Economist to Cebu: Cash in on creative talent like Korea

Cielito Habito. (Contributed)
Cielito Habito. (Contributed)

TO FIND new sources of growth following the economic scarring caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, a top economist has suggested cashing in on the creative economy, such as by emulating South Korea’s K-pop and K-drama push that has given it global recognition and revenues.

Cielito Habito underscored the big potential of the creative sector in creating new jobs and generating fresh revenues during an economic briefing hosted by the Management Association of the Philippines at Seda Ayala Center Cebu last Friday, May 12, 2023.

Specifically, he challenged Cebu to spearhead this big creative push, knowing that it has been well known globally in the furniture and export spheres.

Cebu City was named one of the new “creative cities” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in October 2019.

“Cebu can continue trying to spearhead these kinds of industries and show the rest of the country how to actually make them flourish. Then that would be a big contribution to our economy. We are known as the most talented (people) in Asia, and yet we couldn’t capitalize on it,” said Habito.

Currently, Cebu is aiming to make and strengthen its creative positioning in Asia and in the world not only in the known spheres of furniture and designs but also in other areas like film, animation, game development and original content, among others.

More specifically, the Cebu City Government also announced plans last Thursday to put up a Creative District in the North Reclamation Area as part of Cebu’s waterfront development. It would be a central hub to film production, animation and other creative studios, and host knowledge process outsourcing firms that will focus on innovation, creativity and digital transformation.

Export earner

Habito suggested to push the country’s creative sector to become a multibillion-dollar export earner similar to how South Korea, whose popular culture has become a global phenomenon, made it.

The so-called Korean wave that spans music, movies, drama, online games and cuisine, among others, was estimated to have brought US$12.3 billion to Korea’s economy in 2019, of which the popular Korean boy group BTS contributed $3.9 billion.

“Culture is a very important export of Korea, the creatives,” he said.

Habito said if the Philippines were to do the same and cash in on its artistic and creative talents and skills, it could create much wealth from its cultural economy, knowing that the “Filipinos are hailed as having the richest and most versatile artistic and creative talent in Asia.”

“We should have a better claim to the kind of prominence that Korea has now in the world economy,” Habito said, noting that during former president Fidel V. Ramos’ administration, one of the pole-vaulting strategies was for the Philippines to become the Broadway of Asia.

“But we aren’t doing it in a deliberate way that Korea did,” he said. “The winning of a Korean film in a recent Oscar was no accident. There was a deliberate strategy that ran for more than 10 years targeted at getting an Oscar for a Korean film.”

“But you must have everybody working towards that. You must have a big budget for that,” the economist emphasized.

Improve products

For the Philippines to grow its creative sector, the country should graduate from “japayuki” who are doing gigs to become world performers like BTS. We also need to elevate our theaters and musical shows as well as films and telenovelas.

There is also a big opportunity to grow in software, games and animation as well as in furniture, crafts, jewelry, and toy design; cultural tourism and shows; and Filipino food and cuisine.

“If you look at Korea, it’s K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean food that are really sweeping the world now. Why not Filipino food? But the thing is most of the Filipino restaurants abroad only cater to the Filipino expats community and some are served in a carenderia-style. But the Thais went for a brand called Kitchen of the World, and they also helped their restaurants overseas to scale up and level up and eye for Michelin stars. This is the kind of ambition we want our restaurants abroad to become,” explained Habito.

“There is such a wide variety of things we can do in the creatives spanning from food to product and performance and therefore we need to get a national brand out there to be able to really capitalize on this,” he added.

Enabling law

The Philippines stands to grow big in this space, given that the country already has a law promoting the sector—the Philippine Creative Industries Development Act.

The law provides adequate support measures to the Philippine creative industries which currently face various binding constraints to growth, such as high output costs, fragmented education systems, piracy issues, lack of data and statistics, underdeveloped branding and infrastructure, and wide skill gaps and mismatch, among others.

The country’s creative industries contribute almost eight percent to the economy, employing five million workers and generating exports accounting for 12 percent of the country’s total exports.


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