NONOY Colayco had the perfect job working for a top company in one of the most exciting cities of the world. His friends wonder why he gave it all up. 'People ask me all the time why I came back,' said Mr Colayco, who, until last year, was manager of global investment portfolios for the New York-based insurance giant American International Group (AIG). One reason is that he landed a very attractive job. Mr Colayco is Jardine Matheson group chairman for the Philippines and chairman and chief executive of Jardine Davis, a holding company for a number of Jardine businesses. But Mr Colayco said he probably would not have accepted the post were it not for the dramatic upturn in the Philippines' economy. 'It was a chance to come home when the country is beginning what I think will be a long-term economic takeoff,' said Mr Colayco, who spent nine years at AIG. Mr Colayco is not the only one who opted to go home despite secure jobs and often higher salaries abroad. As the Philippines slid from ranking as one of Asia's richest countries to becoming its 'sick man' during the 1970s and 80s, a big slice of the nation's intellectual and professional elite fled. But in a vote of confidence for the Philippines' economic future, Filipino professionals are returning home in significant numbers to what they see as a new land of opportunity. 'There's definitely a reverse brain drain,' said Mr Colayco. So far, only a few industries are beckoning Filipinos to return home, mainly real estate, which is enjoying a boom, finance and banking. One consequence of the government's decision last year to allow 10 foreign banks to set up full-service operations - previously, there were only four - is financial institutions are poaching employees from each other, driving salaries higher. No statistics are available for how many Filipinos have returned, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to prove their numbers are already significant. Practically everyone in the Makati commercial district seems to know at least several Filipinos who recently returned, or are themselves recruiting compatriots from overseas. 'Seventy per cent of the Filipinos I associated with in the United States are back,' said Gregory Domingo, who returned two months ago as managing director at Chemical Bank in Manila. 'In terms of career growth path, it seems like being in Asia is better for people like me, especially when the economy in New York is weak and there's lots of consolidation on Wall Street.' Jesus Zulueta, managing director of executive search consultancy ZMG, said he receives 20 to 25 resumes from Filipinos abroad each day. As further evidence of the tide turning, Mr Zulueta notes a huge increase in membership fees at the Manila Polo Club over the past year. He also believes the city will soon need another international school because Filipino parents seem to prefer that kind of education for their children. Salaries, while not normally as high as those in New York or Hong Kong, are catching up. Mr Domingo said traders are commanding 50 to 100 per cent higher wages than 18 months ago, and pay scales are about 70 per cent of Hong Kong's. There are other considerations influencing a decision to stay abroad or go home. Some returnees cite a better lifestyle thanks to cheap labour in the Philippines which enables them to hire maids, cooks and gardeners which they could not afford in the United States. Others want to be close to their families. Mr Zulueta said some of his clients were simply tired of having their children frisked at crime-prone schools in the United States. One of the big drawing cards for Filipino returnees is they can benefit from an old boy network that simply was not available to them abroad. 'Most Filipinos in the United States, whether they like it or not, aren't first class citizens,' said Mr Zulueta. Those working in Hong Kong are finding they are left out of a lot of the big deals unless they speak Chinese because the territory is increasingly geared towards China. But most of the high-flyers said what persuaded them was what they see as a bright economic future for the country and the potential to reap huge personal dividends over the long run. 'To tell you frankly, this is where the action is,' said Raymond Reyes, 28, a manager in corporate finance at Citibank in Manila, who returned home on a salary about half of what he could earn in New York. Jack Madrid said he had 'pretty cushy expat terms' in Hong Kong, where he worked for Citibank, but opted to transfer back to Manila for a variety of reasons. Family was one of them. 'But the increased level of economic activity added to the reasons to come back,' said Mr Madrid. Already owning property in Manila made the transition a lot easier. Many Filipinos complain that, thanks to a recent property boom, Manila homes are now more costly than comparable houses or apartments in the United States. Many returnees still worry the bubble might burst. After all, the economy was growing at a robust 5.2 per cent annually between 1986 and 1989, then dived, contracting slightly in 1991. 'I'm optimistic, but like all emerging markets, it only takes so much to upset the equation,' said Dan Filiciano, a senior executive at Exchange Capital Corp who left Merrill Lynch in New York to return to the Philippines. He notes for example the global shockwaves caused by the Mexican financial crisis earlier this year. Mr Colayco is convinced while there may be bumps along the way, this time growth can be sustained. Economic liberalisation is making business easier and Philippine companies more competitive and investment from overseas is growing and is of much higher quality than when he left in 1985. In addition, Mr Colayco sees 'a tremendous amount of entrepreneurship and willingness to invest money by local people', many of whom are liquidating investments in the United States and Europe in order to put money into the Philippines. 'I don't want to sound like a Polyanna optimist, but the fundamentals are certainly there,' said Mr Colayco.