When in November 2007 a tank pummeled down the gilded glass doors of the Manila Peninsula Hotel at the main business district of Makati City in Manila, Philippines, heads began to shake. The country had been experiencing a re-emergence, a resurgence of some sorts, economically. Filipinos had begun to cling to threads, albeit thin, of hope – that the country may finally be shaking the vestiges of its zest for change and choose one unbending path as a nation.
But then another madman decided he wanted to hold the reins of the country. The government had to show that it was in control, hence, the tank. It took all of six hours before he was crushed, but in his wake came threats of another martial rule marked by the imposition of a curfew and the suppression of press freedom. Filipinos waited with bated breath for a crash.
After all, thus was the fate of the Philippine economy – it stumbles at the onslaught of both the familiar and the unfamiliar, teeters at the brink of a dark night.
And the Philippines was just starting to get it right.
In January 2007, the Peso averaged Php48.381 to a dollar. In November, it stood at Php43.218. Three (3) years ago, it teetered at Php55 to a dollar.
Eleven (11) corporations listed in the Philippine stock exchange in 2007 – three (3) were from the property sector, one (1) in oil, another in media, and others still from diversified industries, like the lottery and other internet based businesses. The mood in the mercado (stock market) was bullish – busy, upbeat, bustling, thriving.
Condominiums, houses, vacation homes – posh, sparkling and expensive – were being built and bought with impunity. The nouveau riche, the bayaning Pilipino (a.k.a. the OFW – Overseas Filipino Workers), were more than happy to oblige with their dollars, their euros and their yens. The laws that were inked to allow the OFWs to regain their citizenship and their rights, particularly their right to property, appeared to be an excellent move as OFWs became the salvation of the real estate industry which had never quite recovered from the 1997 Asian flu.
Tourists, hordes of them, were flocking to the Philippines.
According to the National Statistics Office, Filipinos who were employed reached 33.7 million in October 2007, or 1.5 percent higher than in October 2006. The unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent in October from 7.3 percent in the same period in 2006.
But it appeared temporary, fleeting, because when the shots rang and peace was shattered, the stock market plummeted, like a fragile leaf giving in to whims of children in politician and military garb. Everyone readied themselves for a crash.
It did not come. To everyone’s surprise, the Philippine economy held and went even steadier and stronger with the first blaze of the new year’s sun.
The Peso rose even higher at Php 41.411 to a dollar on the first trading day of 2008, trading at its strongest in nearly eight years, gaining 18.8 percent against the dollar to become Asia’s best-performing currency. The mood is positive as more funds are expected to come in from foreign investments which continue to flow into the Asian region, enticed by higher-yielding assets in emerging markets, including the Philippines.
But there are other concerns. The price of crude had just hit $100 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Recession threatens the US economy and it may affect or stall the growth of the Philippines.
A bated breath is exhaled and it wobbles. But the Philippine economy seems to be less tolerant, of late, of those threatening its survival. It is about time. The Filipinos had waited too long.