May 302013

A man cooks his food along a sidewalk in Tondo district, Manila. EDD GUMBAN/FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines – The country may have an impressive gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter, but an economic official believes that this growth is still about its impact to the poor.

The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) revealed on Thursday that the Philippines’ GDP grew by 7.8 percent in the first three months, exceeding market and government expectations and beating Southeast Asian nations and even China.

But Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Arsenio Balisacan admitted that the issue is all about making the GDP growth inclusive.

“We know, however, that inclusive growth is not about averages, but about the lower part of the income distribution, namely, the poor,” said Balisacan, who is also the director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

“On the other hand, we also know that growth is still the necessary condition for inclusive growth,” he added.

Malacanang said its goal is to ensure that the recent economic gains of the country are being felt by all.

“That is always the target; that nobody will be left behind,” said Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.

“With the high numbers that we have, even with the boost in investor confidence, the rallies that you’ve been seeing in the stock market, ang importante po sa atin ay ‘yung maramdaman ng lahat [‘yung economic growth],” she added.

But Valte noted that the effects of these economic gains do not happen overnight.

The NSCB said last month that poverty incidence in the country practically remained unchanged in the first half of 2012. Related story: No improvement in lives of poor Filipinos

The agency reported that poverty incidence was estimated at 27.9 percent during the said period or nearly three out of 10 Filipinos living below the poverty line.

“Comparing this with the 2006 and 2009 first semester figures estimated at 28.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively, poverty remained unchanged as the computed differences are not statistically significant,” the NSCB said.

It added that 22 out of 100 families were estimated to be poor in the first semester of 2012 while 13 in 100 Filipinos lived in extreme poverty in the same period.

Balisacan said a solution is to create the conditions for sustained growth in other sectors or areas with high growth potential and link the poor to these growth centers. 

“The faster this can be done, the better it will be for the greater number of our people,” he said.

The NEDA chief stressed the need for job-generation, which he said remains a challenge for the Philippine economy.

“We will facilitate the improvement in labor productivity by investing in human capital and providing the capacity for the labor force to engage in higher value activities,” the Cabinet official said.

He said the government intends to focus the economy on priority sectors that are potential growth drivers and job-generators such as infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, logistics, business process outsourcing, information technology, ship building, housing, and the halal food industry.

Earlier this month, a Social Weather Stations survey revealed that the number of unemployed Filipinos rose by one million in the first quarter of the year.

The survey also placed the Philippine’s unemployment rate at 25.4 percent (about 11.1 million), up from 24.6 percent (estimated 10.1 million) in December.

Despite the conflicting figures in GDP growth, poverty and joblessness, Balisacan claimed that the government remains committed to maintaining economic stability and inclusive growth.

“We remain positive in our outlook and we will translate this into positive action to achieve inclusive growth. We hope that the private sector will maintain a positive outlook as well, and translate this into greater participation in the growth process,” said Balisacan.

“More than economic growth, however, the Aquino administration is focused on fostering inclusive growth. Since our administration took office, we have worked to drastically expand social safety nets to help the most vulnerable in our country,” added Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte.

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