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We’re no longer as important to US business

Perhaps President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot away from the US, whether he knows it or not, has a strong base in the economy and geopolitics.

In terms of the size of US investment in the Philippines, we’ve become practically of little importance, a drastic change from the situation in the 1980s. Why should its political leaders concern themselves about us?
Consider the cold facts:

In 1982, the value of US investment in the country was $1.3 billion. That may seem small but that meant we were the fourth largest site for American capital in Asia and Pacific. In the world, we ranked 31st.

Last year, the stock of US investments totaled $4.7 billion. But that meant we had become the least preferred site for US capital in Asia-Pacific. That amount was small change compared with the US business investment in Singapore ($229 billion), Japan ($108 billion), and, of course, China ($75 billion). US investments in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are more than double ours.


(And if you’re going to say that that’s because we have restrictions on foreign investments, the fact is that the only restriction in our Constitution is that on telecom and power, but these sectors are controlled by foreigners, in the case of telecom by magnate Anthoni Salim of Indonesia and by Singapore state firm Singtel. These Asian countries, which have received bigger US investments, have de facto bans on foreign capital dominance in their telecom and power sectors. There are other reasons why we have smaller foreign investments.)

In terms of world ranking, we are practically in the bottom, in the 52nd slot of 60 countries in the world as preferred sites for US investments. Believe it or not, countries like Nigeria, Peru and the Czech Republic (with a population of only 10 million) have bigger US investments than ours.

The world has changed, yet most Filipinos still believe we are important to US capitalism. Grow up! We’re not.
Geopolitics? We were definitely strategic to US’ military projection right after World War II. That was the era of aircraft carriers with their fighter planes and B-52 bombers, as well as the global Cold War and the hot war in Southeast Asia, which made our Clark and Subic Air Bases so important. .

The 21st century is the era of long-range nuclear submarines, ICBMs, and maybe even satellite-based battle stations with electromagnetic and laser weapons. Asia has ceased to be an arena of the Cold War. China, the biggest threat to US “imperialism” after World War II, has received American investments of $75 billion, being the most preferred investment site by the US, after Singapore ($229 billion) and Japan ($109 billion).

Data on the stock of US investments, which I got from the US Department of Commerce, is interesting and useful.

The size of US capital in the Philippines reached its peak in 2007, when this amounted to $7 billion. This was during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term, when the Yellow Cult was throwing everything but the kitchen sink against her.

This was also the time when the Philippines actually started to pivot to China, under Arroyo’s direction, and was starting to get huge Chinese low-interest government loans for its infrastructure projects. Yet, she still obviously attracted US capital. This was because she had strengthened the country’s economy, which is the most important factor that makes the country attractive to capital from any country.

US investments in the country, however, declined under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, despite his subservience to the US. Our ambassador to the US, Jose Cuisia, even served as a board member of US-affiliated firms, while his foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, has been one of the most pro-US foreign secretaries the country has seen.

Aquino even became the American lackey in the South China Sea dispute, which the US had no business being involved in as it wasn’t a claimant to any territory there. Under del Rosario’s direction, the Philippines filed a case in the international Arbitration Court against China’s claims in the area.

Yes, we won the case, but what good has it brought us, what concrete thing has it achieved for claimants in the disputed Spratly islands?

For all our being the US manservant in Asia, did US businessmen rush to the Philippines?

From $5.4 billion in 2010, the stock of US investments fell by $700 million to $4.7 billion at the end of 2015. In comparison, US investments in Indonesia grew $3 billion and Malaysia $2 billion. Maybe Duterte is using reverse psychology in dealing with the Americans?

Our only real importance to the US is the more than 2 million Filipino immigrants to the US, the fourth biggest, after Mexicans (12 million), Chinese (2.5 million) and Indians (2.2 million).

But then the “arrow” of influence in that situation has been reversed. Yes these Filipinos in the US account for about half of the more than $24 billion in migrant and OFW remittances, as US Ambassador Philip Goldberg relished in pointing out, as if we should be thankful to the US government for these.

But these immigrants are citizens, with Filipinos having one of the highest rates of getting US citizenship, which means that theoretically, Filipinos should have some clout on US policy. Instead of spending their time criticizing the country for this and that in blogs and Facebook, and pontificating on what Filipinos here should do, Fil-Ams should devote their time and efforts ending their petty sectarian disputes, and unify as one political force in the US.

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Facebook: Rigoberto D. Tiglao
Twitter; @bobitiglao