Duterte aims to pluck 9 M Pinoys from poverty

The Philippine Star

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – With greater focus on countryside development, the Duterte administration is aiming to pull nine million Filipinos out of poverty and keep the country in the growth path by strengthening the agriculture and manufacturing industries.

In a dialogue-workshop with the business community here yesterday, Duterte’s officials discussed in greater detail the incoming administration’s thrust of spreading out development efforts, which they said were concentrated in Metro Manila for a long time now.

“We are targeting to reduce poverty rate between 1.25 and 1.5 percentage points a year. That will make a combination of around nine percentage points,” incoming finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting with more than 300 businessmen called “Sulong Pilipinas (Move forward, Philippines)” at the SMX convention center here.

“This dialogue, I assure you, will help us refine the reforms the new administration proposes. From the onset, let me assure you that the new administration will be guided by what is best for the nation,” Dominguez said.

“We seek your counsel as stakeholders in this nation’s progress, as we will the counsel of other stakeholders: those who own nothing in their name but whose capacity for hope rests precariously on the opportunities public policy is able to create,” he told the gathering of executives and business leaders. 

As of first semester last year, 26.3 percent or roughly 26 million of the 100 million Filipinos were living below the poverty line, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority.

On government finances, incoming budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said bigger budget would be allocated to rural areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.

He said agriculture, manufacturing and infrastructure would have more funds. As early as next year, up to P1 trillion may be earmarked for infrastructure from just P595 billion this year.

“We would like to make sure that (agencies) will not ask for a budget that they cannot implement... We also plan to have the budget approved before the start of fiscal year,” Diokno said in a briefing.

Incoming transportation head Arturo Tugade, for his part, gave assurance that all past contracts would be “honored.”

Furthermore, existing public-private partnership (PPP) projects would be accelerated, and new ones would be undertaken, mostly in rural areas.

“I was really amazed that 80 percent of projects proposed are in Metro Manila. You’re just going to further congest Manila with that,” Dominguez said.

Food security

Food security under the next administration would also be prioritized, with Emmanuel Piñol of the Department of Agriculture planning free irrigation and more support for farmers and exporters.

Incoming trade secretary Ramon Lopez said they would seek to establish connection between micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and local governments with large companies.

“The strong partnership will help build inclusive business models. We want the big businesses to include MSMEs in their value chain to provide them a sustainable market,” Lopez said in the forum.

Doing business with the government would also be streamlined, Tugade said, as he aims to cut business transaction time in his department by 50 percent over the next year.

Dominguez said shortening PPP bidding process to between 18 and 20 months from the current average of 29 months would also be pursued.

“This consultation is a step in the right direction. We welcome this recognition of business as an important partner sector and we vow to make giant steps to make this happen,” said George Barcelon, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Vicente Lao, chairman of the Mindanao Business Council, said: “There really needs to be a paradigm shift on how the government works and this is a good start.”

Cebu Pacific chief executive officer Lance Gokongwei called the dialogue “good, and very participative.”

Philexport chairman Paterno Dizon said he was happy several Cabinet members of the incoming Duterte government were on hand to answer questions from the participants on various issues of governance, especially the economy.

“People here will provide the inputs, the recommendation on the thrusts of this government. It is very good,” Dizon said.

“What is good is that all the secretaries were open and were candid with regard to their responses and how they will act on certain issues,” he added.

Philippine Airlines president and chief operating officer Jaime Bautista told The STAR the dialogue was a good start for the Duterte administration.

“The new administration is laying out their plans and they are transparent about it. You can see their sincerity. You can see how the Cabinet reacts. It’s fast,” Bautista said.

The PAL executive also praised Tugade’s appointment, saying he is an action man and an efficient businessman who knows what he is doing.

BDO president Nestor Tan said what impressed him was the fact that such dialogue was held for the first time outside Metro Manila.

“This is a very good start. Rather than do it in the media, they are doing it through dialogue,” Tan said,

“So far, we like what we are hearing. They involved us and the issues raised are answered,” he said.

Bankers Association of the Philippines executive director Cesar Virtusio said the dialogue was an encouraging start for the Duterte administration.

“What we have heard today, how they would address issues, they give encouraging answers to the questions,” Virtusio told The STAR.

“The fact that they brought us all down here in Davao, obviously, it is a very good start,” Virtusio added.

Lower but realistic

While it intends to boost development, the Duterte administration may lower this year’s growth target as it expects China’s slowdown and investors’ wait-and-see attitude to affect the Philippine economy.

Incoming socioeconomic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia said a 6.5 to seven percent goal is more attainable than the current target of 6.8 percent to 7.8 percent, as the next administration may experience “birth pains” while dealing with the impact of China’s economic slump.

“Perhaps 6.5 (percent) is more achievable. (A growth target of) 6.5 to seven (percent) is more feasible. The lower end of the target is more feasible maybe this year,” Pernia said in a chance interview Sunday night here. “China, I think, is continuing to decelerate.”

Asked why he prefers a more conservative full-year target, Pernia said: “We’re setting up. We’ll probably be feeling our way through and maybe the Cabinet (is just starting to work) as a cohesive team. Birth pains, start-up pains.”

Pernia said the 6.9 percent economic expansion in the first quarter would make the 6.5 to seven percent goal doable.

A seven to 7.5 percent growth may be achieved next year if the country attracts enough investors and makes some headway in rural development, agriculture, manufacturing and government spending, he added. 

According to Pernia, relaxing ownership restrictions in the Constitution and reducing crime and corruption – the centerpiece of president-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s election campaign – would help the Philippines lure foreign investments. – With Alexis Romero, Jess Diaz, Czeriza Valencia

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