As he ends his six-term at the helm of the Philippines this month, President Fidel Ramos can retire content to be remembered for turning a feckless economy around. Casting an eye around their neighbours, Filipinos might also be grateful for the introduction of reforms that have attracted a surge of investment and helped the nation weather the latest regional economic meltdown better than most. His most significant initiative was to de-regulate key industries from telecommunications, shipping and aviation to mining, banking and the oil industry. He introduced legislation to dismantle monopolies and opened the way for foreign investment in many sectors of the economy. The result is not only a healthy investment climate, but competitive pricing and improved services. Filipinos no longer face lengthy delays for telephone connections. Power 'brown outs' and water rationingare also a distant - and now amusing - memory. The economy is not out of the woods yet. The peso took a battering during the regional meltdown and is still down by 30 to 35 per cent against the US dollar. But a handful of other regional currencies have fared much worse. Despite the crisis, growth remains healthy. Last year's GNP inevitably dipped from a runaway 6.9 per cent in 1996, but still managed 5.8 per cent. Similarly, GDP only dropped to 5.1 per cent from 5.7. Inflation was contained to 5.1 per cent - the lowest in a decade. Prices have climbed by 7.3 per cent this year, but the hikes are nowhere near the double-digit inflation being endured elsewhere in the region. Aggressive tariff cuts have demonstrated that the Philippines can compete effectively as an exporter, given half a chance. Last year's export boom of 23 per cent was one of the world's most impressive performances. Boding well for the hi-tech 21st century (and contrary to what many might expect) the export leader was not agricultural produce but electronics. Information technology earned US$15 billion last year and now accounts for 59 per cent of all overseas sales. Mirroring the global picture, the new industry also accounts for 61 per cent of exports to Hong Kong with computers and telecommunications equipment joining semi-conductors at the top of the list. Hi-tech sales last year catapulted total Philippine exports to the SAR over the US$1 billion mark for the first time. As the nation's fifth largest trading partner, Hong Kong hangs on to a trade surplus but it is diminishing. The SAR has also joined an investment bandwagon that saw a flood of foreign capital double last year - largely in public utilities, energy and infrastructure. Hong Kong is the biggest investor so far this year in power plants, toll roads, a light railway transit, telecommunications and factories. Kepco Ilijan alone invested more than $1 billion in a natural gas-fired power plant in Batangas. Filipino entrepreneurs are not lagging behind either. Indicating confidence in local business, they are majority equity holders in most of the foreign ventures, including the Subic Bay free-trade zone which continues to attract investment.