Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 25 March 2017


The Human Development Report 2016/2017 was launched in Stockholm on Tuesday, with Sweden’s prime minister and deputy prime minister participating at the launch, along with the top United Nations Development Programme official (Helen Clark) and the principal author of the Report (Selim Jahan). I was there for the ceremony, playing a minor role (discussant), and so I got to see Stockholm for the first time. I loved the place, but more about that later.

Let us take a look at what the Report’s Human Development Index (HDI) says about the Philippines. The HDI is a composite index measuring average achievements in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living.

First, the good news: The Philippines is one of the few countries—48 in all—out of 188 countries where the improvement of the HDI was faster between 2000 and 2015 than it was between 1990 and 2000. Why compare the two periods? Because the 2000-2015 period covers the UN Millennium Declaration, and the subsequent Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which 189 UN member-countries signed.

One would expect, therefore, that signing a commitment to achieve the goals would result in some increase in effort from these countries. The HDI growth rate in 2000-2015 does not demonstrate that effort. No wonder the MDGs were not attained. Did you notice, Reader, that everyone talks about the past 25 years—from when the Report began? Studiously ignored are the results of the MDG effort. And now we’ve got the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have even more goals (17 to the MDGs’ 8) and more targets (169 to the MDGs’ 21).

The not-so-good news: The Philippine average annual HDI growth rate, 1990-2015, increased by only .01 percent from the pre-MDG (1990-2000) growth rate. It went from 0.60 percent growth rate to 0.61 percent. The growth rate in 2000-2010

averaged 0.72 percent (kudos to the GMA administration), but slowed to 0.39 percent in 2010-2015 (P-Noy’s watch). Those are the figures. Don’t blame the messenger.

The horrible news: Vietnam now outranks us in the HDI—115th place to our 116th place, with an HDI of 0.683 to our HDI of 0.682. (Norway has the highest HDI at 0.946, the United States and Canada are at 10th place at 0.920, and Sweden was apologetic about its 14th place, with 0.913 this year.)

Why is it horrible? Only consider, Reader: In 1990, our HDI was higher than Thailand’s, Indonesia’s, and Vietnam’s. Thailand overtook us in 1992, and at the time I said that if Indonesia overtakes us, I would commit hara-kiri. Well, Indonesia overtook us five years ago, in 2011. I obviously did not carry out my promise, but I certainly thought then that we were safe from Vietnam, although I made no more rash promises.

All this is not to say I wish ill of our Asean neighbors. I don’t. But if Vietnam, whose income per capita last year (measured in constant 2011 PPP $) was only three/fifths of ours, could do so well in human development, why can’t we?

You know, Reader, our latest Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022) has as a target (still to be determined) the improvement of our ranking in the WB/IFC Doing Business Report.  The previous plan targeted rank improvements in other international lists (the Justice Report, the Millennium Development Corporation, etc.). Perhaps it is time for us to do the same for our ranking in the HDI index, or even in the growth rate of that index.  How about it, Ernie (Pernia)?

Now, why did I fall in love with Stockholm, Reader? Well, it is composed of islands connected by bridges, so one has a water view almost everywhere. But the romance started at the airport: Foreigners don’t have to fill out any forms. Then I found that the 20-minute train to the city ran on clean, renewable energy. There are bike lanes everywhere. The driver of the taxi that took me to the hotel was an Iranian, whose son was studying medicine, and who had no complaints about discrimination. The prime minister takes public transportation, I was told.  And the streets are safe at night.

Aside from living up to the goal of “no one left behind,” Swedish friendliness was not put on.