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Progress should not merely trickle down

THE country’s economy is fast growing with a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rate but the growth has not trickled down to the poorest people of the country, Vice President Leni Robredo said at the Ambisyon Natin 2040 Multi-Stakeholders Summit last Tuesday.

The latest report of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) says the economy is likely to grow by more than 7 percent this third quarter of the year (July, August, September) due to a surprising recovery of the agriculture sector, increased exports, faster infrastructure spending, and robust domestic consumption.

In the last two years of the previous Aquino administration, it may be recalled, the GDP had similarly reached high levels, at one time hitting 7.2 percent, and the Philippines was hailed as one of Asia’s top economies. But the growth was not inclusive and the masses who felt excluded from the progress reacted with a vote for change.

Vice President Robredo was with the LP administration ticket, barely surviving the surge of opposition vote in the election, but she appears to be in touch with the masses in the countryside and so she told the Ambisyon Natin Summit that millions to this day live in poverty, untouched the GDP growth.

The Duterte administration now is in the middle of an anti-drugs drive, which was at the center of the President’s election campaign. It is now pivoting to face the many other problems of the nation. Of these many problems, that of poverty among so many people calls for its most urgent attention.

The President and NEDA have approved seven major infrastructure programs closing a total of P270 billion, to be undertaken all over the country in the next six years. They include a Cordillera project in the north, a railroad line to Southern Luzon, and a new Cebu international airport. Other projects are expected when Chinese companies make their proposals. The NEDA has issued guidelines that will be used in screening these projects.

The seven major projects approved by NEDA along with the expected Chinese investment projects should create thousands of jobs but the main thrust of all these projects is infrastructure development. Thus in the proposed National Budget for 2017, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said recently, infrastructure spending will be 41 percent higher than the previous year’s infrastructure budget of P631 billion.

United States President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union message in 2015, spoke with pride on America’s economic growth. But he also had a special plan to create employment for the people. Aside from infrastructure development, he would encourage America business to set up new industries, stop rewarding companies moving abroad, and he would reward those that invest in local industries. Newly elected President Donald Trump appears determined to go the same route, as he won partly on a promise to bring American companies back home to provide jobs for Americans rather than foreigners.

We could have a similar program focused on employment. It could focus on creating jobs in agriculture and fishery, in manufacturing, in tourism and other services. With emphasis on job provision rather than on national growth in general, we could make a significant dent on the problem of poverty in the country. Progress should not merely trickle down to the poor. It should be deliberately planned so they will be principal beneficiaries of national growth.