A not inclusive 7.8 percent growth


Hallelujah! The Philippines has posted a 7.8 percent growth in the first quarter of the year.

The feat is described by some people as outstanding, which means that they have already stopped believing we have the ability to pull ourselves out of the economic mess we have consigned ourselves into because of corruption, too much politics, and indiscipline.

NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) chief Arsenio Balisacan crowed that the growth is higher than those attained by China, at 7.7 percent; Indonesia, 6 percent; Thailand, 5.3 percent; and Vietnam, 4.9 percent.

But growth is relative. A country can post twice as “outstanding” a growth, and it won’t mean much for the great majority of the people if it does so from a very low base, as is obviously true in our case. Therefore, we remain poor compared to those countries whose growth we have ostensibly surpassed.

We hate to be a party pooper, but we’re not going to be as rich as the Indonesians or the Thais any time soon. Never mind the Chinese, who it has been observed, have become, after the United States, the world’s largest economy. No, not by a long shot. Maybe the rich among us—the Sys, the Tans, the Ayalas—but not the dela Cruzes and, yes, the Reyeses, and the rest of the 100 million Filipinos.

It’s a cliché but true. The Philippines is a rich country, but our wealth is cornered by a few families. Note that we have more people who make it to Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires—in dollars—year after year than many other counties. Sure, we’d still be poor even if wealth were to be equitably distributed, but we wouldn’t be as destitute as Dan Brown portrays us in Inferno, his latest potboiler, where parents sell their young children to the flesh trade, so they could have at least enough to eat.

Unless wealth is equitably distributed, the people will not feel the effect of that growth. But that smacks of socialism. Maybe that’s why Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima puts it in a mild form: inclusive growth, as do economists in both the government and the private sector, captains of industry, and corporate bigwigs.

But even such a modest objective is difficult to achieve, given the present realities.

“The key to the GDP growth becoming inclusive is that it must be sustainable,” says Alvin Ang, president of the Philippine Economic Society. It has to be sustainable, alright, but to really benefit the great masses of the people, key reforms must be implemented, and this will take some doing, in a country where leaders put their interests before those of the people they promise to serve every election.

Assistant spokesperson Abigail Valte talks as if we were almost there. The rate of growth, she says, will be sustained because of President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s “determination to promote and expand policies that lead to a Philippines where no one is left behind.” It is for this reason, she adds, that the government is “continually working for job generation.”

The Aquino administration had better get down to work. The unemployment rate remains high: 7.2 percent or 2.894 million of the labor force, says the National Statistics Office. And the indication, according to critics, is that the much ballyhooed growth hasn’t resulted in a lower number of people without work

But to give credit where credit is due, the unemployment rate could be worse if the country had posted a lower growth. Having said that, we urge the President to translate words into action, if he is to justify his continuing high trust rating, as reported by various pollsters.

Our economic system is skewed in favor of the rich. In the United States, that citadel of capitalism, wealth is more equitably distributed than it is in our country.

Equitable distribution of wealth is the objective of responsible leaders

US President Barack Obama was reelected to a second term on the promise that he would remove tax breaks for the very rich and expand benefits for the middle class and the poor. Apparently Americans—white, black, and what-have-you—responded favorably to the message, so much so that they preferred him to a WASP like Mitt Romney.

To Americans the economy is more important than race. It means that their choice of leaders is driven by consideration of issues, the economy among them. By contrast, Filipinos vote for candidates on the basis of popularity, as demonstrated by the last midterm elections.


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