MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has a fresh opportunity to be Asia’s next tiger economy, potentially regaining the glory lost decades ago, according to a visiting regional business leader from Brunei.
Dato Timothy Ong, a leading Brunei businessman who founded and now chairs regional dialogue platform Asia Inc. Forum, said in a press briefing on Monday that he has seen signs that the Philippines could revisit its goal of being the next Asian tiger despite staying at the bottom half of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in terms of economic performance for years.
Ong is also the convener of Asean 100 Leadership Forum, which will be hosted by the city of Makati on Sept. 28-29 at the Makati Shangri-La. This year’s Asean meet aims to foster insightful and intelligent discussions on the future of Asean and how the region can emerge as one of the world’s significant economic blocs.
For Ong, the Philippines can join the ranks of Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong, the so-called Asian “tiger” economies or newly industrializing countries. He cited five reasons why the country, though a “dark horse,” had the makings of the next “tiger.”
First and foremost, Ong said the new leadership under President Aquino has promised to weed out corruption in the country, which has been creating a lot of optimism.
It’s widely perceived that the high level of corruption in the country has driven up the cost of doing business.
The second reason, Ong said, would be the Philippines’ vast pool of hardworking and skilled manpower, many of whom have been deployed across the globe. “With this wealth of human resources, it’s important to ask then why the Philippines isn’t more successful economically,” he said.
The third factor would be the Philippines’ “centers of excellence,” Ong said, noting that the country has become a competitive hub for business process outsourcing. He likened the Makati central business district to a “First World” city in a Third World country. “If the Philippines is capable of being first world in these centers of excellence, why can’t it be First World in every respect?” he said.
Ong said the fourth reason would be the Philippines’ homegrown companies that were at par with the world’s best. He cited fast-food giant Jollibee Foods Corp., international port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc. and the Ayala group of companies.
“There is a sense of optimism that characterizes the country as a whole. As the new government takes its steps in leading the country towards change, it may be able to experience higher standards of governance,” he said.
Finally, Ong noted the Philippines’ “sharply improving competitiveness” as another factor supporting its aspiration to be the next tiger economy. He cited recent reports that the Philippines had jumped 10 notches to 75 from 85 in the latest ranking of the World Economic Forum. Ong said this happened only within the first 15 months of the term of the new president.
Meanwhile, Ong said Asean would likely partly meet its target to establish an integrated economic community by 2015.
“A One Asean is important for our collective future to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and economic stability in the region; to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in economic, social, cultural, technical and administrative spheres,” Ong said.
“At the moment, Southeast Asia is like a big gated community where neighbors barely know each other. They know each other by name, they exchange pleasantries but they wouldn’t really go out of their way to have dinner at each other’s house,” he said.
Once integrated, he said, Asean could be a very influential bloc as it could become Asia’s third-largest economy next to China and Japan and the ninth-largest in the world.