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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

'We Remain Confident'

Ramos on his legacy -- and the currency crisis


IN HONG KONG FOR the East Asia Summit of the World Economic Forum, President Fidel Ramos met with Asiaweek Editors Ann Morrison, Wayne Morrison, Ricardo Saludo and Cesar Bacani. Excerpts from their conversation:

How would you sum up your administration's achievements?

Let me talk about what we have tried to do. First, enhance national stability and renew the peace process -- we've accomplished that. Second, turn the economy around and put it on a sustainable growth path. This has been done through a policy environment that is enduring and predictable, officially accountable and transparent. We have enacted 159 laws -- 63 of them on economic reform, about 55 on structural reform, and the balance on political reform. Third, I said we'd turn on the lights -- we did by Christmas of '93; and fourth, we should use our natural resources more judiciously. Fifth, rightsize the bureaucracy including devolution, local government autonomy, fighting graft and corruption, getting the bad dregs out of government. The main components that still have to be put in place are the income tax portion of the comprehensive tax reform package -- with that we should be graduating from the IMF. Also the anti-poverty law and trade act amendments.

What about the economy?

We've had a budget surplus for four years running. We've been able to keep inflation down and therefore keep the price regime down, mainly through monetary and fiscal management, but also through better efficiency of our productive sectors and the cooperation of the people, employers and government. There is a lot of consultation with the people -- this is the nature of our democracy. It may seem a little slow and tedious, but the fact is this is how we are doing things that couldn't be done before. Putting up a bridge, for instance, or a rail transit system -- in the old days these projects would all end up in court. I inherited maybe a dozen big power-plant projects, highway projects, mass-transit projects -- but now they are being done.

Can you assess the overall currency crisis on the ASEAN region?

Well, it's bad, it's bad. There's no question about that. Some countries are more able to survive it and move on. I have been in touch with those leaders who are available, President Suharto [of Indonesia] and Prime Minister Chavalit [of Thailand], to talk about some common ground. That may be an ASEAN or Asian monetary facility -- not a fund, but a facility from which the countries in most distress can draw some help. It's not intended to be a substitute for the IMF. It wouldn't be as big. But it would be just like any credit facility in a commercial market -- a credit line that you can draw from. You'll have to return the money some time, maybe at some interest.

In our own analysis of our problem, we feel the currency crisis is both the product of internal and external factors. External factors we have no control over. The internal factors we can try to correct. The main thing is that we see this as a wake-up call for immediate responses and remedies to be put in place.

We remain confident about our economy continuing to grow even for the balance of 1997. Our initial targets were at the level of 6.5% to 7.5% GNP growth, but we have downscaled that by one percentage point. Just one. So we are trying to see if we can do 5.5% to 6.5% GNP. There are some other factors that make us different from the other countries. We have a huge overseas population and the average annual remittances of our overseas workers have been from about $5 billion to $7 billion within the last five years. Another difference is that we started from a base of 0% growth in 1992 to 6.8% in 1996. So our trend is upward. Our exports have also grown at an average of 16-17-18% over the last five years. For the first eight months of 1997, our exports grew by 23% at a time when the exports of other Tigers are going down. So the fundamentals are still good.

The Philippines should soon leave the IMF program. But there is some concern that then the country might return to policies that are not in line with reform.

But the policies that we are talking about are in the law. Therefore, reform is durable. And regardless of who sits here as president, you should expect the same policies to continue.

So you are not overly concerned about who the next president will be?

Of course I am concerned. I am concerned more than anybody else in the Philippines -- more than anybody in the world maybe.

How would you characteristize the person who should be the next president?

I have said very clearly that whoever that may be, he or she must be able to overcome four challenges. First, is the challenge of poverty. Maybe this is the biggest challenge of all. Then the challenge of democracy. What is this? Well, do not go back to martial law. Do not go back to dictatorship. Then there is the challenge of globalization. It's not just globalizing, it's also taking care of the disadvantaged during the transition or adjustment period. And then the fourth is the challenge of continuity. Why should we go back to square one? Unfortunately it has been a tradition in Philippine political culture, to shoo away everything when a new administration comes in and then start with a new set of officials. I think this is not only wasteful, it is damaging in the light of the competitiveness of our region. And of course it is unfair to the taxpayers and to the voters. Whoever can address and surmount these challenges would make a good president. I am not describing myself, you know, I am just describing what the country needs.

Do you worry that what you achieved in Mindanao will be continued?

I always worry about Mindanao. One has to really go to Mindanao to determine what's there and what was not there not so long ago. Things have been fulfilled. It's not just the infrastructure but the greater unity of the people. We are seeing that development will reinforce the peace.

Is there any haze in Mindanao?

Not any more. There was some haze, there was some smoke, and that makes "smaze." Now there are only smiles.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

Of course, it's to get our people out of poverty. Our target for 1998 is to bring it down to 30% but then there would still be 30% who would be poor. But I would be completely content if we are able to make young Filipinos competitive with young people of other countries. We have a little catching up to do, but we have restructured our educational system, we have devoted more to human resource development and to making our younger people more conscious of the need to be really dedicated in this very competitive world and to save and save and save. Not just money, but also time -- it must be devoted to non-frivolous activities.

Do you see any chance that you might pull back from your statement about stepping down period, period, period?

I will not stand for election in 1998. Period, period, period. And I can even add another period. Period.


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