Looking abroad to protect home

Posted at 12/31/2012 7:50 PM

(Editor's note: M.C. Abad Jr. is the current chairman of the think-tank Institute for Strategic and Development Studies or ISDS. He served for many years as head of public affairs of the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta. He is the author of the book, The Philippines in Asean: Reflections from the Listening Room, published by Anvil Philippines Inc. in 2011.)

At the kind invitation of ABS-CBN News online editor-in-chief and my good friend, Gani de Castro, I would like to start my weekly column by sharing with Filipino netizens both here at home and abroad what I think are, at least, five issues why we should continue to look globally.

By the way, I will be writing my articles in my personal capacity and they may not necessarily represent the views of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies, which I am currently the Chairman, and of other institutions that I am affiliated with.

First, the three tens. There are approximately ten million overseas Filipinos, representing ten percent of the Philippine population, and whose annual remittances have now exceeded ten percent of our gross domestic product (GDP). These are very significant figures considering the average size and income of Filipino households. The Philippines is the fourth largest recipient countries of remittances in proportion to the size of the domestic economy. Until the current trend reverses, our national and individual well-being depends greatly on employment opportunities abroad and immigration policies of receiving states.

Second, conflicts abroad could affect us. It is important for us to closely monitor international threats caused by wars among countries or even domestic conflicts with international consequences. For example, the price of oil is one of the most vulnerable when affected by instabilities in the Middle East which is the source of more than 80 percent of our crude imports and where half of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are deployed. Saudi Arabia alone hosts at least 300,000 registered OFWs and supplies half of our crude oil. While we should support all peaceful resolution of conflicts and orderly political transitions, we should always be ready for contingencies collectively as a nation and individually.

Trade and tourism

Third, our external trade makes up half the value of our GDP. That makes us, according to the World Bank, a relatively open economy compared to the average Asian and other lower-middle-income countries in terms of international trade. We are a major exporter of electronic products like processors, chips and hard drives and many highly-skilled Filipinos depend on them for employment. Since we trade mostly with Japan, the United States, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Western Europe, it is crucial that we maintain stable relations with these major economies.

PNoy’s goal of doubling our total exports, to create an additional nine million job opportunities by the time he steps down in 2016, depends on at least three factors: the economic health of our trading partners, our ability to anticipate with reasonable precision their future demand and requirements, and the state of our relations with them.

Fourth, foreign tourism significantly contributes to our economy. The Philippines promotes itself not just as a tourism destination, but a place to invest in tourism-related businesses. In recent years, the average shares of tourism in our nation’s GDP and total employment were six percent and ten percent, respectively. Approximately four million Filipinos are employed in tourism-related activities. Tourist arrivals in the year just passed have surely exceeded the almost four million foreign tourists in the year before that.

Our beautiful country and friendly people have attracted tourists despite the fact that many of our infrastructure, transportation and communication services could be inefficient, lacking, or even non-existent in some areas. DOT’s “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is an excellent branding campaign, but under one brand, the whole Philippine tourism industry could rise or fall. Protecting the reputation of that brand is every Filipino’s responsibility both here and abroad. In building the critical factors, we should learn from successful experiences of other countries. We need not look very far as our neighbors have done a marvelous job attracting tourists including Filipinos.

Peace and security

Fifth, but not the least, the Philippines is obviously a member of a community of nations and should carry out its responsibilities accordingly. Together with other like-minded states, we should promote and defend common universal values of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law beyond our shores. We should continue to send peace-building missions within the context of our commitments with the United Nations. We should speak up for others when our common values and principles are trampled lest we find ourselves alone in our own times of need. We should not forget those who are on our side in our campaign to defend our territories in the West Philippine Sea.

Within the limits of our capability, we should actively send humanitarian missions abroad, particularly within our Asian neighborhood, in times of natural disasters and other emergencies. I have no doubt that the Japanese people will not forget even our almost symbolic gesture of donating emergency assistance in 2011 following the great earthquake and tsunami off its Pacific coast. In the process, we could learn important lessons in disaster mitigation and prevention through our actual exposures abroad.

There are many more international issues that we should pay attention to in order to strategically position the Philippines as a truly global nation. But we need to focus and follow through.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the organization he represents.)