Published on page A1 of the September 24, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
SHE may be the least popular of the country?s presidents, but the fortunes of Filipinos probably had never been better than under President Macapagal-Arroyo.
According to government and private economists, Philippine per capita income?or the share of each citizen in the country?s wealth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP)?is estimated to reach more than $1,400 this year.
According to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri, this was the best per capita income level that the country has attained in the postwar era, much higher than the industrial boom years of the Marcos dictatorship and the bull run under the Ramos presidency.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda cited a Citibank report last month which placed Philippine per capita income at $1,300.
Salceda said the US-based bank had highlighted the vast improvement in the country?s per capita income, the best since the 1970s, it said.
Salceda, an economic adviser to the President, said 22 consecutive quarters of GDP expansion and slower population growth of below 2 percent were the factors that lifted the country?s per capita income.
Based on the government?s economic growth forecast, Salceda said the Philippines would hit a per capita income of $1,463 per Filipino by the end of 2006 based on a GDP of P6.7 trillion, population of 87.4 million and average peso-dollar exchange rate of 52.4.
To adjust for changes in prices, the National Economic and Development Authority calculated its estimate of $1,463 per capita income using constant 1988 prices. Per capita income in 2004 was $1,200 and $1,040 in 2000.
At this rate, Salceda said the Philippines could hit a minimum of $1,800 per capita income by 2010.
Match Thailand?s performance
?Our fighting target is a per capita of $2,800 which would put us on a par with Thailand,? which had a per capita of $2,490 in 2004, he said.
Matching Thailand?s performance was ?feasibly strategizable,? Salceda said.
Thailand and the Philippines used to be economic equals until Bangkok?s economy zoomed in the 1980s while that of the Philippines faltered.
Neri said the surge in per capita income over the past 5 years was even more remarkable considering that the government started from a low base (about $900 per capita during the Estrada administration) and the volatile political situation that has kept the President virtually on the ropes throughout her rule.
Neri said the per capita income should increase faster if the peso-dollar rate stays at the current average of below P50 for the rest of the year.
Officials noted that if per capita were calculated based on gross national product (GNP)?which includes foreign receipts?the per capita would be even higher because of the unprecedented rise of remittances from overseas Filipino workers in recent years.
GDP measures the total monetary value of all the goods and services produced in a country in a given year, minus receipts from abroad.
But equally important in building per capita income is ensuring that the country?s wealth is shared by all, according to Neri.
?This is the reason why the focus of our economic development in the coming years is unclogging the bottlenecks that prevent the economic gains from filtering down to the masses,? he said.
This includes higher capital expenditures to build more railways, airports, bridges and agriculture facilities while directing more funds to social services and cut through the bureaucratic gridlock through the efficient distribution of subsidized food, medicine and health insurance.
But as Neri himself noted, the uneven distribution of this national wealth remained a big problem for the government.
?We might have a high per capita income, but whether this is distributed equally is a big question,? he said.
While the President has touted the strong peso, low interest rates and the improving fiscal condition as proof of her good economic stewardship, her critics have dismissed them as headline statistics that do not reflect the widespread poverty in the country.