In 2000, former Speaker Jose de Venecia derisively described the Philippines as “the sick man of Asia.” Two decades later, our country is still the laggard in the region.
Where did we go wrong?
Our leaders have squandered various opportunities to lift our country from underdevelopment. The adoption of a revolutionary government after the EDSA rebellion in 1986 should have been an opportune time for the government to adopt policies that could have led us to the road of prosperity. But we failed to do that.
Now, we are back to square one.
Of course, all countries in the region have suffered from the pandemic but the Philippines is the worst-hit.
The World Bank has estimated that in 2020 the Philippine economy would contract by 9.9 percent compared to 6.1 percent in Malaysia. Altogether the ten ASEAN members, excluding Brunei and Singapore, could register a GDP contraction of 4.7 percent in 2020. But contrary to the rest of ASEAN, Vietnam is expected to grow by 2.8 percent in 2020.
How did Vietnam overcome the Philippines in economic growth?
In 1986 at the very same year that President Cory installed her revolutionary government, Vietnam adopted its so-called Doi Moi policies (Doi Moi consist of economic reforms designed to transform Vietnam into a market-driven, socialist state). From then onwards, Vietnam increased its per capita income from $200 to $3,500. From being one of Asia’s poorest nations, the average Vietnamese is now wealthier than the average Filipino.
Early on, Vietnam, a communist country, adopted a policy of rapid industrialization which was the dream of Marcos but was thwarted by his downfall. Vietnam’s socialist government succeeded in instituting the necessary reforms to make its environment conducive to manufacturing while our country’s economic growth was stymied by political bickering.
Although we have attained steady growth before the pandemic, (the Philippine economy grew by an average of 5.3 percent from 2000 to 2019), the growth was not inclusive and did not have a trickle-down effect on the majority of the Filipinos who remain destitute. Proof of this were the long queues of Filipinos waiting to get their cash aid and foodstuff from the government, a scene not found in other Asia countries.
We hope that our leaders can learn from our neighbors’ experience, especially Vietnam, so that we can finally shed off our label as the sick man or the laggard in the region.