The State of the Nation Address or SONA was delivered by the President at a time when the Philippines has just been called by the World Bank as the next Asian miracle, from being the “sick man of Asia.” It also enjoys investment-grade credit ratings from Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s Investor Service, and Fitch Ratings.
The country’s gross domestic product or GDP in this year’s first quarter grew by 5.7% year-on-year, from the 7.2% reported GDP growth for 2013 despite the devastation brought by disasters such as Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) and the earthquake which hit Bohol.
But I believe what the public needs to hear, aside from economic figures and the government’s accomplishments, is the government’s long-term and concrete road map to reduce poverty and attain inclusive growth. This is crucial as the number of Filipino households who rate themselves as poor rose to 12.1 million or 55% based on the June 27-30 survey by the Social Weather Stations or SWS. Only three months ago, 11.5 million or 53 % of Filipino households rated themselves as poor.
Another recent survey, this time from Pulse Asia, cited “controlling inflation” as the top national concern, followed by “improving/increasing the pay of workers,” “fighting graft and corruption in government,” “creating more jobs,” and “reducing poverty of many Filipinos.”
First, let us give credit where credit is due. The President laid out the foundation for poverty reduction, but the matter is multi-faceted and we must understand that it can never be achieved overnight. The country needs a road map involving not only band aid remedies but also solutions with enduring impact that will benefit present and future generations.
Poverty reduction involves a long-term strategy that will go beyond any administration’s term limits. What is crucial here is the continuity of anti-poverty programs such as conditional cash transfer (CCT), which has been expanded to also cover children aged 15-18. This, as higher education level is linked to higher income.
We also have to invest in education. The K to 12 program seeks to make our students globally competitive by adding two more years to basic education. It prepares students for higher education and employment by allowing them to choose from three tracks: academic, technical-vocational-livelihood, and sports and arts.
But there have to be job openings ready to be filled by the current and future crop of students. Attracting investments is the duty of the government, and to do this, the country needs to improve on its competitiveness. The government has to make sure that the graduates our country produce matches the needs of industries.
The latest Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum shows that the Philippines has advanced in terms of institutions because of the current administration’s campaign against corruption. But the country still has to improve on its infrastructure such as airports, seaports, and transportation facilities. The bottom line is: How can investors open shops here and create jobs if doing business, which requires moving products and services, is difficult?
The gains we earned in terms of competitiveness will go to waste if the government does not immediately find effective solutions to the looming power shortage next year. Such shortage of 400 megawatts will specially hit Luzon, the cradle of government and business processes. According to the President: “We want to be completely ready so that we can avoid paralysis if the worst-case scenario arises. The goal: to have planned solutions for problems that will not arise until next year.”
Clearly, there is a need for less politicking and for more teamwork. This is a crucial time for the government to be united for the sake of the people, so that the economic achievements reaped under the President’s guidance will not turn into setbacks. As a member of the legislative branch, I am looking forward to the Palace’s marching orders or certification of economic bills as urgent.