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Rising poverty, underemployment amidst boasted growth?

When poverty figures and unemployment/underemployment continue to rise even with all the news reports about fresh investments and expansion plans in the country, then there is something wrong with the country’s economic development programs.

Fully cognizant of the high incidences of these two indicators, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) has been pushing for inclusive growth, which it defined as “sustained growth that creates jobs, draws the majority into the economic and social mainstream, and continuously reduces mass poverty.”

To be able to bring a better life to majority of the 92 million Filipino population, NEDA has recommended massive investments in physical infrastructure as a major cure, and giving short-term cash outlays to the poorest segments as a short-term solution.

Because of the government’s fiscal problems, funding for infrastructure had been decided through public-private partnerships (PPPs), while the selective distribution of money will be implemented mainly through conditional cash transfers (CCTs).

Old formula not working

While it’s true that this country needs huge investments to finance the necessary infrastructure network that should spur economic growth, the big question should be: what kind of infrastructure does the country need for its vaunted inclusive growth?

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Should it be power for factories? Or airports perhaps for selected tourism jewels? Infrastructure answers the question “How do we go for growth?”, but definitely does not say where we should direct our momentum for economic progress, or more specifically, inclusive growth.

In the second chapter of NEDA’s development plan, the macro-economic policy focuses on “the smallest self-employed entrepreneurs to the largest conglomerates” to create jobs and economic growth.

Then again, NEDA limits government’s responsibility to creating the environment for increased economic activity, as well as ensuring that enough gains will filter down to other segments of the population to encourage more growth.

For as long as I can remember, this has been NEDA’s two-pronged macro approach: businesses, largely foreign and big companies, to solve unemployment and poverty; and government to orchestrate and make sure that this happens.

But, as the results from recent poverty and unemployment surveys seem to be saying, this recipe for growth does not seem to be working. Shouldn’t we perhaps start to do some serious soul-searching and employ some out-of-the-box thinking at the same time?

Giving importance to agriculture

For one, shouldn’t our government take a closer look at boosting agriculture and channeling more of that infrastructure budget to improving farming and fishing throughout the country? This may not immediately bring a spike in the GDP line, but it will definitely bring food to the table of majority of the country’s folks.

Agriculture may not become the country’s number one export money earner, but millions of families deriving their income from the land and the seas will be able to truly earn from the sweat of their labor. This is definitely a sustainable measure that is better than handing out CCT certificates.

For decades now, agriculture has received one of the lowest budgetary allocations from government so much so that irrigation canals have crumbled and farm productivity has dropped way below averages held in the region.

Fishermen should have strategic ice houses that would store their catch and prolong the freshness of their harvests in preparation for the journey to other parts of the country.

There should be enough roads that will connect farms and fishing villages to municipal centers where trading activities happen. And farmers and fishermen should be able to afford agriculture implements and transportation vehicles that they can use to bring down the cost of their produce.

Uplift farmer, fishermen productivity instead of dole-outs

Let’s bring back productivity to the land and the seas, for our farmers and fishermen. This way, we don’t need to spend P63 billion for the CCT dole outs, an amount incidentally that is about the same as what the Department of Agriculture received this year.

For me, focusing on sustainable agriculture is clearly a vote for inclusive growth, one that will in one sweep improve the lives of majority of Filipinos who live in the shadows of poverty.

DLSU law seminar

I recently received an invitation to a free seminar to be conducted by the DLSU College of Law. I would have registered to attend if not for prior commitments. I am not a lawyer but would have been interested to listen to discussions on common law governing commercial contracts and business transactions in the global market. Budding entrepreneurs would do well to attend and learn about commercial contracts. The seminar is being held today July 30, 2-4pm at the Gonzalez-Fajardo Theater of the DLSU Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall.

Visiting Professor Lee Mason, who is also deputy director of the Juris Doctor program of the University of Hong Kong, is the author of the current leading text on Hong Kong Contract Law. A barrister, he was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 2005. He is also a Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) accredited mediator, and a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

Mason will talk about “Business transactions governed by common law: selected remedies for contractual problems.” He has taught a wide-range of subjects, including Contract Law, Tort Law, and Legal System and Negotiation. Since 2007, Lee has been lecturing, predominantly on Contract Law, at the Faculty of Law in the University of Hong Kong.

Graduating college seniors interested in pursuing a law degree as well as those who are interested in pursuing global trade or marketing can avail of the seminar. For seat reservations, contact the DLSU College of Law at 5244611 loc. 285.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at For a compilation of previous articles, visit

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