DESPITE the keen focus by President Rodrigo Duterte on the problems of illegal drugs and criminality in the Philippines, it is clear from the results of a Pulse Asia survey released this week that Filipinos have more practical economic concerns.
In the survey conducted from September 25 to October 1, respondents were asked to list their top concerns, and economic issues overwhelmingly topped the list. In all areas of the country, higher pay was the number one concern of Filipinos, with 46 percent of respondents selecting the issue as the top priority the government should address. This was an increase of 6 percentage points from an earlier survey conducted in July.
By contrast, only 31 percent said they wanted the government to focus on fighting criminality, which was a sharp 21-point drop from the 52 percent tallied in the July survey.
In fact, the top three concerns of Filipinos were all “bread and butter” issues. Job creation was listed as the second most important concern, with 38 percent, which was also a 6-percentage point increase from the July survey, while controlling inflation was the third-highest priority, with 37 percent. Fighting graft and corruption in government and reducing poverty rounded out the top five priorities, each being listed by 32 percent of those surveyed, the same percentage as those who listed fighting criminality as a top concern.
A significant result of the survey was that the relative importance of Filipinos’ concerns didn’t change much from the July survey to this latest one, except on the issue of fighting criminality. All other issues changed by a few percentage points, but stayed fairly constant when compared with each other, according to the polling firm; only the issue of criminality exhibited a sharp drop.
There are a couple of obvious messages in the latest survey results. One is that the campaign against illegal drugs and criminality may very well be working, in the sense of making Filipinos feel safer, because a great many people no longer feel it is a top priority of the government. That is good news.
Just as clearly, however, the message to the Duterte administration is that it is time to apply more attention to economic concerns. For all the positive press about the strong Philippine economy – it is, after all, the second-fastest growing economy in Asia right now, after India – the public is still not feeling its benefits. Wages are still low, and demand for jobs still considerably outweighs the supply of jobs.
And while price inflation is still relatively low on a broad national basis, inflation is something that tends to have a sharper impact at lower scales, or in certain categories. For example, according to data from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA) the overall inflation rate in the month of September was 2.3 percent, but for food, the inflation rate was 3.1 percent. That is a change the average household is likely to feel immediately, and consider a critical priority for the government.
What the public is looking for now is something tangible. The tax reform plan promised by the government has been submitted to Congress, and that is a start, but what is perceived as the bigger work, such as the massive development in infrastructure we have been told to expect (and which will create a large number of jobs), is still just a plan. Much of what has been planned, understandably, will have to wait until the implementation of the 2017 budget at the beginning of the year. At that point, however, the administration should be prepared to demonstrate rapid progress in the areas that matter most to the people it serves.