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Philippine economy expanded 7.2 per cent in 2013, disasters hit 4Q

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MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine economy expanded 7.2 per cent in 2013 despite the havoc wrought in the last months of the year by a super typhoon, an earthquake and a weekslong gun battle that shut down a major port city.

Even then, the Philippines was the second best performing economy in Asia after China in the fourth quarter, growing 6.5 per cent from a year earlier, officials said.

Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said Thursday the performance would have been better if not for the natural disasters and a nearly monthlong gunbattle between government troops and Muslim rebels that shut down a major southern city.

Balisacan said services and industry were the main drivers of growth that was also supported by sustained consumer and government spending.

"This is a remarkable turn out," Balisacan said. "The economy grew better than our expected target of 6.0 to 7.0 per cent for 2013 despite the challenges we faced during the year."

In September, government troops battled Muslim rebels in Zamboanga, paralyzing the key port city for nearly a month. More than 200 people, mostly insurgents, were killed.

In October, a powerful earthquake shook the central Philippines, causing widespread destruction and killing more than 200 people. The following month, Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest cyclone to hit land, barrelled through the central Visayas region, causing damage in 44 provinces, killing more than 6,200 people and displacing over 4 million.

Balisacan said the government is trying to make the country more resilient to natural disasters. The Philippines is in the Pacific Ring of Fire where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common. It is also in the path of powerful typhoons.

The combined impact of typhoons and other natural disasters may have trimmed growth last year by 1 percentage point, Balisacan said.

Services accounted for 3.6 percentage points of the fourth quarter growth figure while industry contributed 2.8 percentage points. Agriculture accounted for 0.1 percentage point, Balisacan said.

Declines in some industries "tamed overall growth" for the year, he said, citing setbacks in construction as stricter rules for real estate lending were imposed. Government spending also slowed in the fourth quarter though was higher for the year overall.

Balisacan said the Philippines will be in a "very good position" to take advantage of the recovery from the global economic crisis projected by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

He said there could be wider export markets for the country's industrial companies and more investors will be attracted to the Philippines as the government continues reforms to reduce the cost of doing business.

Major infrastructure works, particularly roads and airports, are expected to "fuel the growth this year and beyond," he said.

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