their full potentials and become productive members of society.  Decent jobs that bring sustainable income are available, including opportunities for entrepreneurship.

            Security goes far beyond food security which is a conditio sine qua non for economic progress.  Filipinos feel secure over the entire lifetime.  Together with the rest of the developed world, they expect to live beyond 80 years old and continue to enjoy a comfortable life upon retirement.   There are resources to cover unexpected expenses, and they can afford to save.  They can go anywhere in the country and feel safe.  Filipinos trust their government because it is corruption free and provides service to all its citizens with justice and equity.

            To summarize, by 2040, Dream Philippines is a prosperous middle class society where no one is poor.  People live long and healthy lives and are smart and innovative.  The country is a high-trust society where families thrive in vibrant, culturally diverse, and resilient communities.

            Let me complement this NEDA dream about the year 2040.  As I wrote in my latest book entitled “The Philippine Economy Towards First World Status,” (page 450), the longest-term forecast made by economists for the Philippines was that of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC) which, in 2012, projected that by 2050, the Philippines will have the 16th largest economy in the world.  This sanguine forecast has since been backed up by other independent think tanks, financial and economic development institutions, and international agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank that have rated the Philippines as one of the fasting growing economies during the coming five or more years.  By 2025, the Philippines will transition to a high-middle income economy as its GDP per capita exceeds $4,000 and heads towards high-income status of $12,000  or more which can happen between 2040 and 2050.

           For realism, though, we must consider what happened to South Korea.  It took South Korea all of 60 years to be promoted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to be part of the club of advanced countries.  Despite per capita income that already exceeded US$ 25,000, the country continued to be considered as an emerging market.  It must also be pointed out that despite the recent upgrading of South Korea to the status of an advanced (First World) economy by 2020, the country still faces the problem of a very inequitable distribution of income and wealth.  In an article that appeared in the Financial Times (September 21, 2021), Prime Minister Boo-Kyum lamented the plight of the country’s poverty-stricken elderly population, the very generation that rebuilt the country after the Korean War.

            Despite “advanced economy” status, there still exist unparalleled elderly poverty, high youth unemployment, rising property prices, spiraling debt and soaring education costs.  Poverty affects more than 40 % of those over 65 years, the highest percentage among OECD members, while nearly one in ten young Koreans is jobless.  We should always keep in mind that the struggle to attain equity and eliminate poverty is never ending.  We can see that even in the most powerful economy in the world today, which is the United States of America.  To be continued.