"Ours is a labor-intensive economy with a cheap salary scale."
We are not one to rejoice over other people’s misfortune. But the ongoing political protests in Hong Kong is going to benefit the Philippine economy—so said Alicia Garcia Herrera, a HK-based global economist.
Herrera pointed out that the Philippines, a labor-intensive economy with a cheap salary scale, can morph into one of the region’s manufacturing centers. Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore could also benefit from Hong Kong’s downfall, said Herrera. Her words, not mine.
The downfall of Hong Kong, however, could affect the more than 150,000 Filipino overseas workers deployed as domestics and hotel employees.
Realizing the extent of the widespread protest, China announced a $2-billion package to prop up the sagging Hong Kong economy. In a media conference in London, the Chinese ambassador said China would take the protests sitting down. That the ambassador made the statement in London is obviously a warning to the British not to intervene in the crisis. Britain used to be Hong Kong’s ruler for decades until it turned over the crown colony to Mainland China. As one of the few Filipinos invited to the historic event, I was there during the turnover in 1997. I stood beside Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing.
Aside from the Chinese ambassador’s response to the demonstrators, the protesters and international observers are also wary about whether China would unleash the 100,000-strong People’s Liberation Army, quartered at barracks along the Chinese-Hong Kong border.
Observers believe that China has not foisted the PLA yet on the defiant protesters, whose action reached its peak at the Hong Kong international airport disrupting flights and inconveniencing thousands of departing and arriving passengers.
The Hong Kong protests by a million people certainly is not in the same scale of the student protest in Tiananmen Square quelled by China in a most violent manner in 1989.
That was just a hundred students in the small but famous square that drew the world’s attention. This time, the Hong Kong protest was sparked by a proposed controversial extradition law that would send Hong Kong’s accused to mainland China.
Filipinos working in Hong Kong, if displaced by the recent disturbance, can always come home to work in new manufacturing factories that will be opened.
Filipino tourists, on the other hand, need not take the one-and-a-half-hour flight just to shop and eat at the best Hong Kong Chinese restaurants. Metro Manila shopping malls now sell high-end fashion goods at cheaper prices and serve good Chinese food comparable to Hong Kong—thanks to our large Chinese community here.
Hong Kong earns its foreign revenues from manufacturing, tourism and high-end office and apartment rentals for the multinationals assigned there. With the Philippines’ abundance of office and residential condominiums in Metro Manila, for instance in the Makati central business district, we could offer cheaper rent to expats who might move here.
Are we seeing what augurs as the transformation of Makati as the Asian center for business and finance replacing Hong Kong? Why not? We have the technical people with a good command of the English language. That is why many Filipinos work in Hong Kong’s finest hotels. China cannot send its own people to Hong Kong because of their limited English proficiency. Can you imagine a foreign hotel guest telling the chambermaid to clean up later and she misunderstands that he wants her go to bed with him? That would be a complicated situation because of the language barrier!
Our banking system owned and managed by the country’s top tycoons can also provide banking services comparable to Hong Kong which gained reputation for handling international investment and financing.
We have industry captains who are global players like Manny Pangilinan, the Ayalas, the Sys, Tys, Gokongweis, Ricky Razon, Manny Villar, Lucio Tan, Andrew Tan, and Ramon Ang who is building a new airport in Bulacan.
While we don’t have Hong Kong’s world-class airport in Mainland China, we can have three NAIA airport terminals in Pasay plus Clark in Pampanga and now Bulacan for more international gateways.
Manila/Makati as the new Hong Kong? That’s not a remote possibility.