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Business

Slow but persistent economic growth

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

The first quarter in the Philippines recorded slower economic growth due to the surge of COVID-19 cases in January that led to another lockdown. While that was unfortunate, it wasn’t a significant detriment to the consistent economic growth that has been slow, but persistent.

As lockdowns eased and alert levels decreased, people were allowed to move out and about again, allowing them to spend and help trigger economic growth, albeit much slower than initially predicted.

Another reason for the slower growth  alongside the pandemic, is the high inflation and the rising cost of goods and services these past several months triggered by the increase in oil and pump prices. While more people have been allowed out again, the reality is that many Filipinos can’t afford to spend or be out and about because prices keep increasing.

In the months ahead, continued inflation and the pandemic remain as challenges to economic recovery. While it’s not predicted that the country will regress again, growth is expected to be slower than usual. However, as long as the trajectory goes up – no matter how slow – that’s still better.

Economic drivers for the first quarter and throughout the rest of the year include a gradual return to normalcy for Filipinos, and slow and steady increased spending. This will be coupled with increased government spending on infrastructure and election-related spending, which will help economic recovery.

The election result will have a significant impact on the economy as well.  So much has happened in the past several months between continuous pandemic response, persistent economic recovery, and the election season that it’s almost hard to keep track of all the information floating around.

This is especially true in the Philippines, where information is bountiful even though it’s not always reliable. We were once described as ground zero for misinformation by an executive for a social media platform.  I can’t argue with that description. I recently wrote about the power of social media in the Philippines and how easy it is to spread any narrative you want with as little as a mobile phone and a connection to the internet.

Social media was the hotbed for spreading information during this election. I suppose the same can be said for the elections in the United States and perhaps in other parts of the world. But the reality is that many people in the Philippines are entirely reliant on what they see on social media.

Here it’s Facebook, Twitter, and now TikTok, that people use to spread both accurate and false information. It’s incredible how prevalent these platforms have been for campaigning and how few regulations are in place to safeguard what is said, what is posted, and ultimately what is shared.

At this point, it’s become glaringly apparent that we are suffering from a lack of regulatory oversight in terms of spreading information. While we’ve been trying to implement cybercrime laws, the fact remains that – for the most part – the internet and social media in the country is a free-for-all and people tend to find stories they want to believe and run with them.

That’s been the hallmark of this election and the defining factor in the country in the past several years. But what happens after this election could potentially change all of that – no matter which way it goes. After all, and I’ve written about this before, the only thing constant is change. No matter what happens when the final votes are tallied, things will definitely change.

Let’s just hope that the change is for the better. We could use a respite and economic recovery after the past two years. We all need to continue being cautious as we move forward. It’s been inspirational seeing the democratic process in action. Still, it’s also been quite frightening seeing such huge crowds gathering in all parts of the country.

What’s heartening is seeing that, for the most part, safety protocols are being implemented (with the exception of social distancing). Masks are being worn and hands are being sanitized. Hopefully, that’s enough to stop a massive coronavirus spike or spread.

We’re making progress in our fight against the pandemic. Hopefully, we can help prevent any further lockdowns and ensure steady economic recovery with everyone on board. But this will only happen if we comply and be safe together.

So for today and the days ahead, we await what the future holds. As we do, we need to prepare ourselves to be able to handle the changes that are coming because things changing is really the only thing we can predict.

We’ve done our part. Let’s continue to try to keep each other safe. Let’s support local businesses, invest in the economy, and prepare for the upcoming changes. Let’s hope the coming months are bright ones for the Philippines.

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