Presiding over the fastest growth in the area
By the time he stood down as the secretary of finance of the Republic of the Philippines on the last day of June, César Purisima, an accountant by trade and training, had overseen six solid years of improved finances. When he entered office, the Philippines was widely considered the sick man of Asia, due largely to the depredations and disastrous economic policies of the Marcos regime.
Manila may be, right now, a hotbed of civil foment of the sort that revolutionary political parties used to excel at and revel in thanks largely to its thrusting, headstrong, eclectic and often plain baffling president, Rodrigo Duterte. But the economy is doing just fine. The International Monetary Fund tips economic output to swell by 6% in 2016 and 6.2% in 2017, the fastest pace of growth of any nation in Southeast Asia bar Vietnam. It cannot be total happenstance that the lugubrious Purisima’s tenure at the helm of the finance ministry coincided with a period during which the economy expanded at an annual average rate of 6.2%. Few find reason to argue when, in recent years, he began referring to his homeland as the region’s “resilient bright spot”.
Purisima often played a canny hand, his policies helping to maintain a healthy current account surplus (projected at 2.6% in 2016 by the IMF and 2.4% in 2017) while trimming the national debt pile. The nation’s debt to GDP ratio, according to data from the Bureau of the Treasury, fell to 45.05% in 2015 from 54.8% in 2009.
Few could accuse him of failing to play to both an international and a domestic audience. Rising government tax revenues helped to channel more money into social services while the broader economy benefited from a strong service sector, rising government spending, strong domestic consumption and a steady inward flow of remittances from the Filipino diaspora. Both Fitch and Standard & Poor’s in April affirmed their investment grade credit rating on the country, with Fitch giving the country a positive outlook, suggesting that a new ratings upgrade from BBB- was possible in the next one to two years.