The Philippines has registered an economic growth of nearly 8 percent in the first quarter of this year, outpacing China’s growth.
There is a growing Middle-class that now has money to spend on travelling, cars and other luxury goods.
More than a million tourists a year visit Palawan’s capital Puerto Princesa City.
They used to be mainly foreigners... but in recent years things have changed.
Budget hotel owner Roel Almonte says his business is doing well.
“Most of my guests are no longer foreigners but locals who are travelling for pleasure or representatives of companies.”
Neil Guarino has been guiding tourists here for three years.
And says the new local breed of travelers has money to spend.
“So far the biggest tip I received was not from a foreigner but from a Filipino. They’re very generous. When they don’t give cash, they will give you something in kind like a T-shirt or even the ones they just bought from here.”
He says many of his cashed-up customers are young professionals who work in the booming call centre industry that contributed 11 billion US dollars to the country’s economy last year.
The Philippines is now the world’s call centre capital ….and it’s means young people are getting paid well…and they are looking to have fun with their money.
“They're brand conscious. They will wear branded apparels and clothing, and also gadgets – the nicest and most expensive cameras, smart phones and tablets. They think it's a must during travels.”
Helen Donesa-Ceballo is a part of the new middle class.
She is a daughter of a teacher and a government employee.
She worked her way up to become a bank manager before resigning to set up her own accounting firm.
“Before, my parents were thinking how they can earn money to send us to school and give us a decent life. Travelling didn’t even come to their minds but now, at least once a year we get to travel with our parents.”
She thinks she is better off now than her parents before.
“I usually go to the mall with my daughter, my mother, my cousin and our house help. I usually treat them to the movies or do a little shopping.”
But the growth is not inclusive of everyone.
The Asian Development Bank says there has been little progress in job creation.
Joblessness rose to 7.5 percent recently.
And nearly half of those working are classified as vulnerable.
Social activist Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek says corruption is a major reason for the uneven distribution of wealth.
“I think we have to get rid of the pork barrel because a lot of people go into politics because of that and not really to serve the people. I think if you do that, corruption in the government would be reduced greatly...
The latest in a long list of corruption scandals is the so called ‘pork barrel’ where at least a quarter of a billion US dollars in government funds for development projects have been misused.
Media investigations have revealed that money was siphoned off by politicians…who created ghosts projects and fake NGOs…in order to take the money.
40-year-old fish vendor Francisca Onepa could have benefited from the fund.
“Sometimes we feel that the economy is better, sometimes not. If the government could see that we are in dire situation, it should do something to help us.”
She says she is better off than her parents who worked in sugarcane plantations... but she’s not part of the booming economic growth.
Francisca is among the third of the population who live on less than 3 US dollars a day.
“We don’t have education. We’re better off with our high school diploma. We won’t get jobs in government since we never finished a course.”
The government initiated a cash transfer program that grants poor families between 11 to 32 US dollars a month on condition that parents send their children to school and have their health checked regularly.
It’s hoped that through this program Francisca’s children or grandchildren will join the growing middle-class.