Choose Philippines: The heart and soul of Asia
Nina Corpuz () - July 10, 2013 - 4:16pm

I am a TV journalist from the Philippines. I work for the biggest broadcast network, ABS-CBN. I hope you've heard good things about us, if you have.

I cover a variety of national issues -- one day I'm interviewing the president, the next, a street vendor who earns one dollar a day.

We are a country of extremes. Economically, just 1% of the country gets 10% of the country's total income. We have a professional class, the upper middle class, which consists of 10% of the population and has a 25% share in the country's total income. Those in this bracket are mostly employees or small and medium sized entrepreneurs. They have a few luxuries, such as occasionally dining out in the malls, domestic travel, they buy second hand cars but generally rely on public transport such as taxis and the MRT. Many OFW families are in this market especially those of OFW professionals -- nurses, engineers, etc. They are prepaid telco users and likely have access to the net for social media and educational purposes for their kids.

The mass market consists of 65% of the population but share just half of the country's total income. Their average income is US$5,000 a year. These are the blue collar workers -- they work as contractual employees in construction, drivers of public transport, sales ladies in the malls. Even call center employees are part of this group. The mass market is the core target of the broadcast media and consumer goods in the Philippines due to their numbers. Their tastes can swing a product's success or failure. The biggest bulk of advertising is targeted at this market -- prepaid telco, fast-foods, fast-moving consumer goods (soda, instant noodles, chips, sachet products).

They have limited luxuries in life and appreciate spending time with their families more than going out with friends.

There is also still a big 30% that lives in poverty, with a disproportionate share of 10% of the country's total income. They subsist on an average of US$1,500  a year. Many of them are the urban poor who earn their living daily with short time jobs, not thru a salary. They live in makeshift houses with dirt floors and impermanent material of plywood, galvanized iron sheets and cardboard.

As I said, the Philippines is a country of extremes. And however it is portrayed in movies and books, we are a people who are proud to be called Filipinos. I was a student scholar in the UK and Italy, but I chose to come back because I believe so much in our people -- and as a journalist, making a difference in their lives.

Our strength lies, obviously, in our people. The country has so many unfortunate, sob stories, the kind that breaks your heart over and over again. But you will never see it in our faces.

We know there is so much we can offer, so much Filipino talent, that's raw and uniquely ours, that gives us the strength of character to work harder, do better, keep proving ourselves to our richer and more progressive Asian neighbors… and that's all right. It actually pushes us to be the best we can be. And we've proven this many times, as overseas workers, to put it plainly, as maids; we want to be the best maids or drivers. We aim to please.

I’m sure you've all heard of that poor boy from General Santos City, a distant province from Manila, who grew up to became one of the best boxers of all time: Manny Pacquiao. He succeeded because he was hungry and he was also driven.

We have what it takes to be world class, because we have the values that are necessary.

Think about the qualities of our OFWs: we are competent, we are hard working, we have great customer service, we can think of creative solutions to address problems, and finally we have a trait we call "malasakit.” This Filipino word has no direct translation in English, but it basically means doing something well not just because it is your job, but because you are personally involved in what you do.

We are a country of extremes. A look at our history should tell you why. The Malay and Chinese influence, mixed with our indigenous culture; 300 years of Spanish rule, the relatively brief, but very influential stint of the Americans with an intermission by the Japanese. How can we not have a diverse culture?

We are devoutly Catholic, with our share of equally devout Muslims. And yet, because of our huge mass market that is heavily influenced by mass media, every Filipino knows the hottest song, which Hollywood actor is dating which actress, the latest dance craze, that "Gimme, Gimme" is the new dance craze, overtaking PSY's "Gentleman" and "Gangnam Style" which is so 2012.

We may have permanent smiles on our faces, but do not doubt that we are brave. We used to be a lot more timid when we had subconscious benchmarks of how we would be judged -- by American or European standards. But the empires have fallen, thanks to Wall Street and the Euro crisis. We know and we are starting to feel that we are not just tigers in Asia, but possibly globally. We have felt our power, maybe thanks (or no thanks) to the long-standing joke that if all Filipinos decide to take a day-off at the same time, the world will grind to a halt. The Filipino has become a global phenomenon in the creative arts -- thanks to Oprah and Ellen -- you've all heard of Charice Pempengco - and this has given us a much needed boost of confidence.

What do we have that we can offer the world aside from our God-given talents? Manny Pacquiao, Charice, Arnel Pineda, even Amy at the front desk of our hotel. We have what our friend from Georgetown, Malaysia was talking about. We have soul, and most importantly - we have the heart.

That's what the Philippines can offer - the Filipino heart and soul.

There are millions of Filipinos who can be your next Manny Pacquiao, and provide the knockout in the creative field - arts, culture and entertainment.

So on your next investment or partnership, choose Philippines: the heart and soul of Asia.

(This is a transcript of the speech of journalist Nina Corpuz in Hong Kong at Asia On The Edge 2013, an annual event that brings together Asian creative entrepreneurs with the aim of incubating new ideas, trends and opportunities. For more information, you can go to

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