Commentary: Highlighting drop in Philippines' global competitiveness ranking
The sun rises over the skyline of the financial district in Manila on Nov. 4, 2019.
AFP/Ted Aljibe
Commentary: Highlighting drop in Philippines' global competitiveness ranking
Edwin Santiago ( - November 23, 2019 - 11:00am

You would think and imagine that all Filipinos are rooting for the Philippines and its success—whether economically or in some other way. There are people who feel unhappy if and when the Philippines—or other people, for that matter—receive some good fortune. 

Conversely, they find delight at the suffering of others or the Philippines. These two conditions are termed in German as gluckschmerz and schadenfreude, respectively.
These two concepts may be the reason why negative news appear more popular with some people. Psychologist Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom said that people are drawn to depressing stories without realizing it. The closest English concept is envy and in Filipino, inggit.

Take the case of Vice President Leni Robredo. She has barely seen the lay of the land as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) and yet she is already receiving criticisms for what she has done in the one week or so since she accepted the position. 

So, why are they trying to bring her down with their sorry comments? And now that she has, do they fear that they may have created their own worst nightmare—Robredo actually succeeding in her role, or, at the very least, doing better than a team of Dirty Harry wannabes?

Politicians, not excluding those from this administration, have always felt a bit sensitive and lament the way news media highlight the negative and downplay the good. One reason for this could be that sad stories are more compelling. 

As journalists would say, if a dog bites a man, that is not news; but if a man bites a dog, that is news! The news media have an implicit ability to identify and shape political issues. Besides, media also acts as an overwatch to governments. 

One bad news that received significant media exposure is the drop in the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) ranking of the Philippines for 2019 to 64th out of 141 economies in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019. From being one of the most-improved economies in 2018, this year, the country fell eight notches.

For the region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and in terms of over-all ranking, the Philippines ranked sixth out of the nine participating countries from ASEAN (Myanmar did not participate). Singapore ranked 1; Malaysia, 2; Thailand, 3; Indonesia, 4; Brunei, 5; Vietnam, 7; Cambodia, 8; Laos, 9.

In terms of global ranking, the ASEAN countries ranked as follows: Singapore,1; Malaysia, 27; Thailand, 40; Indonesia, 50; Brunei, 56; Philippines, 64; Vietnam, 67; Cambodia, 106; Laos, 113. 

The GCI is a composite of twelve pillars where the performance of the participating economies is rated. The Philippines ranked highest in market size at 31; followed by labor market at 39; financial system, 43; business Dynamism, 44; product market, 52; macroeconomic stability, 55; skills, 67; innovation capability, 72; institutions, 87; ICT adoption, 88; infrastructure, 96; and health, 102.

For this year, the Philippines dropped biggest in the fields of ICT adoption and macroeconomic stability. The Philippines dropped 21 spots in ICT adoption, from being ranked 67th, it is now at 88th. Its macroeconomic stability ranking also fell to 55th from 43rd, primarily because of the inflation rate. Disappointingly, the Philippines ranked the least competitive in health, placing at 102nd, with life expectancy slipping from 67.6 to 65.6.

As the rankings are comparatively done, the improved Philippine performance does not translate into a higher ranking as other countries may have demonstrated better improvements. 

Several weeks after the GCI report for 2019 was released, another indicator of business attractiveness—the Ease of Doing Business report—was made public for 2020. As the Philippines did relatively well in this report, as expected, not much media exposure was felt about this.

The Philippines climbed to the 95th spot in the World Bank 2020 Ease of Doing Business report, compared with its 124th rank in the previous year. The World Bank studies reforms in 10 areas of business activity in 190 economies, including issues like construction permits, getting electricity and paying taxes. 

In the details of the report, the scores improved in the following areas: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, protecting minority investors, and paying taxes. Its rating declined in getting electricity and resolving insolvency. The administration largely credits the setting up of an Anti-Red Tape Authority in 2018 for this good showing.

This significant good news, pales in comparison—in terms of its lingering presence in the headlines—with such news overshadowed by the Senate hearing on the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), the Albayalde and ninja cops mystery, traffic and transportation crisis, even the Barretto sisters feud, and many others.

But news media is not solely culpable. By preferring the bad news over the good, the people may have inadvertently and quietly trained or “forced” media to cater to their preferences. After all, ratings are of primordial importance to their existence. Sponsors and advertisers shun television networks and programs that have low ratings.

In the final analysis, the Philippines has, to a certain extent, improved. As to whom the credit should be given is another story altogether. What is important is that we do not lose our objectivity—good news or bad. And as citizens of this country, we simply cannot become defeatists—good news or bad.

Edwin Santiago is a fellow and member of the editorial board of think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.

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