As Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua maintains that the Philippines is on track to hit the target to upgrade to a upper-middle income country by the end of the year, research and advocacy group IBON Foundation responds it may be an empty achievement as the economy remains fragile and the labor market has yet to recover, making it just a number and not a reflection of the actual situation.
IBON argued that the goal that is supposedly at hand is merely a statistical computation that the country’s gross national income (GNI) per capita is within the range for an upper-middle income economy as classified by the World Bank. “Even if reached, this is an empty achievement amid the weakest economy and worst joblessness in decades and will just reflect the prosperity of an elite few,” it added.
The Washington-based World Bank sets the GNI of an upper-middle income economy at between $4,096 and $12, 695 in 2020.
Even if the Philippines meets the requisite minimum, IBON said this would be achieved while agriculture and manufacturing are treading their lowest shares of the economy in over seven decades. “Increasing GNI per capita is not benefiting ordinary Filipinos because the gains are concentrated in a few families and their corporation,” it said.
Further, unemployment problems in the country have yet to be resolved, which in turn is driving poverty. The local think tank cautioned against making too much of GNI or GDP per capita as indicators of development. It urged the government to look at the extent to which its policies are genuinely improving people’s lives with steady jobs, decent incomes, and free or affordable social and public services.
While the Philippines meeting the minimum requirements to be classified as an upper-middle income economy is indeed an achievement that government officials and the elite rich will surely be proud of, our government cannot afford to rest on any laurels at this point because the truth on the ground is that for a majority of the population of this poor country that dreams of being rich, the COVID-19 pandemic and a lackluster government response has reduced the economy to shambles.
There is still a lot of work to be done if the words “upper-middle income” are going to mean anything to the common Filipino.*