Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 23 January 2019


I sometimes receive thoughtful letters that help extend my column or suggest contrary ideas. I want to share two different letters below with my readers.

The first is from Edmund Carew, an Australian who is apparently an admirer of the country as an international tourism destination.

The second is from Benito F. Legarda Jr., an eminent Filipino economic historian who is also a retired central banker.

Tourism as a driver of growth and employment

You can’t cover everything in a relatively brief newspaper article – print and online – and your Jan. 9 piece was very good.

However, you omitted the need for Manila to have a railway (be it surface, elevated or underground) to NAIA and also an underground rail network in the city.

Some tentative steps are being taken, but it remains to be seen whether once again it’s just talk.

By the way, despite Boracay’s closure for half of 2018, inbound tourism numbers were higher than I’d have guessed. As you imply, domestic tourism has grown even faster in total.

As I move about the islands, it’s pleasing to gradually see more new hotels – some very small – pop up in places one would not have foreseen 15 years ago.

 In some places I have been to – Samar, Leyte, parts of southern Luzon and to some extent Surigao – tourism remains a very small part of the economy. I don’t want to see airports everywhere, but that’s one reason why some places like Samar only attract a miniscule number of foreign or domestic tourists.

I discuss Philippines with many Australians. When I tell them about how safe 90 percent of it is, white sand beaches, village life, island hopping and so on, some are surprised, as most know about Bali and Thailand or have visited, many know about Fiji, but knowledge about Philippines is much lower.

Slowly, it’s changing, and more of my countrymen are visiting every year. We now have 10 nonstop flights a week Melbourne – Manila – 18 months ago, it was only three, and Sydney – Manila has gone from about 13 to 21 and soon 23 a week each way, while Brisbane will soon have five a week compared with one a decade ago.

Jose Rizal’s ideals and ideas

I read with interest your column on Rizal’s ideas (Jan. 2). As an admirer of our national hero, I do not disagree with what you say about the influence of the enlightenment. However, we in our day can afford to put him in clearer context. In his time, Rizal wrote critically and even scathingly about the country’s situation as he was trying to correct the abuses of his time.

With historical perspective we can afford to mention some positive factors of the time. Let me cite a few examples;

1. The Philippines had the highest wages in East Asia at the end of the 19th century, higher even than industrial Japan (which would pull ahead later). This you can find in one of retired Harvard professor Jeffrey Williamson’s works.

2. The educational system was second only to Japan’s, according to Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal. Our former education secretary Anding Roces had noted that literacy in the Philippines was higher than in the mother country, Spain.

3. Economic progress was building up a Filipino middle class. As pointed out by T. H. Pardo de Tavera. Nick Joaquin had termed the Philippine Revolution the revolt of the ilustrados, not the revolt of the masses as called by a UP historian (the masses would later be led by Sakay). Somewhere I have read that of the 18 generals in the Philippine Revolution, 17 were ilustrados and only one (Kalentong) was proletarian.

Rizal’s family belonged to this prosperous, educated middle class, which gave him the platform for launching his critique of the abuses of his time.

With these positive features can one really say that Spain’s policies in the Philippines were harsher than in Cuba and Puerto Rico?

Rizal was not only analytical, he was prophetic (as my high school teacher Ricardo Pimentel, S.J. remarked). His essay on the Philippines in 100 years was futuristic for its time, and the climax of El Filibusterismo reads almost like an advance script of what happened at the beginning of our revolution.

GPS Note. I take exception to the statement that the Philippines had “the highest wages at the end of the 19th century” and even that a high level of educational system was achieved under Spain’s rule, in reference economist Gunnar Myrdal’s observation.

I could not read either from the recent article of professor Jeffrey Williamson in his article on “Philippine inequality across the 20th century” which was recently published in the Philippine Review of Economics (December 2017).

I take professor Williamson’s warning about “slim data, but fat questions” seriously.

Dr. Legarda’s reference to the UP historian is to Teodoro Agoncillo, who wrote The revolt of the masses. That was about the Katipunan and Andres Bonifacio. It is often said that Bonifacio who was very literate, was ilustrado, among the enlightened, not of the masses.

Regarding the question whether Spanish policies to the Philippines were more cruel than to Cuba and Puerto Rico, I did not have space to quote Jose Rizal more directly.

In his long essay, The Philippines a Century Hence, published in four monthly installments (September 1889 to February 1890), Rizal wrote:

“… only in Spain, who in the XVI century was the model colonizing power, is colonial representation delayed. Cuba and Puerto Rico, whose population is not even a third of that of the Philippines and have not made sacrifices for Spain as the Philippines has, have many deputies [representatives in the Spanish Cortes, the parliament]…. What crime has the Philippines committed that she should thus be deprived of her rights?” [Jose Rizal, Political and Historical Writings, Volume VII, National Heroes Commission, Republic of the Philippines, 1964, p. 152].