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In 2050, a prosperous Philippines — but who gets left behind?

/ 07:47 PM January 17, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—I’ll be in my 80s then. Hopefully, I’ll still be lucid enough, healthy enough to enjoy that day.

But certainly, I found myself feeling excited about the HSBC prediction that the Philippines is poised to become world’s 16th largest economy by 2050.

As reported on CNN.com, “By 2050, the Philippines will leapfrog 27 places to become the world’s 16th largest economy.

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“Leapfrog” — an exciting, inspiring image. It suggests a fast, impressive movement forward, a rush to a more prosperous era.

Certainly an era to look forward to.

This is particularly true for overseas Filipino workers — they who have helped keep the Philippine economy afloat, who have spent years and even decades toiling overseas, sometimes in places where they endure abuse.

They left home because they couldn’t find opportunities there. Could it be that, in less than 40 years, the Philippines will be a land where people wouldn’t have to leave to support their families?

Could it be that the long, arduous odyssey of the overseas Filipino worker may finally reach a turning point — when Filipinos will travel to other countries, mainly to try something new or out of a sense of adventure, not economic pressures?

That’s perhaps the biggest promise of the HSBC prediction.

But then again, it is just a promise right now. And it is a prediction made by an institution looking out for the next big opportunity that would give their investments a boost.

Certainly, a growing economy suggests a country with more jobs — and fewer poor people. But as we know by now, it doesn’t always mean a better society.

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Many of us Filipinos living in the United States know that only too well.

As many Americans have realized, prosperity — even dramatic, meteoric economic growth —  could also mean a dramatic, rapidly expanding gap between rich and poor.

I moved to the U.S. 20 years ago shortly before the dot-com boom, when the American and global economy took off during the Web revolution. Getting rich, to borrow a phrase from the Chinese, wasn’t only glorious, it was easy.

But then it call came crashing down.

The dot-com bust was tough — but it turned out to be a picnic compared to the crash that came shortly after the end of the boom. Today, the U.S. is reeling from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

The gap from those who have, and those who have increasingly less is widening so fast, it has triggered a new wave of protests.

It’s the era of the 99% seeking to reclaim a country they believe has distorted and destroyed by the 1%.

After sweeping across the U.S. and parts of the world, the Occupy protests have died down somewhat. But don’t count on it being just a momentary fad.

The reason is simple: Many Americans are having a really tough time now, particularly young people.

The respected Silicon Valley analyst Paul Saffo compared today’s unrest with the upheaval in the 60s, when young Americans rose up against the Vietnam War, for civil rights, for equality. The 60s are still remembered as a time when young people rose up, demanding change. It’s still remembered as one of the most earthshaking chapters in U.S. history.

There’s a big difference in this new wave.

“The ’60s student activists marched against a backdrop of prosperity and low unemployment,” Saffo wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. “The Establishment had jobs waiting for the anti-Establishment protesters whenever they decided to hang up their love beads.

“Today’s new grads are faced with diminishing salaries and jobs in areas that do not employ the skills learned at university. Occupy’s activists aren’t just marching to save others — they are marching on behalf of their own futures.”

Just a few years ago, the future looked so bright for most young Americans. Now, they and many others are getting left behind.

It’s an important reminder for us as we ponder the promise of a prosperous Philippines in 2050.

For one question to ask is: As the Philippines “leaps forward” to the top tier of the world’s economic order, who gets left behind?

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel

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TAGS: Economy, Migration, OFW, overseas Filipino worker, Philippines
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