Economic freedom gains seen (BusinessWorld)

THE Philippines can expect an improvement in its world economic freedom rankings following reforms orchestrated by the Aquino administration, a Washington-based think tank said.

The Philippines’ "silent rise," said analyst Anthony Kim, will continue to be reflected in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom -- an annual survey that scores countries on the rule of law, reach of government, regulatory efficiency and openness of markets.

"The Philippines typically ranks in the middle of polls but starting 2008, it has taken off," Mr. Kim told reporters.

He said the trend should continue in the 2014 survey, which will span data from June 2012 to June 2014.

"We have most of our findings already. We are upbeat about the rankings of the Philippines," Mr. Kim said.

The Philippines placed 97th out of 177 countries in the conservative think tank’s 2013 rankings, scoring 58.2 points and closing in on the world average of 59.6 points.

This was up from 107th in 2012 (57.1 points) and 115th in 2011 (56.2 points).

Mr. Kim hailed the country’s reform agenda, in particular noting moves to review foreign ownership limits. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas was also cited for liberalizing foreign exchange rules and stabilizing the banking and finance sector.

"Despite the crisis, it responded with cautionary, measured policy actions, maintaining market openness while guarding against shocks," he said of the central bank.

The Heritage Foundation urged the Philippines to avoid complacency since work still needed to be done to take advantage of the current momentum.

With the Aquino administration spearheading reforms Mr. Kim said it was crucial to enforce changes before a new government is chosen in 2016.

"The government has an idea of what economic future it wants to draw. The key is from now to 2016, it needs to remain committed to that reform agenda," he said.

"The current administration is also looking at the medium- and long-term so their reforms will lay out the groundwork for future progress."

While many analysts have credited the closed nature of the Philippine economy for its resilience amid the slump, Mr. Kim begged to differ. The country has been opening up since the 1990s and it has weathered both the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global economic crisis, he claimed.

"It didn’t close down despite the crises, didn’t impose heavy capital controls or protectionist policies and thus, attracted more investments into sectors like services, entertainment and gaming," Mr. Kim said.

"Every crisis is an opportunity, and this is an opportunity."

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