Quaint outcomes on Day One of the 2014 World Economic Forum #WEF conference in Manila

Southeast Asia is a part of the world where much of the wealth was created by former colonial masters, inherited by a small elite clique of oligarchs, and is now largely held by the ethnic Chinese diaspora. The degree to which this wealth has trickled down to the greater population varies by country. Nonetheless, major southeast Asian countries continue to regard improving social equality in their respective societies as a shared challenge.

'Inclusive' growth remains a common aspiration amongst ASEAN nations.

‘Inclusive’ growth remains a common aspiration amongst ASEAN nations.

Not surprisingly, there was plenty of talk of education as ultimate ‘equalisers’, of applying ‘inclusive finance’ to reach the ‘unbanked’, of implementing ‘sustainable’ reforms, solutions, and change and other ‘sustainable’ this and that, all on this first day of the World Economic Forum held in Manila this year.

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Yet much still needs to be done. One can’t help but find irony in the crony capitalist heads of state of Indonesia and the Philippines talking about “reform”. Considering that transparency, access to information, and freedom are pillars of much of the reform aspired for by the two poorest of the major ASEAN nations, there is lots of reason to remain skeptical.

For that matter, Southeast Asia overall remains the antithesis of transparency. Relatively prosperous Malaysia was highly-criticised for the handling of the crisis surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on account of the opaqueness of its investigation and police work. Thailand, for its part, continues to slog through what seems to be an increasingly untenable political crisis. And the world recoiled in horror as oil-wealthy Brunei embraced Sharia Law last month.

Will the much-anticipated ASEAN common market ever materialise? This is the big elephant in the room that politicians seem to be ignoring even as they pay lip service to trite motherhood statements and euphemisms. The reality is that a common market in the region will greatly reward nations that have had headstarts building well-capitalised competitive industries and possess traditions of producing high-quality products and services. Countries that have protected their local industrialists and lack a tradition of operational excellence will likely suffer on such a level playing field.

While prosperous Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore will seize the market for high-added-value manufactured goods and premium financial services in such an environment, the Philippines and Indonesia will continue to be in a low margins labour-added-value race to stay ahead of the even-lower-wage Indochinese economies.

Even then, however loudly talk of open markets and borderless trade echo through the plenary sessions of the WEF, the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution only need say “Not so fast…” to kill the conversation. The Philippine Constitution limits and even bars foreign ownership in key industry sectors, all but ensuring the continued domination of the country’s economy by a small handful of Filipino dynasties.

Whatever happens, it seems local businessmen hardly care either way. According to studies conducted on the attitudes of companies operating in the region by Omkar Shrestha of the Asian Development Bank (ADB)…

[…] firms were less interested in the common market and were more focused on constraints in individual Asean countries. The major concerns were corruption, poor infrastructure and the lack of trained labor in the region, Mr. Shrestha said.

A majority of respondents in both surveys believe the common market won’t come about next year; that Asean is really 10 individual markets rather than a single one; and that the region remains highly fragmented and diverse, Mr. Shrestha said.

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether or not the almost 600 delegates from all over the world will see and acknowledge the much-touted “progress” of the Philippines (once Asia’s “sick man” now regarded as this year’s most promising emerging economy) while on the ground in Manila. The Philippines’ premiere metropolis is home to vast colonies of unsightly squatters and traffic on its streets is gridlocked most of the day. How adept the government is at masking these blights (as former First Lady Imelda Marcos was famous for successfully doing in the 1970s during similar international conventions) will largely determine the verdict.

12 Replies to “Quaint outcomes on Day One of the 2014 World Economic Forum #WEF conference in Manila”

  1. Aquino can be a key note speaker. To explain how a tiger economy does not make a dent on the employment rate and the poverty rate. That really takes a lot of magic .

  2. Is it, for argument’s sake, the governments’ intention to keep the populace uneducated in order to keep its power for the elite? The nagging solution to poverty, i.e., education, has long been the very same battle cry since my childhood. But as the years go by, I am witnessing the majority being either more stupid, ignorant or simply lazy to absorb logic or intelligence. I guess we need to stop the blame game and really get down on our knees and start cleaning from the floor, instead of just praying.

  3. “Most promising……” That is it for Pnoy and his minions. Just promises but never delivers. And he even has the gall to say that his clan brought this country around demonizing pretty much Marcos and other former presidents. He keeps harping on about GMA’s cases which wouldn’t stick, and going on about Marcos and his dictatorship.

    Mr. President, you are an asshole!

    Your clan has brought this country to its knees and more. Wake up and smell the shit! You really think this is progress? Tell that to the average Juan on the street having to live through the day with the jobs (non-jobs) you created, just being happy to barely take his family to Jollibee on weekends. Tell him its progress that he has to endure the torture of daily commute trough the metro. Tell him every 15th & end of the month that what his employer takes as tax is better utilized by the government than by him investing in his kids education or even buy his own house. Tell that also to his kids that public education provided to them is at par with the world. Tell it to his wife who has to work her magic on the family’s budget just to pay for “world class” utilities, even if power shortage is real and is here. Go tell it to them and hear what they have to honestly say, and not listen to your own “”surveys”. Better yet, why don’t you try living their lives even for just a day, and tell the world it’s your caln who bought the country to this sorry state.

    What an asshole.

      1. We had many choices for presidency like Villar and Gibo but obviously, you would prefer an ampaw president.

      2. Those previous presidents that you mentioned have certainly done a better job than your ampaw president. The only reason why they are percieved as “evil” is because of the yellow media that has tricked the country for almost 3 decades.

        Corruption has gotten worse under your president’s regime yet you chose to drink the yellow kool-aid.

        The way things are going, your president is going to be in deep deep shit if this pork barrel scam isn’t resolved.

      3. You are missing the point. Speaking ill of the former presidents in a conference is definitely unethical and in poor taste. He is not in a freaking campaign sortie!

        He went on banging about what good he has done for the country, but does it really show? Is it even the truth? Come on! If it was slightly true, then I would be back in the Philippines and not working my ass off in some God-forsaken country to prop up the ailing national economy. Please do not harp on about “he needs more time”, “he has only 1 term”, “these changes need time”, because I have been waiting for almost three decades for that EDSA 1 magic as performed by his mother, so far…. nada.

        You are asking me for a proposal? As a start, people like you should realize the country’s predicament. A situation worsened by his mother and taken down further by this balding idiot. People like you should realize that this country cannot move forward by depending on idiots, empty slogans, motherly statements and dead parents. That should be doable.

    1. Well-said! Everything you said here is true, because I see it with my own family, my parents. Amen, amen, and amen!

  4. The World Economic Forum is held here; because the country is a classic case of a downspiraling economy…

    The Philippines is a Feudal Oligarchy, with a widespread corruption problem. Businesses are controlled by an elite few. And the country’s main source of income are the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW)…the President, with his inner circle of political followers have the total control of the funds of the country. Most of those funds have been transfered to their overseas Bank Accounts…

  5. The local governments solution for the poor folk on the streets was to shoo them away and hide them behind facades.
    It’s disgusting and I can’t even begin to describe how angry I am.

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