Time for a new look at the ADB and the Philippines

By Amb. Curtis S. Chin. Via Philstar.com.

As the Asian Development Bank’s first annual meeting to be held in Manila in eight years closes today, May 5, all the participants and indeed anyone interested in economic development would be well served by spending a few more days truly seeing the country. “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” the travel promotions say. But a visit to the Philippines also provides a chance to look and learn from the realities of development projects and programs — the good and the bad.

To better understand any country’s economic development, it’s worth trying to break out of the bubble to see the impact of development projects first-hand and to meet people from all walks of life.

Understandably, the travel brochures showcase white-sand beaches and stunning rice terraces. Though tourism slogans change, I still say, “Wow!” when speaking of my own time in the Philippines as US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2007 to 2010).

From Batanes to Cagayan de Oro, and from the magical island of Siquijor to windswept Cantanduanes, I saw that there is much more to the Philippines than Boracay. Even in Metro Manila, surprises awaited like hiking in LaMesa Ecopark, part of an important effort to protect the area’s watershed. I also found hope for the nation’s future when meeting the best and the brightest at schools big and small, whether at Lewis College in Sorsogon City, at the Miriam College Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf in Quezon City — a group support by the ADB Staff Community Fund — or at an innovative Social Welfare Education Program in Cotabato.

I also met members of civil society continuing, despite limited resources, their push for greater accountability, a cleaner environment, and respect for indigenous peoples and people of all faiths. Yet, where the Philippines’ warmth and hospitality often exceeded expectations, the nation’s infrastructure — from roads to airports to power supplies —often disappointed.

This was all the more striking in a nation that was once, along with Japan, viewed as among the richest in Asia and which has for 45 years served as the host country of the ADB — the region’s leading financier of infrastructure and development.

As of 2011, the Philippines has received more than US$12 billion in assistance from the ADB in such sectors as agriculture, energy, transport and water supply. Whether World Bank-financed roads or ADB-financed efforts to clean up the Pasig River, address power shortages, or strengthen the nation’s judiciary, the citizens of the Philippines are perhaps best positioned to determine whether such efforts are effective. Let’s listen to them.

During my time on the ADB board of directors, I spoke regularly of the need for a focus on what I described as the three Ps of responsible development: people, planet and partnership. That is a focus on people — on ensuring that development reaches the poorest of the poor; on planet — on ensuring that development better balances short-term economic needs with longer-term protection of resources; and on partnership — on ensuring that development efforts bring together the efforts of not just government and aid agencies, but also civil society and the private sector.

All admittedly easier said than done.

From my new post as senior fellow and executive-in-residence at the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand, I have traveled back to the Philippines as a board member of Community & Family Services International, 30-plus-year humanitarian organization that remains one of the few NGOs founded in Asia that has gone on to serve people in need throughout the region. CFSI is also an example of how Philippines-headquartered organizations much smaller than the ADB can have a large, positive impact on people’s lives.

Today, I am often asked, “What happened to the Philippines?” With many members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) moving ahead in the economic rankings, when will the Philippines have its day again in the sun? Could it one day join the ranks of the BRICS — the large emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — to capture the imaginations and investments of people from around the world?

As the 45th ADB annual meeting ends and people begin their onward journeys, here is a thought to ponder: For the Philippines and other nations in the region, the true path to sustainable growth will be less and less about additional lending from the ADB and the World Bank, but more about addressing a growing threat of bureaucracy, regulation, interventionism and corruption – a new lower-case “bric” if you will.

We can do more than hope that the next annual meeting of the ADB in Manila will be held in a richer, more prosperous Philippines. We can all work to come together to make that happen. But first, let’s go look, listen and learn.

By Amb. Curtis S. Chin. Posted on 05 May 2012 at Philstar.com. Read the original article here.

Amb. Chin served as the US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2007 to 2010). He is a board member of CFSI, and a senior fellow and executive-in-residence at the Asian Institute of Technology.