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ONCE heavily indebted, the Philippines is finally getting its financial house in order. On March 24, Fitch Ratings awarded the country the coveted investment grade rating on government bonds, citing recent political and economic reforms as among the main reasons.

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THE presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III is shaping up to be the best the Philippines has had since that of Fidel Ramos. This may not seem like a particularly startling achievement. After all, it is possible to argue that Mr Aquino’s immediate predecessors, Mr Joseph Estrada and Mrs Gloria Arroyo, were so flawed almost anyone would look good in comparison.

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THE Philippines has been the economic laggard in Asia for so long now that experienced foreign observers have acquired a habit of taking any positive news coming out of the country with a strong dose of scepticism. But recent developments suggest that it may be time to take the country seriously.

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IN THE Philippines, where 80 per cent of the population is Catholic, the Church has played a crucial role at critical moments in the nation’s history. But an increasing number of Filipinos are beginning to see aspects of its teachings as preventing them and their children from enjoying a better life.

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IT IS easy to react cynically when political leaders claim the credit for positive developments in an economy. After all, economic performance is dependent on so many variables that singling out just one or two can often be very misleading.

Key Political Risks

President Benigno Aquino has stepped up efforts to lure foreign investors into the country, so far without much success. The country continues to be hobbled by widespread corruption and several long-running insurgencies. 

However, the government has had some success in reducing the budget deficit. The president also remains popular with voters. 


  • Extent to which foreign and domestic investors show interest in big ticket infrastructure projects.
  • Increased spending on the air force and navy to counter Beijing's territorial claims in the disputed Spratly Islands. The issue could become an important point of contention at the East Asia forum in Indonesia in November.
  • The implementation of the "framework agreement" between Manila and the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front announced in early October. If all goes well, a final peace deal may be signed by 2016. 

About Me

My name is Dr Bruce Gale and I am a senior writer with the Singapore Straits Times. I studied at  LaTrobe University (BA Hons) in Melbourne and later at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University (MA). My PhD thesis, which focussed on Malaysian political economy, was completed at the Malaysian National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in 1987.

From 1988 to 2003 I was Singapore Regional Manager for the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). 

I have written several books and articles on Southeast Asian affairs, including Political Risk and International Business: Case Studies in Southeast Asia (Pelanduk Publications, 2007). Books on language include Mastering Indonesian: a guide to reading Indonesian language newspapers (Pelanduk Publications, 2008)

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