SPECIAL REPORT: Philippines sinking to low end of Third World countries

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – Multiple signs are indicating that the Philippines – once known as Asia’s Rising Tiger during the term of the late President Benigno Aquino III – has taken a precipitous drop in global rankings in various key categories, sending it back to the category of “Sick Man of Asia.”

The setbacks have come in quick succession in recent months, with the latest being the downgrade of the country’s credit rating outlook by Fitch Ratings to negative from the previous stable, as announced on Monday, July 12.

Fitch blamed the lowering of the country’s outlook to the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which the Philippines has failed to control up to this time.

The Philippines’ coronavirus response has been far from stellar, as can be gleaned from the next to last place ranking it received from Bloomberg, an organization that delivers business and markets news, data analysis, and informative video to global subscribers.

Under Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking, the country was rated #52 out of 53 countries. Paramount in the organization’s ranking are two metrics, namely the ease of moving in and out of a place, and how much air travel has recovered. There are, however, 10 other measures that track such things as mortality rates, infection counts, freedom of movement, and economic growth, among others.

The Bloomberg ranking was released towards the end of last month. It stated that “the Philippines, India, and some Latin American countries rank lowest amid a perfect storm of variant-driven outbreaks, slow vaccination, and global isolation.”

The only country ranked lower than the Philippines was Argentina, with the two countries being among the bottom four that include Malaysia and India.

Just how poorly the Philippines has fared in vaccinating its population of around 110 million can be seen in this week’s data, which shows that only 9.7 million – that’s less than 10 percent – have received the first of two shots. The percentage who have received the two-shot dose can be considered infinitesimal.

Warning signs were already apparent in the first quarter of this year, when two surveys indicated that the Philippines was falling far behind its neighbors in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February, the ASEAN Studies Center survey on Government’s Pandemic Response had the Philippines at 10th place among 10 ASEAN countries. (Note: the 11 member-nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, Myanmar, Laos, and Timor-Leste)

Then, in the following month, in a survey covering more countries of the world, the Lowry Institute COVID Performance Index had the Philippines at the bottom 25 percent. The March 2021 Index had the country at #81 among 102 nations covered by the survey.

The Philippines’ deteriorating status under the Duterte administration cannot be denied.

Earlier this month, international publication Global Finance’s Safety Index listed the Philippines dead last among 134 countries surveyed.

The Philippines had also landed at last place in Global Finance’s same list for 2019.

The New York-based business publication released its World Safest Countries 2021 list last week. The list took into account such factors as war and peace, personal security, and natural disaster risk, including unique factors borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic. In all, 134 countries were covered.

Global Finance saw the Philippines as having serious civil conflict that have high risks from natural disasters, and said that the country may have had a relatively low COVID-19 death toll, but still performed badly in terms of safety overall.

Aside from the Philippines, the other countries which pose similar risks were El Salvador, Nigeria, and Yemen.

Also this month, the media organization Reporters Without Borders included President Duterte in its list of 37 Press Freedom Predators in the world.

The 37 heads of state are all accused of having cracked down massively on press freedom in recent years, with some being on the list for two decades or more.

While there have been numerous instances in the past of print and broadcast journalists being harassed or even killed in the Philippines, it was only under the Duterte administration that the numbers skyrocketed. Also, lawyers and even judges have been assassinated in the country, with most of the killings going unsolved.

The Philippine president stands accused of waging a “total war against independent media.”

Reporters Without Borders said Duterte’s arsenal includes “spurious charges of defamation, tax evasion, or violation of capital registration.”

Under the Duterte regime, broadcast licenses have been rescinded (notably ABS-CBN), accomplices have bought up media outlets, and journalists have been forced to toe the government line “using an army of trolls” to harass them.

This week, half of the 24-member the Senate announced plans to investigate the “troll army” working under the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

The Duterte administration’s economic team has not been spared accusations of failing to perform their duty.

Also last month, the Philippines was back in the list of nations where global money laundering and terrorist financing take place with not enough controls in place to prevent the illicit practice. In particular, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said the Philippines had failed to address strategic deficiencies to counter both.

The country joined less-than-stable states Malta, Haiti, and South Sudan in the dreaded dirty money list.

