THE Philippines is an economic giant that is too shy to take big steps. It has the ingredients and the makings of a great nation, but it has been too preoccupied with looking for its conscience in fighting corruption and criminality. It’s been more than 50 years since I first marched the streets of Mendiola to protest for good development, and 40 years of being an architect and a planner, trying every year to make this country a better one. I have visited more than 1,000 cities in 74 countries, have worked in 39, including giving lectures at Harvard and MIT. I can confidently say that the Philippines can become and should become a great nation. I believe that this administration is our chance as it strives to have the five ingredients of a successful nation: strong political will, visionary leadership, appreciation for good planning and good design, and good governance.
Not too many are aware of it, but the Philippines is currently part of the top 40 biggest economies of the world in terms of gross domestic product. It has all the ingredients to become a world-class country; it is blessed with raw material resources, very fertile soil throughout to become food-sufficient, abundant sources of water source, communities that are raising families which are bi-lingual and even tri-lingual. The Philippines is number one in marine biodiversity, in voice call centers, and sailors and seafarers. I would like to believe that we are also top in musicians. We are second in BPOs, and have the third longest coastline, whereas other countries have to go to war because of the coastline. We are number four in gold reserves, and in shipbuilding, thanks to the Koreans. We are the top five in all other natural mineral resources, and in natural flora and fauna. The Philippines is also twelfth in human resources. All around the world, Filipinos are the preferred workers, because of their hardworking nature and passion.
In terms of land area, the Philippines is 400 times the size of Singapore, meaning we can be 400 times more productive than Singapore. We are also 350 times Hong Kong, eight times Taiwan, and three times South Korea. And from the 1930s to the 1970s, our country ranked number two in Asia, second only to Japan. The Philippines was even voted to house the ADB headquarters. With Asean integration, free trade, and more investment opportunities, HSBC projects the Philippine economy to emerge as one of the top 20 economies in world by 2050.
The 21st century will be the Asian Century. From the century of nations, the Asian Century will be known as the ‘century of cities.’ In the old world system, trade and dialogue of cultures used to dominantly converge in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But today there is a shift. With the booming population and the emergence and rise of new markets and industries in Asia, the Asia Pacific is fast becoming the world’s center of trade. If you rotate the map of the world, our country is in the strategic center of Asia Pacific. The Philippines is also strategically located such that it is a perfect gateway for global companies to launch their presence in the Asean region. As in the case of the development site, multinational companies are already investing and establishing their factories in the special economic zones. The Philippines is considered to be the “Crossroads of the Pacific” due to its location between the fast-growing Asian countries and the Americas. It was the center of trade in the Pacific and it was made to be a strategic point of other countries to expand their influence across Asia Pacific as did the Spaniards when they colonized the Philippines for hundreds of years and the United States when they established military bases in Subic and Clark.
Other than its very promising economy, the Philippines’ strength is its people. The country ranks the second most populous country in the Southeast Asian region with a total population of 103 million as of 2016 based on World Bank data. The Philippines also ranks fourth in terms of human capital development—this pertains to the ability to develop the skills and knowledge of the people in a country—as it scored 64.36 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Index report as of 2017. Meanwhile, the Philippines ranks as the top country in terms of gender parity with a score of 0.790 based on the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report. All of these show that the Philippines has competitive advantage in the Southeast Asian region.
For certain, there have been issues in achieving sustainability for the country, such as high poverty index, declining forest cover, rapid urbanization, lack of political will and citizen participation. And this is why now is a good time to invest in the Philippines. Whereas the previous administration had weak political will, the present administration has strong political will, and has a great vision for the Philippines. With the Build Build Build program, Philippine infrastructure is sure to take a great leap, making the Philippines a gateway to the Asia Pacific.
As mentioned, the Philippines is the second most populous country in Southeast Asia. Whereas the world’s leading countries are worrying about their aging populations, the Philippines has in its hands an abundant workforce. Instead of going for population control, the government should go for population distribution. This would not only distribute the urban population, but it would help decongest Metro Manila and disperse its population to other provinces. Projections show that the Philippines would need a hundred more developed cities in order to support the increasing number of people moving into urban areas.
These are the words of Daniel Burnham when he planned Manila, which can be applied to the whole country:
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistence.”