Climate change continues to loom as one of the biggest risks to the Philippines’ long-term future. Speaking before the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s ASEAN International Conference on Tourism and Climate Change in Legazpi City yesterday, Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, asserted that the ‘new normal’ it will bring will compromise the long-aspired-for focus on “inclusive growth” that his administration had promised will be its legacy…
“If we do not tackle it head on, this ‘new normal’ brought about by climate change will be here to stay and we will be forced to make unfair choices between disaster risk management and development,” Aquino said.
The Philippines remains highly vulnerable to the mood swings of global weather. It has an already-shallow water supply that is rapidly being depleted, impoverished low-lying coastal cities that are disasters waiting to happen (and, of course, disasters that have happened), and suffers an enormous population that swamps any existing domestic capacity to feed.
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Much of what accounts for the Philippines’ “economic growth” lies in external drivers — remittances from its vast army of overseas foreign workers (OFWs), labour-added-value industries such as call centres and business process outsourcing firms (BPOs), consumption-fueled mega-retailing, and, more recently, a surge in investments in love-em-then-leave-em gambling tourism.
While reports that the Philippines had achieved a “transition from a pussycat into a tiger economy over the last decade,” are trumpeted ad nauseum, the reality of the hollowness of this growth remains a consistent caveat across such reports…
[Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist for global information company IHS] said the growth drivers for the Philippines include the “rapidly growing technology-business process outsourcing (IT-BPO) sector and the strong flow of remittances from Filipino workers abroad.” The IT-BPO sector posted $13.3 billion from 2008 to 2013, while remittances soared to $25 billion last year.
…an observation that hadn’t changed much since BusinessWeek issued a similar “report” on the Philippine economy back in mid-2012 the bottomline of which we summarised thus;
The Philippines is no more than a consumer market. Filipinos simply spend their money and spend their days finding ever more creative ways to convince themselves how much they deserve to spend their money on the latest trinket or gadget.
In that kind of a market, what sorts of industries is the Philippines likely to attract under a hypothetical regime of unfettered access to foreign capital of the sort preferred by foreign governments and investment banks? Most likely this: industries that will further grease the pipeline that channels cheap manufactured goods from highly-capitalised economies to the living rooms of increasingly impoverished Filipinos.
What miniscule part of that windfall-of-the-moment gets spent on enduring capital works is unlikely to mitigate the unstoppable onslaught of Mother Nature’s fury. The massive disaster super-typhoon Haiyan had left is now nothing more than an afterthought for famously amnesiac Filipinos. No evidence of any effort to learn from it can be observed, what with the political infighting and corruption scandals that have all but paralysed government’s will to do any useful work.
In the meantime, as more progressive (i.e. well-capitalised) countries get on with the business of preparing the future, the Philippines’ premier metropolis, as a case-in-point, has seemingly resigned itself to simply living with routine disaster.
Metro Manila is, by its very nature, a city vulnerable to flooding. Yet it has grown and developed into a monstrous megalopolis that, today, teeters on the brink of catastrophic failure. Manila is bisected by the Pasig River into which connect a system of natural waterways that both feed into it and absorb excess water in times of heavy water flow (say, brought about by heavy rains).
Much of the forests that once covered highlands from which water that feeds Manila’s river systems originates once served as the lowlands’ first line of protection from torrential water flow into the low-lying rivers and waterway systems. With that forest cover gone, Manila would have benefited greatly had its natural river system channels still been intact today — perhaps, had city planners applied a bit of foresight, these might even have been enhanced and even turned into key features of the city. Unfortunately, Metro Manila is now a strong candidate for a massive future urban catastrophic failure.
If the Philippines lacks any will of consequence to save its greatest city from degeneration, what more the rest of its territory where a significant chunk of its natural treasures lie — beyond the reach of the worlds’ tourists ready to part with their mega-dollars in exchange for that next unique experience.
Tourism in the Philippines is always touted as the key to that “inclusive growth” many presidents have aspired for and that which the current administration had recently made into the cornerstone of its public relations spin strategy. Yet Aquino insists that his government’s response to all this is to “plan ahead and reduce the impact of the effects of climate change on our tourist destinations.” How this will be done over the remaining two years of his term remains to be seen.
[Photo courtesy Skyscraper City.]
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.