The new rules of the game

This material originally appeared as  a chapter in W. Bello and J. Chavez (eds.) State of Fragmentation: The Philippines in Transition. Bangkok: Focus on the Global South.

This entry is the second of a four-part serialization.

Part I
Part III: Back to the land
Part IV: The creative destruction of Filipino capitalists

From the early 1980s to the present, the structure of the Philippine economy, its position astride global circuits of labor, commodities, and capital, and the opportunities for accumulation available to its capitalist classes have been defined by three sets of processes. First among these was neoliberalization. At first glance, the Philippines was perhaps one of the countries where neoliberalism saw an unqualified ideological triumph. It was among the first countries in the world to participate in structural adjustment program in 1980, and has since been the recipient of a total of nine structural adjustment loans from the World Bank and a participant in three IMF programs.[1] The momentum of neoliberal reform has been sustained from within by state economic planning agencies, the academe, and private-sector think tanks.[2] As a consequence, the Philippines has consistently gone above and beyond the prescriptions of the Washington Consensus: it had unilaterally adopted among the lowest average tariff rates in the world, innovated the privatization of economic zones, and embarked on some of the biggest privatizations in the world.

Far from being a completely ideological project, however, neoliberalization in the Philippines has been implemented in a specific, locally-contingent, and highly-uneven manner, and the resultant contours were crucial to the recent successes of domestic capitalists. This is perhaps most evident in the Philippine privatization program. Beyond the crown jewel corporations, such as Philippine Airlines, Petron, National Steel, and Napocor, public land and infrastructure have been the most consistent targets for privatization by successive post-EDSA governments. In Manila, the privatization of military-owned land, such as Fort Bonifacio and Camp Bago Bantay, of national government centers in Quezon City, and of reclaimed land on Manila Bay have in recent years been a defining feature of urban development in the city. Through the Bases Conversion and Development Authority alone, a total of 267 hectares in the city have been privatized in this manner, creating some PhP46.697 billion in revenues.[3]

Two particular features of the privatization program deserve closer scrutiny. Continue reading “The new rules of the game”

Back to the land

This material originally appeared as  a chapter in W. Bello and J. Chavez (eds.) State of Fragmentation: The Philippines in Transition. Bangkok: Focus on the Global South.

This entry is the third of a four-part serialization.

Part I
Part II: The new rules of the game

Part IV: The city and the restoration of class power

All these transformations—the Philippine brand of neoliberalization, the unique vectors through which its economy globalized, and its uneven sectoral and geographical development—converge in urban real estate. Mirroring the trajectory of the economy as a whole, real estate development began the decade in crisis: the sector shrank from 2000 to 2002, hitting a 24.7 percent year-on-year contraction in the first quarter of 2001. But beginning with 2003, residential lot sales, coupled with office and retail space rental and leasing, have sustained record levels of growth: from the second quarter of 2004 until the fourth quarter of 2008, it sustained a double-digit streak, broken only twice by dips into high single-digit growth rates (see Figure 3). In the third quarter of 2006, the sector grew at a record pace of 26.2 percent year-on-year, breaking a record that was previously set in the third quarter of 1982. This record was broken yet again when the sector grew by 27.7 percent in the second quarter of 2010. At the end of its bust period in 2002, the gross value added of real estate development stood at approximately PhP8.8 billion. In 2010, it had grown to PhP22.1 billion.[1] If considered as a separate subsector, real estate was the second-fastest growing sector of the economy over the past decade, outpaced only by mining.

Continue reading “Back to the land”

The city and the restoration of class power

This material originally appeared as  a chapter in W. Bello and J. Chavez (eds.) State of Fragmentation: The Philippines in Transition. Bangkok: Focus on the Global South.

This entry is the last of a four-part serialization.

Part I
Part II: The new rules of the game

Part III: Back to the land

All told, the new Philippine economy saw billions of dollars churned into the land by overseas Filipinos and foreign investors, land that had been newly liberated from the state, agriculture, and domestic manufacturing, and redeveloped into subdivisions, condominiums, office space, and malls. This picture so far provides an account for what the new economy is, and why, how, and where these changes are taking place; what is so far lacking is an account of who benefited from this new economy.

As in any other economy, power in the brave new Philippines lies in the opportunities available for capitalist accumulation. Just like ownership of land under hacienda agriculture or dictatorial largesse under import-substitution industrialization, control over these opportunities will mean control over the creation of wealth.

