DAVAO CITY: The country’s economic managers are aiming for the eradication of hunger and poverty within one generation, with the Philippines becoming a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society by 2040.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza echoed this message at the 2016 Philippines Development Forum (PDF) here in SMX Lanang convention center.
Concurrently the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general, Pernia said “the journey to Ambisyon Natin 2040 has begun.” He was referring to the long-term development planning vision for the Philippines launched by NEDA in March. It has since been adopted by the new administration through Executive Order No. 5 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last month.
This forum was the PDF’s eighth edition since its initial staging in 2005, and the first under the Duterte administration. Its forerunner was the Philippines Consultative Group, which held meetings every 18 months between the Department of Finance (DOF) and the country’s international development partners led by the World Bank.
Dominguez, who chairs the forum as DOF chief, said this is “a landmark meeting among all stakeholders in the formulation of national plans for our inclusive economy while the Philippines is enjoying the demographic sweet spot until 2040.”
PDF co-chair Dureza said peace and development in Mindanao is crucial to the country’s inclusive growth. “I can sign a thousand peace agreements with different rebel groups to improve the lives of people on the ground. We invite everyone to come on board President Duterte’s ‘peace bus’ in his desire for a better Philippines,” said the presidential peace adviser.
Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President George Barcelon said the country’s business groups are prioritizing job creation, while former Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Liwayway Vinzons-Chato lauded the DOF’s comprehensive tax reform program, saying “we had also done it during the Ramos administration and it worked.”
Education Secretary Leonor Briones disclosed that she has appointed two undersecretaries to specifically handle financial matters. It may be noted that among all government agencies, the Department of Education has the largest allocation in the national budget.
At the PDF’s concluding session that consolidated the recommendations of five breakout sessions, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the President only has supervision over local government units, and not control, under the 1987 Constitution. For local autonomy to be truly effective, he opined that the Department of the Interior and Local Government might have to be abolished.
Meanwhile, Dominguez said a mix of policy reforms, management innovations and optimal use of information technology is being pursued by the government to stage “nothing less than a cultural revolution that would make every bureaucrat an enabler of private initiatives” in line with Duterte’s marching orders to his Cabinet to cut red tape in the bureaucracy.
As keynote speaker of The Asset Magazine’s 11th Philippine Forum at the Marco Polo Davao Hotel, the DOF chief said: “The government is harnessing new, affordable technologies to transform state agencies into catalysts for improving the ease of doing business in the Philippines.” These initiatives could also boost foreign direct investments as well as upgrade the quality of frontline services to citizens and businesses.
He believes “cutting red tape will enhance inclusive growth in our economy. I suspect that the weak culture of entrepreneurship we often complain about is, at least in part, due to the difficulty in setting up a business. Government agencies behaved as gatekeepers instead of enablers.”
Many participants at both forums were shocked by news about the Supreme Court‘s decision to allow the burial of ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.
They also experienced a double whammy when results of the US presidential elections showed Donald Trump winning against Hillary Clinton. Wallace Business Forum president Peter Wallace said: “I’m worried for the BPO sector if he makes good on his promise that he is going to stop the migration of jobs overseas. This is scary.”
American Chamber of Commerce Philippines senior adviser John Forbes expressed concern over Trump’s campaign promise to impose a 35 percent tariff on Chinese products entering the US. “If China retaliates, it will have an effect on the growth of Asia and the US,” he said.
Dominguez thinks it’s still too early to pass judgment since being a candidate and a president were two different things. He said: “I’m not sure what the effect will be, so we will have to wait and see what are the policies a Trump presidency will implement.”
Indeed, a sea-change in geopolitics is engulfing both sides of the Pacific. Make that both sides of the Atlantic too, coming after the equally shocking “Brexit” a few months back.
J. Albert Gamboa is the Chairman of the Finex Golden Jubilee Book Sub-Committee and serves as consultant for private and public sector organizations.