It was not the first time that the Philippines had landed on the list, as its erratic fiscal policies had seen it being placed on and off the list since 2000. According to the Paris-based watchdog, the country did not have sufficient power to block money laundering or to pin down individuals engaged in terrorist financing.

Meanwhile, the country’s passport lost its strength further recently, sinking to #82 from #74 last year, according to the Henley Passport Index (HPI). This is the lowest ranking for the country’s main travel document since 2006.

Henley & Partners rates passports based on the total number of destinations a passport holder can visit without need of a visa.

The company is a global citizenship and residence advisory firm that oversees global rankings of countries based on the travel freedom of its passport holders.

The latest ranking covered 199 states.

Philippine passport holders can only visit 66 nations without need of a visa. The current #82 spot pales in comparison to its highest ranking of #62 held from 2007 to 2009.

It has been argued that one good man or woman leading the country can do wonders for its global reputation, the way President Benigno Aquino III raised the country’s standing in the eyes of the world during his six-year term. On the opposite end, a bad or even terrible president can cause serious damage to that reputation, the way President Rodrigo Duterte has done.

Even the negative 9.5 percent gross domestic product growth that the country experienced in 2020 – its worst performance in decades – could still be theoretically reversed very quickly with sound leadership.

Some damage, however, will be more difficult to fix.

One of the worst accusations against the Duterte government has been its lowering the Philippines’ educational standards to the point that the damage caused may take years, or even decades, to correct.

Recent studies have shown that an entire generation of Filipino students have fallen far behind in basic learnings compared with their peers, both in the region and in the world.


MANILA – Of the long list of faults of the Duterte administration, none will have caused more serious damage to the Philippines’ future than its mishandling of the education system.

While the so-called Big 4 among the country’s universities –comprised of the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University (DLSU), Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Santo Tomas – continue to consistently land in the lists of the world’s top 1,000 institutions of higher learning, the very foundation of the system, the private and public elementary and secondary schools, have shown strong indications of having fallen far behind their peers not only in the region, but the rest of the world.

This can only mean that in time, the high school graduates will not be able to meet even the minimum standards of the top colleges and universities, which will then have the choice of either lowering their standards, or producing fewer graduates able to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Either that, or the clueless students enroll in diploma mills and “graduate” with degrees while knowing little to nothing to be deemed employable.

The warning signs appeared as far back as 2018, when OECD PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) found that Filipino students were at 78th place out of 79 countries in the key subjects of Science and Math.

Worst of all, the Filipinos placed dead last in Reading.

One year later, the TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study) showed that 4th grade Filipino students were also the worst of the worst in Science and Math.

Unsurprisingly, the World Bank released a report that said Filipino students “do not know what they should know.” The same report said 80 percent of Filipino youth were educational underachievers.

This drew an angry response from the Education secretary, who demanded an apology. While the WB issued an apology, it did not retract its statement, only stating that the report had been released prematurely and that some of the data contained therein was outdated.

Brother Bernie Oca, FSC, recently promoted to DLSU president, told Philippine News Today that one reason Filipino youth have become such failures is malnutrition.

“Stunted brain development due to malnutrition when they were very young” made their brains less developed, he said. Thus, their capacity to learn became limited.

Aside from this, a social factor may have also come into play. “The lack of optimism regarding the value of education in their future” removes from the youth the motivation to succeed, Bro. Bernie said. Add to this the lack of a parental support system and millions of Filipino kids now exist in an emotional wasteland.

This is no exaggeration. Millions of Filipino parents work abroad leaving their children in the care of either relatives or paid help, who do not provide the same level of concern that a father or mother can provide.

While overseas Filipino workers have been around for decades and provide a much-needed lift to the economy, it was only in recent years that the damage of absentee parents to the development of children has been understood.

Having one or both parents working abroad may provide more to their children in terms of material wealth, but it does not make up for the lack of emotional support.

The result is a generation of underachievers in a country that has gone back to being the sick man of Asia.

The DLSU president said there is no band aid solution to the problem, but rather a slow return to the old values is needed. He said it starts with making sure no child goes hungry. There is a need to “continue to expand the aid for very poor families in order to give the value of education to their children.”

