NEDA Director-General answers questions on poverty reduction

From the perspective of an economist, where is the Philippines now and where is it going? And why is it important that the people know? These are just a few of the questions that National Economic and Development Authority Director-General and concurrent Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia tried to answer during the 2nd Public Management Development Program (PMDP) Leadership Conference held recently at the Development Academy of the Philippines Conference Center in Tagaytay City.

Pernia reported that the Philippines has had a sharp pickup in economic growth since 2010, saying that the Philippines emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia during that period and crediting that growth to the past administration. He said that the seven percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP), a commonly-used measure of economic performance, in the second quarter of 2016 was higher than what was expected. He cited the service sector, including the business process outsourcing (BPO) and tourism industries, as the main driver of that economic growth.

Majority still in lower class

Pernia, however, told the close to 300 government executives and managers that were present at the conference that despite the country's economic growth, majority of Filipinos remain in the lower socio-economic status, admitting that poverty reduction has been "exceedingly slow.

"This is the nagging puzzle. The much-touted fast economic growth has resulted in extremely low poverty reduction," he said. "This is the thing that we really need to address, (something) which the previous administration did not make a large-enough dent on."

The Socio-Economic Planning Secretary explained that the situation may be attributed to several reasons, foremost of which is the fact that economic growth has not been broadly shared across socio-economic classes and regions. There is, for example, a marked imbalance in the distribution of benefits, with the mega urban industrial regions (National Capital Region, Calabarzon, Central Luzon) taking most of the share.

Sluggish pace

The sluggish pace of the agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors is another piece of the puzzle, Pernia said. This has been compounded by a significant increase in food prices, particularly rice, which he said has pushed the poverty line by almost 30 percent during the last six years. The NEDA chief cited as the last reason "the rapid pace of population growth," with an additional 10 million people over the same period really making poverty "a steep challenge."

Pernia said that one possible way of solving the poverty problem is by addressing the uneven growth or inequality among regions by focusing efforts on developing the less-urbanized regional and rural areas. Another worthy endeavor, he said, would be the implementation of reforms in the agricultural and fishery sectors.

The country's top economic official said there is also a big need to put population at the center of the development plan through a full, rapid and sustained implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) Law at the level of the local government units.

A major key

To drive home the point that population is one of the major keys to economic development, Pernia shared that in the 1970s, Thailand and the Philippines had roughly the same population and growth rate. The Philippines started implementing the family planning program and Thailand followed suit. Unfortunately, only the latter was able to sustain it and the result was its population's being kept at only 67 million compared to the Philippines' 104 million, with Thailand having a poverty incidence rate of only 11 percent compared to the latter's 26 percent.

A smaller population would mean better health and education services leading to a workforce that has ample opportunities for quality employment, Pernia said. "I'm saying that it's not just the lack of population policy that matters but it has been a major factor," he explained.

'Virtuously impatient'

Pernia said that an ordinary Juan and Juana can contribute to the country's economic development by being "virtuously impatient" and by being "more demanding" of their officials. "Don't be too patient about the delays or having to cue up for so many things What I'm saying is that we need to be more demanding of our officials that they should deliver service properly, correctly, and of good quality. We need some amount of impatience," he explained.

Pernia challenged the PMDP alumni to take on the important task of communicating to the Filipino citizens the kind of "impatience" that everybody needs to have. "DAP graduates are forward-looking, intelligent, and sharp," he said. "You can be instruments for disseminating the importance of virtuous impatience."

PMDP accepting nominations

Pernia was one of the main speakers in the PMDP conference along with Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la PeAa. The PMDP, which has graduated nearly 500 government executives, is an intensive, multi-modal training program that aims to produce a corps of public managers that embody competence, integrity and commitment. It is the Philippine government's Career Executive Service Development Program that is being overseen by a steering committee composed of the NEDA, the Department of Budget and Management, the Department of Finance, the Civil Service Commission, and the Career Executive Service Board. The implementing agency of the PMDP is the DAP.

The PMDP is now accepting nominations for Batches 14 and 15 of its Middle Managers Class opening on February 17, 2017 and April 28, 2017, respectively.

Source: Philippine Information Agency