Country still lagging in other sectors – Villegas
The Philippines can count on services as a competitive advantage, an economist said on Monday, but the country still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of infrastructure and agribusiness as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) moves toward economic integration.
“[The] Philippine service sector has a distinct competitive advantage within Asean because of the above-average quality of Filipino manpower,” said Bernardo Villegas, director for research and communications at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), during the launching of KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. and the school’s annual investment guide, titled “Moving Across Borders: The Philippines and the Asean Economic Community.”
A leading executive search firm, Villegas claimed, has noted the service sector’s strengths as including high tertiary education levels, an adaptable and multicultural workforce, fluency in English, familiarity with the culture of the United States, and low labor costs.
The Philippines was also pointed out as having a young and growing population, with the median age of 23.1 that is lower compared to Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, China and Japan.
With these advantages, the economist said there was no question that the Philippines could supply high quality professional manpower in fields such as accounting, health services, education, architecture and business process outsourcing (BPO) to labor-short Asean countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and even Thailand, where rapid ageing is also becoming an issue.
“Services can be as powerful an instrument to attain inclusive economic growth as manufacturing,” he said, citing for example the booming BPO sector, which has generated over 1 million well-paying jobs at present and can employ as many as 1.5 million in 2016.
It cannot be denied, however, that the Philippines has a serious disadvantage with respect to agriculture and manufacturing given government negligence and past failures.
“We are in greatest danger in the field of agri-business because that has been our biggest mistake … we have neglected agricultural development. So there is no way we can compete … with Thailand and Malaysia in that sector,” Villegas said.
He added that it was also important for the Philippines to be flexible enough to compete in terms of attracting foreign direct investments, stressing that this would require the implementation of an aggressive infrastructure program.
“The country need to make these large investments to be able to catch up with its neighbors in the efficiency of physical infrastructure such as airports, seaports, trains and highways,” he said.
“The moment we improve infrastructure, the manufacturing and service sectors will both benefit … investments will come here,” Villegas said.