FOR all of de facto President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s pontificating about the “straight path,” he has certainly failed to recognize the one that the country’s top economic planner has been pointing out all along.
In a recent press briefing, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA Director-General Arsenio M. Balisacan spelled out in rather frank terms the key obstacles to business expansion in the Philippines. Noting that the level of actual business growth trailed the apparent level of enthusiasm of domestic and foreign businesses about the Philippines’ economic prospects, Balisacan said that there was “a pressing need to address infrastructure bottlenecks, port congestion and power woes.”
In addition, the nation’s top economic planner also stressed the need to strengthen social protection for Filipinos, and to improve the country’s competitiveness by passing an anti-trust or competition law.
The point of all this, Balisacan suggested, is to reduce the cost of doing business in the Philippines, not only to encourage more outside investment but also to make it easier for Filipino entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. This all becomes more vital in light of the launch of the Asean Economic Community at the end of December this year. From a partisan politics perspective, the President and his men should also paid attention to these things. But they seem to have their priorities all messed up. They don’t seem to realize they have very little time left–assuming that Aquino is not forced to step down soon by an unexpected event as horrible as Mamasapano–to post some visible achievements and lay the socioeconomic groundwork for the next administration.
Granted, Balisacan said nothing that hasn’t been repeatedly discussed in detail by analysts and pundits since almost the very beginning of Aquino’s term. Balisacan himself had raised the same points on other occasions as well. Because of his position – he is after all officially the nation’s chief economic planner – we should be able to take Balisacan’s comments as a statement of official policy.
Were he not serving under a president who is notoriously unwilling to listen to advice, and holds the concept of collaboration in such disdain that he’s only called a meeting of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, or Ledac, twice in five years (the council by law is supposed to meet quarterly), active government policy might actually reflect Balisacan’s sensible priorities, with positive results across the entire economy.
The NEDA chief’s perspective is appropriately forward-looking; his priorities are ones that would provide the short-term opportunities that are typical of large-scale infrastructure and public works projects, then longer-term follow-on benefits from the improvements for businesses and communities.
That the Aquino Administration has completely ignored the real straight path of pursuing development according to the country’s best interests is an understatement. The revelation last week that, despite continual promises to increase government spending, particularly on infrastructure, the Administration ended 2014 having spent about P170 billion less than was planned for the year was just the latest sign that there is little apparent sincerity, no tangible effort, and clearly no actual competence being applied to sustainable development. In the real world, missing a planning target by some 187 percent would likely result in someone being fired on the spot and escorted from the building.
Nevertheless, the current Administration could still redeem itself and make a positive impact on the economy if it were to finally do the things it has been promising to do for years: Invest in infrastructure, facilitate new power supplies, and bolster community resilience – in short, precisely do the things recommended by Dr. Balisacan.
And doing these things will also dramatically decrease unemployment–and therefore poverty.
The chances of any of that happening, however, seem to grow more remote day by day.