QUITE surprisingly, the Philippine economy, as measured by its gross domestic product (GDP), registered a 6.6-percent growth in the fourth quarter of last year despite the destruction brought by Super Typhoon Yolanda and the earthquake that devastated Bohol and Cebu. For the whole of 2013, the economy grew by 7.2 percent. Given two consecutive years of GDPs of above 7 percent, it will take another eight years of similar growth for the economy to double in size.
But even if the economy has demonstrated resiliency, a nagging question begs an answer: where are the jobs?
Based on a recent report from the International Labor Organization (ILO), the unemployment rate in the Philippines stood at 7 percent—seven of every 100 Filipinos are jobless.
The ILO’s Global Employment Trends 2014 report added that 11 percent of the nation’s workers are classified as “extremely poor,” or are living on less than $1.25 (or about P55) a day.
Compared to the rest of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is actually the champion in unemployment despite being one of the leaders in GDP growth. The ILO said that in most of Southeast Asia, the jobless rate has been declining—from an average of 6 percent between 2000 and 2008, to around a projected 4.5 percent in the next few years.
Perhaps the Aquino administration should start making job creation numbers a vital input in its economic planning, because the United States uses job creation numbers alongside home sales and GDP growth in making key decisions regarding its economy.
If there is one sector that can create jobs in the millions, it is the manufacturing sector, which sadly has not been getting adequate government support.
If the Aquino administration truly supports the manufacturing sector, it should have taken steps to lower the production of power in the country. The Philippines has one of the highest electricity prices in the world, and it does not take a genius to realize that large factories that churn out durable products like vehicles and appliances consume large amounts of power. A higher local input on the products manufactured in the Philippines will also require a higher power consumption, because more complex manufacturing systems are required.
But judging from how the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) wants to increase its power rates, the Aquino administration is clueless as to what needs to be done to lift the manufacturing sector. If the administration truly understood the importance of that sector in creating jobs and the power requirements the sector needs, it should have taken steps to avoid the power mess the country is in now, with Meralco wanting to charge higher rates because of plant shutdowns and an open electricity market system that is not working at all.
While the real estate industry is booming and can give an impression that there is economic progress, the truth is the jobs construction creates are mostly temporary. Also, real estate products cannot be exported to other countries unlike manufactured products.
Another potential job generator is agriculture, which before the Aquino administration also suffered from neglect. But with the farming sector challenged by climate change, the government must pour in more technical and funding support for the country’s tillers of the soil and fisher folk. Cracking down on smugglers of farm products will also help the agricultural sector greatly.
We do not belittle the growth the country has achieved in the past two to three years, because that can help attract more investments into the county, especially for manufacturing.
However, if no new jobs are created in the midst of the impressive GDP, the administration and the subsequent regimes should not be surprised if they find themselves losing the war against poverty.