Remembering the PNoy legacy

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Last Thursday, Feb. 8 was the 64th birth anniversary of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.  He served as 15th president of the country from 2010-2016 and passed away on June 24, 2021 at the age of 61.

He was popularly known as PNoy. During his term, the common belief was that he would begin the change that would be the start of a Golden Age for the Philippines. Instead, the tragedy is that his accomplishments have been reversed so soon after his term.

What he achieved has not become the beginning but has become the goal for the present and future administrations. At the beginning of his term, the Philippines was ranked 146 out of 187 countries by the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which is considered the world’s most credible measure of domestic, public sector corruption. In a short span of four years during his term, PNoy reduced corruption and improved our ranking to 95. Today, the country’s ranking has unfortunately dropped to 115.

PNoy’s war against graft and corruption led to the filing of plunder and graft cases against several lawmakers and Janet Lim Napoles. His campaign gained international recognition which led the Wall Street Journal to write: “Still the Philippines’ continuing fight against corruption points to the gains that other emerging economies might achieve if they tackle their own problems, whether they be nationalist protectionist policies in Indonesia or a growing dependence on populist subsidies in Thailand.”

Today, the biggest concern is how to attract foreign investments. In fact, present lawmakers believe that we need amendments to the Constitution to achieve this goal.

In March 2014 under PNoy’s term, the Philippines was judged as having the best investment climate in Asia ahead of countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia. This study was based on the results of a survey of 334 multinational corporations operating in Asia which was made by the London-based Economist Corporate Network, a unit of the Economist magazine.

The 2013-2014 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum showed that the Philippines had dramatically improved its standing from 85th place, when PNoy took over, to 59th place out of 148 countries in just three years. More significantly, for the first time, corruption was no longer the major concern affecting the country’s competitiveness.

In 2013, all three major international credit rating agencies – Fitch, Standard and Poor, Moody – assessed the Philippine sovereign credit rating as investment grade for the first time in our history. Moody pointed out the country’s solid growth, political stability, greater accountability and a low level of exposure to external shocks. The agency also said that the country’s level of economic performance was among the fastest in the Asia Pacific region and across emerging markets globally.

Ruchir Sharma, the author of “Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles,” wrote that in the 1960s, the Philippines had the second highest per capita income in Asia, next only to Japan. But by the beginning of the 21st century, many of its neighbors had overtaken the Philippines due primarily to corruption, political instability and crony capitalism. But after the election of PNoy in 2010, Sharma wrote:

“Now at long last the Philippines looks poised to resume a period of strong growth. The new president, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, probably has just enough support and looks likely to generate just enough reform momentum to get the job done… Filipinos saw him as an honest figure who could deliver on the Aquino mandate for change and they were desperate after nine years of grief and decay under outgoing president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo… Aquino is delegating power to competent technocrats and seems to understand what needs to be done…”

After three and a half years of the PNoy presidency, two articles in the January-February issue of the Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, gave an extensive analysis of several emerging markets. In one article, it wrote:

“Two of its ASEAN members stood out as particularly promising. Giant Indonesia soared during the last half decade, boasting high growth, low inflation, an extremely low debt-to-GDP ratio, but it is the Philippines, the region’s other archipelago, that is now providing the biggest upside surprise. The Philippines has momentum behind its reform efforts and a popular president with three years left in his term. This provides a compelling platform for growth moving forward.”

In another Foreign Affairs article entitled “Why Economic Forecasts Fail,” countries like Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and South Africa that were considered future tiger economies failed to meet expectations. The same article asks why countries like Mexico and the Philippines exceeded expectations and were poised to be the next economic superstars. In one paragraph, it said:

“Economists tend to ignore the story of people and politics as too soft to incorporate into forecast models. Instead they study hard numbers such as government spending or interest rates. But numbers cannot capture the energy that vibrant leaders such as Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, or the Philippines’ Benigno Aquino III can unleash on monopolies, bribes and dysfunctional bureaucracy.”

As we remember PNoy, we need to remember the lessons from his administration that made the Philippines a rising tiger during his term. The Philippines must again address corruption, political instability, crony capitalism and inefficient bureaucracy to regain its image as an emerging economic tiger.

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