The Philippines at 500, the Philippines 2021: Towards a development vision plan



It has been predicted by leading economists that the Philippines, by 2025 will be the 19th top economy of the world, and by 2050, the 16th. Drawing from these forecasts, the Philippines is set to become the 21st largest economy in the world by 2021. We already know the strengths of the Philippines as a nation, its history, and evolution of urbanization and planning. But what about its development visions by 2021?

To quote from the Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” We Filipinos possess all the ingredients of success in the world, but we have yet to achieve our full development potential as a country by developing a culture of integrity by addressing corruption (towards good governance), criminality (towards peace and order), and climate change (towards environmental sustainability). As my professors at Harvard Graduate School of Design used to tell us, the 21st century will be a RE-century: Re-imagine, re-plan, re-design, re-use, reduce, recycle, redevelop towards an urban renaissance, guided by the triple bottom-line approach to development: People First (Social Equity), Planet Earth (Environment), and then Profit (Economy).

Back in time for the future
Periodically, a country needs to take a step back, look beyond its immediate needs, and think about its long-term future. We should step up and speed up from vision to concept, commitment, completion, and implementation. The recipe of most successful cities, I have learned, is not just establishing good leadership, but must also have a long-term economic strategy, an immense institutional capacity, well-financed infrastructure, high-quality education, and a constant pursuit towards design excellence.

Manila had the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western world. However, the Laws of the Indies segregated people of various income classes—Intramuros (‘inside the walls’) for the ilustrados and principalia and Extramuros, ‘outside the walls’ for the indios, sangleys, and peasants. After we became an independent republic, the “City Beautiful” urban planning principle by planner Daniel Burnham was disregarded, and government leaders copied erroneously the car-oriented Los Angeles of the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in long commutes for employees from their residences to their offices. Manila’s empty lots and spaces in the city are filled in by informal settlers, who have moved to Manila in the hopes of finding a better living and future for their families. Metro Manila can be an urban laboratory for the mistakes made and lessons to be learned in urban planning and real estate development.

The vision plan 2021 puts forward a strategy to create urban development corridors by clustering major cities as urban growth centers to act as counter magnets to Metro Manila, spurring new investments nationwide and redevelopment opportunities in the other cities, creating jobs and economic opportunities for the urban poor in the provinces. A Manila Megalopolis 2020 vision that I put forward in my Harvard term paper back in 2003 showed how the Philippines can create pockets of efficiencies and strong regional economic activity by connecting major transportation nodes to decrease rural immigration to the already congested Metro Manila.

Philippines at 500
Hopefully, before our 500th anniversary, our country will achieve its aims to enhance the economic opportunity and provide a strong social support structure for people throughout the country. For a renaissance to happen, all of us should be open to new ideas that are creative, innovative and artistic, progressive and effective, short-term and opportunistic as well as long-term and visionary that must follow this new age of constant change.

Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. (FUAP, PIEP, APEC Architect, Harvard GSD and Intl. Associate AIA, APA, CTBUH Fellow) is the Principal Architect-Urban Planner, Managing Partner and Founder of Palafox Associates, which he founded in 1989. He served as former President of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) in 2011, the first Architect to do so. He is also the president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP) for 2013 and 2014.


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  1. frank delacruz on

    Mr. Palafox – thanks for your article and hope that we address these critical issues in the next 20 years:
    1. The emergence of a new kind of Filipino – the many children born out of poverty who are mentally impaired due to malnutrition and uneducated. They will be in the millions, my WAG (wild ass guess) 20 million. They will be roaming the streets looking for food and exploitable by anyone who will pay them for nothing to kill or for any services. They will be like locusts invading farms, fisheries, homes and properties. The moral fiber of PH society as weak as it is now will get worse.
    2. Unemployment will be more severe – Technology will decimate the business processing outsourcing centers and many small businesses. Jobs for accountants, lawyers, teachers, nurses, engineers and more will be replaced by highly efficient micro and artificial intelligence technologies based on the Cloud with embedded internal diagnostic that corrects itself with no human intervention. Government agencies will be implementing more integrated financial software that will render many employees redundant as it is happening now in advanced countries. Local public corporations using these technologies will employ less employees to increase their productivity and profit. And the OFW prospects for jobs will get worse as English speakers from India, China, other Asian countries and Africa will enter the menial job market in millions.
    3. Millions of highly skilled labor in science and technology coming from the US, India and China will decimate our highly skilled labor pool in the global market. BPO jobs will shift back to US and European countries.
    4. Local monopolistic companies will implode as new anti-monopoly legislations will be passed based on pressures from global players and ASEAN countries.
    5. More likely that the real estate industry bubble will burst – OFW and other foreign investors will realize that the real estate industry pricing for new properties such as condos are inflated by developers. If new legislations are not passed to prohibit the practice of developers of using funds of buyers before the properties are built and are not penalized and put in jail when withhold delivering title to properties right after buyers have paid their money will destroy the integrity of the real estate market.
    6. Impact of Climate Change will be more severe – Disaster and recovery plans for any probable type of scenario with degree of severity will fail if untested and will impact people’s lives significantly.
    In my opinon, the likelihood that these challenges will happen in the next 25 years if not addressed is highly probable. By using reverse re-engineering in developing the vision will increase the likelihood of success of our GDP, PH economy and the health and welfare of the Filipino people.

  2. The two ingredients that catapulted the Chinese economy to the #2 spot are cheap labor and investments from other countries like Japan, Usa and Europe. Since the Chinese workers are getting older and chinese pay are getting higher, it’s possible that those manufacturing hubs in China might move to the Philippines and other Asian countries.
    But outside investments in the Philippines are much lower compared to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Not only do you need capital but skilled laborers if we are talking about technology-based manufacturing. On this latter, we are dwarfed by the likes of South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. ‘Innovation is the key to progress and the key to that is education’ according to a physicist who recently talked before a Filipino audience.

    Based on macro-economics theory we are not there yet and probably will never be,
    but of course it’s free to dream.

  3. louie de la cruz on

    Mr.palafox your great concern about development of philippines is not a surprise to me because you are well educated and have a vast experience. I will not argue on your idea or opinion. What makes me wonder is how our countrymen will understand you because I believe until now our main problem is population. The living conditions of filipino is still below compare to our Asian neighbors. The growth of our economy for the past few years is still not enough to sustain the needs of every filipino families. There is still wide gap between poor and rich people in our present society. In my knowledge or opinion we need to address more and invest in future for our education, agriculture and infrastructures. Instead of of other things. Filipinos will be then accountable for the great success of the said item and in this case it will be a great life for the near future. Thank you and good . God bless philippines.

  4. I have no idea where they got those figures from & i dont believe them at all. The biggest earner for this country ( after corruption for the individual ) is ofw remittances. Do they mean they will have millions more working abroad sending monies home. Now i might agree with that but i dont agree with it coming from inside the philippines.

  5. Mr. P – Unless the past and present corrupt in the government and the private sector are punished, your great vision will just be like that- visions. Of course your vision in Metro Manila, Cavite and Bulacan has greater chances coz political dynasty in these areas are not as powerful as in the provinces.

  6. According to the IMF World Economic Outlook Database October 2013 the Philippines will be the 38th largest economy in the world in 2018. So i fail to see how it will hit number 21 just 3 years later.
    Jim O’Neil created the term N11 when he worked for Goldman Sachs. When interviewed by the BBC he was asked the science behind the N11.
    He replied there is no science i just picked 11 developing countries with large populations.
    In a nutshell no one can predict the future.