The new economy saw, on one hand, the possibility of amassing wealth from haciendas or from small factories propped up by the state has been decisively closed off, even as important sunshine industries such as electronics manufacturing and business process outsourcing have daunting technical and financial entry barriers. On the other hand, the torrent of foreign investment and remittances that it has unleashed are creating immense opportunities in sectors which, whether by accident or design, are reserved for Filipinos.

Real estate development is one of these sectors. Over the past two decades, an array of crony capitalists, manufacturing-oriented taipans, and landed elites have converged on urban real estate as a central component of their strategies to diversify from their traditional sources of wealth. Continue reading “The city and the restoration of class power”

Retelling the Philippines’ ‘turnaround story’

Originally published as an Asia Research Brief with the York Centre for Asian Reseach, 3 July 2014. The argument outlined here was first developed in Cardenas, K. (2014) “Urban Property Development and the Creative Destruction of Filipino Capitalism”. In W. Bello and J. Chavez (eds.) State of Fragmentation: The Philippines in Transition. Bangkok: Focus on the Global South, and appears in a condensed form in Cardenas, K. (2014). “Cash-crop condominiums.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 16 March 2014.

Long the exception to a region of dynamic export-oriented economies, recent years have seen the Philippine economy deliver unusually impressive numbers, receive successive votes of confidence from credit rating agencies, and emerge as an unusually bright spot in an otherwise gloomy global economy. In 2013, its GDP grew at a rate of 7.2 percent, second only in the region to China. Over the course of the Great Recession, it grew at a pace that compared favourably with its middle-income and Southeast Asian peers; its average growth over the same period was also at its fastest in its recent history.

The causes behind this growth have been firmly established: a reinvigorated mining sector, robust remittance inflows from overseas Filipinos and a rapidly-growing services offshoring industry. Its effects, however, remain only partially understood. What is so far apparent is that the growth has failed to address the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality that have been persistent features of Philippine underdevelopment. If the new wealth has so far failed to translate into the well-being of Filipinos, then where did it go? Continue reading “Retelling the Philippines’ ‘turnaround story’”

Cash-crop condominiums

A version of this piece was first printed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s “Talk of the Town” section on 16 March 2014 (p.16). An expanded version of this analysis appears as a chapter in the forthcoming co-authored book, “States of Fragmentation”, to be published by Focus on the Global South.

When we tell the stories of our wealthiest men, we tend to tell the stories that are of no consequence: we repeat their names, which have mostly remained constant for most of recent memory; we futilely recite the numbers of their net worth; we mythologize the secrets to their success.

These stories are of no consequence for the simple fact that we are telling ourselves things that we either already know, or things we don’t need to know. When we dwell on who the ten Filipinos on Forbes’ 2014 list of world billionaires are, we learn nothing of value. Henry Sy’s net worth is a few hundred million dollars lower this year, the Ayalas are mysteriously absent, the majority of the names are Filipino-Chinese. So what?

But once we turn our attention to understanding what the richest Filipinos are, an entirely different story reveals itself. The true significance of the recent fortunes of our Ten Millionth Percent is in how their stories can help make sense of the puzzles of our recent economic successes, such as jobless growth, our inability to address deep and widespread poverty, or whether the near future holds an East Asian-style ‘takeoff’ in the Philippines.

To tell this other story, we need to ask different questions: how are the biggest Filipino capitalists building their fortunes? Why, in the Philippines of the 21st century, is wealth being built in this way? How does this strategy compare to strategies seen in other periods of our economic history,s or in other places? Finally, what does the success of this strategy mean for the prosperity not just of the few, but of the country as a whole? Continue reading “Cash-crop condominiums”

Who do we blame for untrammeled hyperurbanization in Manila?

Originally published on Facebook 1 October 2009, written in the wake of the massive flooding triggered by Typhoon Ondoy. This version was published 5 October 2009 on ABS-CBN News.com, as part of a special report on Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy), and reprinted  27 October 2009 on Focus on the Global South’s Focus on the Philippines.

We need to bring public scrutiny to bear on the big, if hard-to-answer, issues of unsustainable urbanization and land use planning.

It comes as no surprise that public anger in the aftermath of the Ondoy disaster has focused on corruption and incompetence among government officials: on how Arroyo’s Le Cirque dinner could have paid for disaster response equipment; how her son was spotted stocking up on booze even as people were dying in the rising floodwaters; and how unscrupulous politicians were taking advantage of the situation by plastering their grinning mugs all over relief goods. It is, after all, easier to lay responsibilities on names and faces rather than on structural causes.

There is, however, a critical aspect of the issue that evades easy association with names and faces, and is consequently not addressed by the public debate: the problem of untrammeled, private sector-led urbanization. Continue reading “Who do we blame for untrammeled hyperurbanization in Manila?”