By BENJIE OLIVEROS
A week ago, during the World Economic Forum, Pres. Benigno Aquino III delivered a speech boasting about the 7.2 percent GDP growth the country achieved last year.
“We have always said that good governance is good economics, and the results of our reforms on the economic end are proving us right. In 2013, our economy grew by 7.2 percent—making us one of the fastest growing countries in Asia.”
A week after, in a press conference today May 29, the Philippine Statistics Authority announced that the country’s GDP growth for the 1st quarter of 2014 was 5.7 percent, lower than the expected 6.5 to 7.5 percent growth. Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, Economic Planning secretary and NEDA director-general, blamed Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the country in November last year, for the slowing down of the economy.
No amount of statistical computations could deny the fact that the country, which has been pursuing the same economic policies that resulted in the world economic crisis and which is dependent on exports to and imports and investments from the world capitalist powers, would eventually feel the economic slump.
President Aquino, during the forum, attributed the country’s “impressive economic growth” to his government’s anti-corruption efforts, which, he said, “freed up resources for investing in the people.”
However, even a cursory glance of the headlines of the different news agencies would show that reports about the lists of former and incumbent lawmakers and Cabinet officials who partook of the pork barrel funds allegedly skimmed by Janet Lim-Napoles have been populating the news. One list was drawn up by Napoles herself, and another was reportedly taken from the files of Napoles relative turned whistleblower Benhur Luy. One day the people were barraged by a hundred names of government officials who allegedly benefited from the scam, the next by the same number of denials.
Of course, someone is seemingly behind efforts to muddle the issue by bombarding the people with so many lists of names. But even if only half of those who were named are guilty, that is still a lot of government officials involved, enough to trigger a crisis of government.
President Aquino also boasted about the country’s “inclusive growth.”
“We are aware, however, that inclusive growth cannot be achieved simply by delivering to our people the services they rightfully deserve. Government must also actively find ways to create opportunities for the people.”
The opportunities that President Aquino is talking about are hard to come by. The poverty and unemployment situation have remained unchanged in the last decade. A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, which was conducted during the 1st quarter of 2014 revealed that adult joblessness remained at a high 25.7 percent affecting 11.5 million adults. Joblessness, according to the SWS, has remained at the level of 20 percent and above since 2005, except in March 2006 when it went down to 19.9 percent, in December 2007 17.5 percent, and in September 2010 at 18.9 percent. It is worth noting that during these years, the country purportedly began to register high GDP growth figures, which Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also boasted about then.
The incidence of involuntary hunger during the 1st quarter of 2014 was also at a high 17.8 percent affecting an estimated 3.9 million families. According to the SWS, this is even slightly lower than the 18.1 percent in December 2013, when the GDP growth rate reached 6.3 percent for the last quarter of 2013 and 7.2 percent for the whole year. Self- rated poverty was at 55 percent in the survey conducted in December 2013. It averaged at a high 52 percent for the whole 2013, the same as in 2012. The self-rated food poverty in 2013 was 39 percent.
All of these statistics belie President Aquino’s brag that the country has been soaring high.
“Our country is in the midst of a dramatic turnaround in every sector, and we are intent on continuing this trend and making certain that each and every Filipino enjoys the full dividends of progress.”
The question is: What good do we get from rosy economic figures if the people do not benefit from it in terms of more jobs available, higher income, and more access to basic goods and services?
If incidences of joblessness, poverty, and hunger have remained high during the last decade when GDP growth figures were reportedly high, what would happen to the people now that the economy is seemingly slowing down?