No First World Status for PH Anytime Soon—2

This is a follow-up to my recent column, titled “No First World Status for PH Anytime Soon,” regarding the recent statements by President Aquino that the Philippines could graduate to First World status by the year 2030. It has been prompted by the Edsa traffic crisis and the publication of the findings of the Second Quarter 2015 Survey on Poverty of the polling organization SWS (Social Weather Stations).

The survey’s main finding was that 51 percent of the 1,200 respondents nationwide, answering the question “Where would you place your family in this card--not poor, on the line, or poor?”, stated that they were poor. The by-region figures were 70 percent for Mindanao, 58 percent for the Visayas, 43 percent for Luzon outside of Metro Manila and 33 percent for Metro Manila. The 51 percent self-rated poverty figure translated into 11.2 million families. The survey’s other major finding related to food-poverty. The survey found that 37 percent of the self-rated poor families believe that they were food-poor and that 18.1 percent of the families that rated themselves poor experienced hunger at least once in the three-month period immediately preceding the survey, 15.6 percent experienced moderate hunger-- i.e., hunger “only once” or “a few times”--and 2.4 percent experienced severe hunger, i.e., hunger “often” or “always.” Overall, 8.1 million families rated themselves as food-poor.

The by-region figures for food-poverty were 58 percent for Mindanao, 40 percent for the Visayas, 29 percent for Luzon outside Metro Manila and 23 percent for Metro Manila.

The continuing gridlock that characterizes the traffic situation in this country’s premier metropolis is the most vivid manifestation of one of the greatest obstacles to rapid and sustained Philippine development. I refer to what can succinctly be described as its infrastructure deficit. There are simply not enough first-class highways, seaports, highways, airports, transportation facilities, communication systems and power sources. The Edsa crisis symbolizes everything that the government of this country has not been able to deliver after almost seven decades of post-colonial administration. Indeed, in survey after survey, domestic and foreign investors place the infrastructure deficit at or near the top of their lists of disincentives to investment in the Philippines.

Fifteen years is not a long time in the life of an economy, and 2030 is not very far away from 2015. A country that lays claim to being 15 years away from First World status should by now be close to being free of widespread poverty and to possessing all, or at least most of the first-rate facilities demanded by would-be investors. That is not the case with the Philippines.

When the First World countries of today--the members of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)--were on the verge of achieving developed-country status, they already had a stable middle class, an income distribution structure devoid of gross unevenness, a thriving agriculture, a strong export trade, and, above all else, well-developed transportation, communication and power systems.

When this country is close to having an economy with these features--it will someday--there can be talk of the Philippines’ achieving First World status in the not-distant future. Until that point is reached, it is not only unrealistic to speak of attainment of First World status anytime soon. It is absurd.

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