Philippines economy grew 6.9% in Q1, highest in Asia

Filipinos walk past roadside stalls in Manila on May 10, 2016, a day after the country went to the polls in the presidential election.
Filipinos walk past roadside stalls in Manila on May 10, 2016, a day after the country went to the polls in the presidential election.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The Philippine economy grew 6.9 per cent in the first quarter, its fastest in three years and the highest in Asia, the country's authorities said on Thursday (May 19).

“We are pleased to turn over a strong and stable economy to the next administration,” chief economic planner Emmanuel Esguerra told reporters.

He expressed confidence growth this year would fall within the government’s target of 6.8 per cent to 7.8 per cent.
Growth at above 7 per cent “is very much within the realm of possibility”, he said.

The Philippines outpaced 11 other Asian economies that have so far released their first-quarter growth data.

China recorded 6.7 per cent growth in the first quarter; Vietnam, 5.5 per cent; Indonesia, 4.9 per cent; and, Malaysia, 4.2 per cent. India has yet to report its first-quarter performance, but forecasts see it chalking up at least 7 per cent.

Industries and services in the Philippines grew at 8.7 per cent and 7.9 per cent, offsetting a 4.4 per cent contraction in agriculture, caused by the El Nino dry spell.

President Benigno Aquino, who will step down on June 30, has presided over a relative period of prosperity since he assumed office in 2010.

Under his watch, the Philippines was hailed as Asia’s “next economic miracle” and a “darling” among investors.

The nation’s credit rating was finally rated investment-grade, after languishing as junk for decades, and Philippine-issued bonds became sought after as hedge to risks arising from upheavals in global financial markets.

But critics of Mr Aquino had hammered on the fact that these growth numbers, although sterling and widely praised abroad, had not trickled down to the wider population, with poverty levels remaining stubbornly high.

That sentiment derailed the presidential bid of Mr Aquino’s bet to succeed him, former interior minister Mar Roxas, 59. It instead provided headwinds that brought victory to the tough-talking, man-of-the-masses mayor Rodrigo Duterte, 71.

Mr Duterte has outlined an eight-point programme that essentially continues Mr Aquino’s macroeconomic policies.

“We underscore the need for policy consistency for sustained business confidence… We are hopeful economic agenda will continue and build on the gains of the last five years,” said Mr Esguerra.