There is also a need to provide better training for teachers “especially in the very early grades to ensure the mastery of foundational competencies of reading/language, math and science,” Bro. Bernie said.

DLSU, incidentally, has produced two recent Education secretaries. The late Bro. Andrew Gonzalez was DepEd secretary during the Estrada administration, while Bro. Armin Luistro held the same post during the Aquino administration.

The current Education secretary, Leonor Briones, has faced flak for such matters as her age – she’s 80 – as well as her being the cause of what has been called the “education crisis” in the Philippines.

Vice President Leni Robredo had raised the prospects that the country’s education system was indeed in crisis, to which Briones reacted as if she had been personally insulted.

Robredo said, “Rather than being defensive, we should look for solutions.”

To this, Education undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said: “We call it a challenge, they call it a crisis.”

It is a truism that all advanced countries invest heavily in education.

This being the case, the WB study said the Philippines was not investing enough in education. Ideally, governments should be spending at least four percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on education. As of 2019, the Philippines was only spending 3.2 percent of GDP on education.

President Duterte said being a Third World country, the Philippines could not spend more to educate its youth. He also remains unwilling to allow the resumption of face-to-face classes, even as his administration’s online learning has proven a dismal failure in the eyes of most parents.

The Philippines is clearly headed in the wrong direction, what with more than a million Filipino students failing to enroll in basic education in the current school year on top of the data that says the Philippines has produced a generation of students who have not learned enough math, science and reading.

But the worst possible example of how low the Philippine education system has sunk is the inability of the youth to tell the truth from the lies, from the fake news disseminated by the government to the objective, verifiable truth as reported by fewer and fewer media organizations.

Another telltale sign that the country’s education system has gone from bad to worse is that the typical elementary level boy (and even girl) easily spouts the president’s favorite curse, “P#t@ng In@ mo” at the drop of a hat, proof that the concept of good manners and right conduct as previously taught in private and public schools in the past is now a forgotten memory.

This then is the Philippines in 2021, with presidential elections set for next year, with the incumbent all but insisting that his daughter or former assistant should succeed him, even as he maintains some hold on power.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he was planning to run for vice president on the premise that he would be immune from lawsuit, be it local or international.

His own Justice secretary, Menardo Guevarra, was among several legal minds who flat out told him that this was not the case. The dean of the FEU College of Law said the same thing.

If Mr.  Duterte displays gross ignorance of the law, he and his Cabinet have also shown that their mismanagement of the Philippine economy could result in the country turning into a failed state by declaring bankruptcy, as was the case during the Marcos regime.

As of this writing, the Philippine national debt under the Duterte administration was at a breathtaking PHP11.5 trillion.

This shows a massive hike in the national debt in the span of five years, as that debt was only PHP4.5 trillion, accumulated over the first Aquino presidency to the Ramos, Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo presidencies, ending with the second Aquino presidency.

This translates to every living Filipino having a share of PHP99,000 each. This is a debt that will take a minimum of three generations to erase, under a best-case scenario.

In the meantime, the country is in danger of going back to square one where its fight against the coronavirus pandemic is concerned.

After its delayed closure of the country’s borders after the first COVID-19 victim was discovered in early March of last year, to its hemming and hawing before ordering the available vaccines in the latter part of 2020, the Department of Health has had the worst record in the region where controlling the pandemic is concerned.

It must be noted that the majority of the country’s senators have called for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque, whose family owns a company engaged in multi-million peso contracts with the government.

The president says he will not axe Duque for the simple reason that the Health secretary’s older brother is a close friend.

Recall that in mid-March last year, two Chinese nationals were the first to be discovered as coronavirus carriers. This week, there have been eight Filipinos who have been identified as active carriers of the deadlier COVID-19 Delta variant, which is known to spread at a faster rate and without the need for physical contact. There have also been three confirmed fatalities, as of Monday, July 19.

The Delta variant is expected to spread like wildfire owing to the absence of contact tracing in the country. One of the carriers, a seaman, reportedly travelled to his hometown while taking public transportation. He therefore exposed hundreds of Filipinos to the variant, who in turn are expected to spread it to thousands, then tens of thousands.

There can be no doubt that the Republic of the Philippines is a nation in crisis, be it in education, economy, politics or social. By all indications, that crisis can only get worse.