As the nation swings between Vhong Navarro’s beating to Rose Tuason’s purported tell-all, here’s one major development that will impact the Filipino far more than those two potboilers, assuming it’s implemented substantially: the updated Philippine Development Plan for 2011-2016. Only those interested in national advancement should read on.
Before we get into the PDP, presented at a Palace press conference by National Economic and Development Authority Director-General Arsenio Balisacan, a quick comment on the ongoing trial by publicity against opposition stalwarts Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla.
Just to put the inviestigations in context, they are based on the Commission on Audit report covering Priority Development Assistance Fund spending between 2007 and 2009. DBM gave COA the papers for P8 billion of the P29 billion PDAF disbursed in those years, despite repeated requests from state auditors for all of the pork papers.
Hiding Aquino era sleaze
Kept hidden from COA and public scrutiny are two-thirds of 2007-09 PDAF spending, mostly by administration allies, including the allocations for then Senator Benigno Aquino 3rd. That the President’s pork spending has not been made public shows that it could not be trumpeted as a model of integrity and public service for others to follow.
The pork barrel inquiry also excludes PDAF allocations under Aquino, which tripled from the Arroyo years to more than P20 billion annually since 2011, with no additional anti-graft safeguards to check abuse. PDAF excesses themselves are dwarfed by the state losses from smuggling, estimated by President Aquino himself in his last State of the Nation Address at P200 billion, with killer guns and drugs among the contraband. That illicit trade was never seriously investigated, even after the disappearance of more than 2,000 containers in 2011 — the worst spate of smuggling in the country ever.
In sum, the PDAF investigations by the Senate, the Department of Justice and the Ombudsman, while they should be pursued, cover NOTHING of the trebled corruption under Aquino and by his camp. It may bring down targeted political rivals, but it won’t stop the sleaze by his favored Kaklase-Kakampi-Kabarilan clique.
Nor would the probe of bribe solicitation for the MRT refurbishing contract, which reportedly dismissed the accusations made by the Czech ambassador and the Czech company Inekon. Like the now-forgotten investigation into the billion-peso overpriced PNP rifle bidding that implicates Aquino shooting buddy Rico Puno.
New plan for the poor
Turning to the real topic of this article, NEDA chief Balisacan, perhaps the leading expert on poverty in the country, himself unveiled the revised PDP, which President Aquino ordered reviewed and recast after this column’s “Aquino’s Challenge” article of June 17, 2013, showed that poverty, jobs and hunger data amid Arroyo’s 2009 growth slowdown were even better than figures for Aquino’s boom year of 2012.
From a quick reading of NEDA materials online, it might not have been clear to seasoned PDP watchers what major changes were made and how they would deliver on jobs and poverty reduction. The grouping of provinces by poverty incidence, the multidimensional nature of both problem and solutions, the big infrastructure projects, and the mantra linking good governance and development — these key thrusts were there when the Plan first appeared three years ago.
Probably the only brow-raiser are the targeted reductions in income and multidimensional poverty. The stretch goal of 4-7 percentage points decline in income poverty incidence looks very doubtful. There was hardly any change between 2009 and 2012, and local proverty actually worsened in a host of provinces in those years.
The significant drop in poverty incidence over the past one and a half decades was the 2.7-point drop in 2000-2003, with massive state spending, including agricultural and fisheries development. To double that reduction in 2012-16 at a time of global economic malaise and more frequent megadisasters, the new plan would need to roll out some convincing new initiatives.
Look at the fine print
There doesn’t seem to be many, at least from Secretary Balisacan’s presentation. One key document is the PDP Results Matrix, which outlines the overall strategy, key targets in major sectors, and the risks and assumptions involved in achieving the objectives.
The vast array of ambitious numbers need both credible programs and, more important, funding plans to show they can in fact be reached. NEDA will need to spell those specifics more clearly. The strategies for each group of provinces, especially the infrastructure projects and other investment-luring measures, need to be detailed.
When she rolled out her Super Regions plan capitalizing on regional competitive advantages, then President Gloria Arroyo presented by Powerpoint in the 2007 and 2008 SONAs the road, port, airport and power projects supporting agriculture in North Luzon and Mindanao, industry and logistics in Mega Manila, tourism in Central Philippines, and infotech services in the Cyber Corridor cities.
It would be good to see the same detail from Balisacan, so the businesses he hopes to attract will know what to expect. In particular, he needs to elaborate on power supply. The energy subsection under the section on Accelerating Infrastructure Development says nothing about boosting electricity capacity to match projected needs — an absolute imperative for increased growth and investment, not to mention the avoidance of long power cuts, which some power sector watchers fear may hit even Metro Manila in 2014.
Without power, business won’t surge
The PDP should state and address the perennial issues of electricity cost and availability, along with the very real risk that the private sector, on which the nation exclusively depends for new power plants since the state is legally barred from such ventures, would in fact build the needed future capacity.
Without adequately addressing the nation’s mounting electricity needs, no amount of rising global competitiveness scores and claimed anti-corruption gains will spur enough job-generating enterprises and bring affordable power to millions of unserved homes.
One more quick note: Rice self-sufficiency, supposedly achieved last year by the PDP target, will take at least another year. Moreover, it’s very difficult to tell if the country is indeed importing less rice, since so much is smuggled in untallied by government statisticians — 50,000 tons a day, according to one customs official.
A full PDP report and analysis will be forthcoming, but for now, one has to say two things to Secretary Balisacan and his hardworking and bright team at NEDA: Thank you for trying harder. You need to do even more of that, especially in detailing the Plan and demonstrating clearly how exactly its many goals will be fulfilled in the next three years.