Philippines slips in economic freedom rankings

Lawrence Agcaoili - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines slipped three notches in the Heritage Foundation 2018 Index of Economic Freedom (IEF) due to lower scores for government integrity, monetary freedom and property rights.

After jumping 12 notches last year, the global ranking of the Philippines slipped to 61st in 2018 from 58th in 2017, but improved its regional standing by one rank to number 13th among 43 countries surveyed in the Asia-Pacific.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque described the survey result as “perception not based on reality.”

While admitting that justice grinds slowly in the Philippines, the Duterte administration is doing its best to address the problem.

The Philippines achieved an Economic Freedom Score of 65 out of a possible 100, 0.6 lower than its score last year but keeping its status as a “Moderately Free” country.

The think tank noted the strong economic growth of the Philippines allowed the government to prioritize domestic law-and-order issues over economic policy concerns.

“A rapid decline in the President’s popularity caused investor confidence to wane by the end of 2017. An absence of entrepreneurial dynamism thwarts development,” Heritage Foundation said in the report.

The scores of the Philippines in property rights and government integrity slipped while the score for judicial effectiveness improved.

“Judicial independence is strong, but the courts are plagued by inefficiency, low pay, intimidation, delays and long case backlogs. Corruption and cronyism are pervasive, and the country is a regional money-laundering hub,” the report read.

“The President’s strong-arm tactics reinforce a culture of impunity,” it added.

It noted the judicial system remains weak and vulnerable to political influence.

The IEF is an annual survey of 180 countries published since 1995 by the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think-tank.

The 2018 Index graded economies based on 12 independent factors called Economic Freedoms.

In a report to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez said the survey result clearly indicated the sustainability of Philippine economic growth, particularly on the back of serious economic reforms, particularly in ease of doing business and taxation.

“We are assured that this will enhance continued business and investor confidence, as we implement an ambitious infrastructure development program in the next few years,” Romualdez, said.

Performance in the economic freedoms relating to government size, regulatory efficiency and open markets generally improved or remained stable.

The Philippines showed improvements in trade freedom (+4.3), judicial effectiveness (+1.1), fiscal health (+.5) and labor freedom (+.4).

Business, investment and financial freedoms remained stable.

The Philippine embassy pointed out certain observations in the IEF report that did not seem to be supported by facts.

The report noted the “rapid decline in the President’s popularity caused investor confidence to wane by the end of 2017.”

“I wish to note that the latest Pulse Asia survey showed the President’s trust and approval ratings at an all-time high of 80 and 82 percent, respectively. The latest Social Weather Station survey shows that the trust and satisfaction ratings are 83 and 75 percent, respectively,” Romualdez added.

The official said the ASEAN Business Outlook Survey 2018 published by the US Chamber of Commerce showed 70 percent of those firms surveyed bared plans to expand in the Philippines and 85 percent expected profits to increase in 2018.

Among ASEAN member-states, he said the Philippines scored highest in satisfaction for adequate and well-trained labor force, and second highest for availability of trained personnel.

“We believe that there might have been a time-lag in terms of Heritage Foundation receiving the latest and complete information on the President’s approval ratings and the level of business confidence in the Philippines,” Romualdez said.

“We will also provide them with a full update on the positive strides that we have taken with respect to developing a dynamic entrepreneurial economy, supported by a robust MSME development program and an innovation start-up eco-system,” he added. – With Christina Mendez

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