Concern for the poor despite strong growth
THE Philippine economy expanded 7 percent in the second quarter, official data showed, but President Rodrigo Duterte’s new government said major changes were needed to fix one of Asia’s biggest rich-poor divides.
The April-to-June period covered the final months of Benigno Aquino’s administration, capping six years of stellar growth that helped boost the Philippines’ credit ratings and end its reputation as one of the region’s economic laggards.
However, Mr Duterte won a landslide election victory partly on his railings against the nation’s elite who have soaked up much of the benefits of the growth, while leaving onequarter of the nation’s 100 million people living below the poverty line.
Mr Duterte’s economic chiefs credited the 7pc growth on an annualised basis in the second quarter, the fastest in three years, to Aquino’s “sound marco-economic, fiscal and monetary policies”, but emphasised the poor were continuing to be left behind.
“We need to sustain that rebalancing toward investment-driven growth – investment that will lead to more inclusive, poverty-reducing, inequality-reducing growth,” Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said.
Mr Pernia said the Duterte administration was particularly concerned about the farming and fisheries sector, which accounts for about 10 million workers and their families.
“Knowing that the majority of poor Filipinos rely on this sector for their livelihood, this administration will prioritise agricultural development,” he said.
The sector declined 2.1pc from April-June, the fifth consecutive quarter of declines.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said Mr Aquino’s administration had helped set the foundations for even stronger overall growth, setting a target of at least 7pc for the second half of this year and 6.5-7.5pc in 2017.
“Our strong macro-economic fundamentals will buffer the Philippine economy from external shocks,” Mr Dominguez said.
The government is aiming to cut the poverty rate from 26pc currently to 17pc when Mr Duterte steps down in 2022.
Mr Dominguez said this would begin with a stimulus program focused on infrastructure, education and health. The government last week unveiled its 2017 budget, announcing an overall increase of 11.6pc in spending. Education was one of the biggest winners, with a 31pc rise. –
The World Bank says higher investments in skills and education, and flexible labour rules, can help reduce poverty among workers in the Philippines.