The Year that was
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2016 - 9:00am

If the Aquino government was trying to solidify gains it made last year since taking over the mantle of leadership in 2010, it sure made a poor showing. Except for the long delayed spurt of spending in government projects, nothing much seemed worthy of praise.

Really nothing much to gloat about. The Philippines managed to successfully host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, but any gains made by APEC were overshadowed by the French’s superb handling of the Earth Summit or COP21.

Well, yes, we did have a string of first place winnings in prestigious international beauty pageants, but Manny Pacquiao’s defeat to Floyd Mayweather in May and subsequent shoulder injury that sidelined him for the rest of 2015 cast a shadow on former accomplishments.

It’s going to be a challenge to keep your attention to the jargon that ensues when reviewing the economic landscape of the Philippines in 2015, but thankfully, the short distractions during the year are still worth remembering and repeating. So hang on, readers.

Slowing down

While the Philippines did better than its neighbors, there was still a slight slowing down especially in the latter quarter of the year as the economies of the country’s major trading partners took a further beating.

Both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank have scaled down their estimates for the Philippines’ economic growth in 2015, but noted the Philippines is still one of the more vibrant economies in the region, thanks to continued inflows of remittances from the overseas employment of migrant workers and professionals.

There had been a very slight dip in remittances during the year, but this was not enough to dampen the spending habits of those remaining in the country. The malls were crowded during the season of gift-giving, real estate and housing continued to be vibrant throughout the year, and record-breaking sales by car dealerships were noted.

Of course, traffic subsequently slowed down – much to the irritation of most urbanites who had to contend with three to four hours of travel everyday to get to work and back home. The roads were not getting wider and mass transportation was not improving, but the number of cars on the roads was increasing by double-digits.

Slight rise

Prices of prime commodities rose slightly in 2015, not enough to hurt household spending, but was noticeably higher than in previous years. If this inflation level is really due to the effects of Typhoon Lando, which struck late last year, then we can expect a return to the more normal levels in 2016 even with a rise in election spending.

Filipinos were barely fazed by the year-end rise in prices because of the higher salaries brought about by the holiday bonus payouts plus the effects of plummeting oil prices, the lowest so far monitored in recent years.

The year-end was thus a mad rush by Filipinos to get their shopping done, and to set up or attend the numerous gatherings being scheduled among friends, officemates, and family.

Only that gaffe by US TV host Steve Harvey in announcing the winner of the Miss Universe 2015 winner provided a different topic of discussion during the year-end parties. And yes, plus the heating up race for the 2016 presidential elections.

Higher ratings

Barely noticed and celebrated during the year was Fitch’s upgrade of the country’s investment rating from stable to positive. Of course, this could still be considered old news since the Philippines received better ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s in 2014.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima was kind of disappointed with the stingy rating that Fitch had given, but expressed optimism the ratings agency would one day recognize the economic stability and sustainability the Philippines had built over the years.

It was a different ratings game that Filipinos were more interested in last year though. The AlDub phenomenon, a love pairing by noontime show Eat Bulaga, reached fever-high levels and even broke Twitter records of all time. It also reenergized the popularity of the longest-running variety show in the country.

Surprise ratings also came for the movie Heneral Luna. Even if it failed to muster recognition in the Oscars right at the first level of vetting, it won Filipino hearts and rekindled a surge of new patriotism. Of course, it also exposed that long-critiqued absence of quality education of our youngsters when one high school student had to ask why Apolinario Mabini was always seated.

VIPs

Aside from the APEC Summit, where 21 heads of state including US President Barack Obama and People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping were present, the Philippines welcomed with much fanfare the visit of the Roman Catholic’s Pope Francis.

Tens of millions lined up streets to be able to catch a glimpse of the Pope during his five-day stay, notwithstanding the unpredictable rains. The Pope was not to be outdone and gamely stepped out of his security comfort zones, even if he had to wear that now famous yellow raincoat.

APEC, of course, had its personalities raising some kind of ruckus. Tagged as APEC hotties, Mexican President Enrique Pea Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provided some screaming fun, a respite from the seriousness of the summit as Filipinas swooned over the two gentlemen.

Improvements in the NAIA Terminal 1 were overshadowed by the laglag bala scam, where a bullet supposedly would be sneaked in a balikbayan’s luggage and would, therefore, become the cause of some extortion activity involving airport officials.

Travelling Filipinos became paranoid enough to fully wrap their luggages in plastic and tape to make sure they not fall victim to a frame up.

More investments

Even if most Filipinos once again failed to notice, investment levels through the government’s public-private partnership program took off big time in 2015.

For starters, more than 10 projects – mostly infrastructure-related – had received a go-ahead in the first half of the year, which would boost economic activity well into the next few years. More big projects are in the pipeline and would likely find willing investors.

Hopefully, when all these projects materialize, the country’s road traffic problems will go away.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us at www.facebook.com and follow us at www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

ACIRC APOLINARIO MABINI ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION SUMMIT BOTH THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK AND THE WORLD BANK CORPORATE CENTER EARTH SUMMIT EAT BULAGA FACEBOOK AND TWITTER PHILIPPINES STRONG YEAR
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