Rise of the Filipino middle class

The ambition seems straightforward enough. By 2040, we will have a society where Filipinos will enjoy a stable and comfortable lifestyle, secure in the knowledge that there is enough to meet daily needs and unexpected expenses.

It will be a society where Filipinos can plan and prepare for their own future, as well as their children’s, and live in a place of their own—with the freedom to go where they desire, protected and enabled by a clean, efficient, and fair government.

Plainly put, it seeks a “matatag [strongly-rooted], maginhawa [comfortable] and panatag [secure] life for Filipinos.”

“Ambisyon Natin 2040,” first put forward by the Duterte administration in 2016, is still two decades and three years away. The government hopes to realize this vision of the Filipino by “transforming the Philippines into a prosperous, middle class society, where no one is poor.”

As described in Ambisyon Natin 2040, the middle class Filipino will be smart and innovative and will live a long and healthy life in a high-trust society where families thrive in vibrant, culturally diverse, and resilient communities.

But how does one build a society “where no one is poor” in a country where the poor has consistently accounted for 20% to 30% of the population despite poverty alleviation efforts of every administration?


Over at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), “Ambisyon Natin 2040” translates to strategies and priorities designed to realize the vision of a prosperous, middle class Philippine society.

“We have to create a stronger middle class. Our per capita income must increase by at least three-fold. It means that by 2040, there’s gonna be that substantial jump such that there will be more middle class,” said Nora K. Terrado, Undersecretary, Trade and Investments Promotion Group (TIPG) of the DTI.

Terrado added that “behind this call for a matatag, maginhawa at panatag na buhay are economic activities where the 10-point agenda of President Duterte comes in.”

The 10-point agenda is a socio-economic platform that focuses on macro-economic policies, land administration and countryside development, investments in people, and the needs of the poorest of the poor.

Explained Terrado: “If you recall the 10-point agenda, the first four items are about the fundamentals of the economy. You talk about macro-economic policies, taxation, build-build-build, and ease of doing business. The next two items are about inclusivity. You talk about land administration and countryside development. Then you talk about investments in people. It’s about education such as Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math or STEAM. The last two items in the 10-point agenda refer to the improvement of social protection programs, the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program, and the strengthening of the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law. If you look at the 10-point agenda, you will find that our strategy and our priorities in the DTI are all around that.”

She added that the DTI’s impact in the 10-point agenda, in particular, and in Ambisyon Natin 2040, in general, is in the area of business, as well as job creation and livelihood generation.

“This is the soul of our strategy here in DTI: trabaho [employment generation], negosyo [business] and kabuhayan [livelihood]. This is done in partnership with other agencies. You ask me about our strategy in investments, ang bottom-line niyan trabaho, negosyo, kabuhayan [the bottomline is jobs, business, and livelihood]. Our plan in DTI is shared prosperity for all.”


Investment-led trade missions, according to Terrado, is something the DTI makes the most of. “Where there is investment, there is trade. Whether it’s import or export, any investment opportunity for an in-bound investor or a Filipino investor, for that matter, is supposed to spur trade. That said, the Philippines espouses open trade because of globalization.”

She added that government has to address trade imbalance.

“When you look at trade, we have to address trade imbalance. What do I mean by trade imbalance? We are essentially a country that is a buying country. We import more than export. And that’s okay if you are a growing company and you want raw materials for your export. But in essence, what we’d like to happen with our trade is that eventually, it will become more balanced,” Terrado said.

The DTI Undersecretary cited that in the last couple of years, the country’s trade balance ranged from 40% exports and 60% imports. “A balance would mean 50%-50%. A 5% improvement in the trade balance is good for the country with respect to enhancing value,” she said.


The P3.767 trillion national budget signed into law by President Duterte last December is viewed as the first step toward the creation of a “strong middle class.”

The budget will fund multi-billion peso infrastructure programs, free college education in state universities and colleges, universal health care, free irrigation, maintenance of peace and order in the country, and doubling of salaries of police and military personnel.

“The implementation of these laws will serve as our initial step toward cutting the poverty rate to 14% and making the Philippines an upper middle class by 2022,” Duterte told the media.

Meanwhile, DTI figures indicate that investment projects approved by the Board of Investments (BOI) increased more than six-fold in January or a 538% surge to Php51.3 Billion from the Php8 Billion recorded in the same month last year. G













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