By Mynardo Macaraig
MANILA (AFP) – The Philippine economy was one of the fastest-growing in Asia last year after shrugging off devastating natural disasters and expanding at a “remarkable” pace in the final quarter, the government said Thursday.
The economy grew by 6.5 percent in the last three months of the year even as a super typhoon claimed thousands of lives and an earthquake struck popular tourist islands, Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan told reporters.
“This is a remarkable turnout,” Balisacan said, as he emphasised the final quarter expansion was expected to be the fastest in the Asia-Pacific after China, which recorded annual GDP growth of 7.7 percent last year.
Growth for all of 2013 was 7.2 percent, the fastest since President Benigno Aquino came to power in 2010 and exceeding the government target of 6.0-7.0 percent.
The government said the main drivers of growth were in the manufacturing, trade, real estate and finance sectors, while hailing the performance as further proof of Aquino’s economic stewardship.
The Philippines endures relentless natural disasters because it is located along a typhoon belt and the so-called Ring of Fire, a vast Pacific Ocean region where many of Earth’s quakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
However the final quarter of last year was particularly brutal, with Super Typhoon Haiyan leaving 8,000 people dead or missing in November as it crushed entire communities across the central Philippines.
The typhoon also ruined the livelihoods of millions of people mostly in poor farming and fishing communities, and a multi-billion-dollar effort to rebuild the devastated areas is expected to take many years.
Haiyan came after a 7.1-magnitude quake struck some of the country’s main tourist regions in October, claiming more than 220 lives.
“We were expecting that somehow, given what happened in November (with Haiyan), it could really pull growth down,” Astro del Castillo, an analyst with local investment management firm First Grade Finance, told AFP.
“But the other sectors were quite strong, particularly manufacturing and services.”
The manufacturing sector expanded by 12.3 percent in the final quarter of the year, more than twice as fast as the same period of 2012, partly due to growing exports, according to official data.
Exports of services was another key growth area, up 7.0 percent in the final quarter, as the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry dominated by call centre operators continued to boom.
Balisacan said Haiyan’s impact would continue to drag on the Philippine economy in the first quarter of 2014, as millions of survivors in typhoon-affected areas struggled to rebuild their homes, businesses, farms and fishing boats.
“But we are optimistic that the Philippine economy will remain strong in 2014, especially…(because) the outlook on the global economy is becoming more favorable and as the domestic economy remains robust,” he said.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima described last year’s economic performance as “astounding”, pointing out that the final quarter was the eighth consecutive three-month period of growth exceeding 6.0 percent.
“This growth demonstrates the resilience of the country,” he said.
“The Philippines continues to be the second-fastest growing economy in Asia, after China, with its strengthening BPO and tourism sectors.”
Krystal Tan, a regional economist with research group Capital Economics, also described the Philippine economy as having proved “remarkably resilient” to Haiyan.
She said the vast amount of money being spent on the reconstruction effort would help spur the economy in 2014, and forecast full-year growth of 6.5 percent.