In a neighborhood of so-called "Asian tigers," the Philippines has quietly emerged as the region's newest economic darling. At 6.6 percent, the Filipino economy's current GDP growth rate is the second highest in Asia, behind only China's. That growth is projected to continue over the next few years, in part because Filipinos are in a "sweet spot" demographically: the Philippines has the youngest population in East Asia, which translates into lower costs to support a younger workforce and less economic drag from retirees. Last month, Fitch Ratings (one of the world's three major credit rating firms) upgraded the Philippines to a "BBB-" with a stable outlook -- the first time the Philippines has ever received investment-grade status and a huge vote of confidence in the Filipino economy. And last year, the World Economic Forum moved the Philippines up ten points to the top half of its global competitiveness ranking for the first time in its history. These economic improvements are in part due to President Benigno Aquino, whose steps to increase transparency and address corruption sparked renewed international confidence in the Filipino economy even during the global slowdown.
"The Philippines is no longer the sick man of East Asia, but the rising tiger," announced World Bank Country Director Motoo Konishi during the Philippines Development Forum in Davao City in February.
But that economic growth only looks great on paper. The slums of Manila and Cebu are as bleak as they always were, and on the ground, average Filipinos aren't feeling so optimistic. The economic boom appears to have only benefited a tiny minority of elite families; meanwhile, a huge segment of citizens remain vulnerable to poverty, malnutrition, and other grim development indicators that belie the country's apparent growth. Despite the stated goal of President Aquino's Philippine Development Plan to oversee a period of "inclusive growth," income inequality in the Philippines continues to stand out.