Bright prospects for Philippine economy
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2016 - 10:00am

By noon of June 30, change is coming at Malacañang with the turnover of powers from outgoing President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III to President-elect Duterte.

Trading in the country’s stock market, as the barometer of the Philippine economy, resumed briskly a day after the May 9 presidential elections. Traders who held on to their blue chips or unloaded in panic, realized the fears foisted on the looming win in the presidential race by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte were nothing but toxic politics.

Thus, trading at the bourses are back to normal profit-taking soon after the Davao City Mayor emerged as the clear winner and immediately named his transition team to prepare for his assumption of the presidency.

By noon of June 30, change is coming at Malacañang with the turnover of powers from outgoing President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III to President-elect Duterte.

Five days before election, Duterte candidly admitted during The STAR roundtable forum he is “not an economics person” when asked about his specific priorities and policies on investments, trade and industry, tax reform, agriculture and other economic issues and concerns. The last to enter the presidential race, Duterte was also the last to attend The STAR roundtable among the five presidential candidates in the just concluded elections.

Duterte disclosed that he consults on economic matters with experts on the matter and mentioned in particular former Prime Minister Cesar Virata. But Virata was just helping him behind the scene.

But in the forefront as one of Duterte’s economic advisers is former Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez who comes from Davao. He once served as Agriculture Secretary of P-Noy’s late mother, ex-President Corazon Aquino. In a press conference yesterday, Dominguez noted the five percent increase in the value of stock market for the past three days augurs well for his new incoming President.

A major policy bias of the Duterte presidency is not for big business but for the rural development all around the country to really bring inclusive growth to all Filipinos, Dominguez announced. This is because, he cited, two-thirds of Filipinos below poverty line income live in the rural areas.

However, Dominguez made cautious projected growth rates, especially for the agriculture sector given the effects of the long dry spell brought by the El Niño phenomenon. “We are experiencing a severe El Niño. I think it’s going to be very hard,” Dominguez conceded.

Duterte himself assures Filipino farmers he would provide more government budget to the agriculture sector. Specifically, he vowed credit extension facilities to farmers so that they won’t fall prey to “5-6” creditors. He noted they are mostly “Indian” nationals who offer easy repayment but charge double the amount of loans.

The incoming President, however, expressed concern on the lingering effects of El Niño will continue to pester the agriculture sector when he takes over the leadership of the country. He noted most of the hardest hit by the prolonged drought were those in Region XI that includes Davao provinces and most are palay and food crop producers.

This is why, the incoming President promised to provide government funds to programs that will modernize our country’s agriculture. From farm equipment to extension of agricultural support for farmers, he wants Filipino farmers to also try and engage in bio-technology farming that will further enhance their output and income.

Incidentally, a new seed laboratory has opened at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). It will increase the capacity and speed at which seeds are prepared for entry into the International Rice Genebank, where the germ plasm of more than 127,000 rice varieties from around the world can be found. The Genetic Resources Seed Processing Laboratory (GRSPL) was built with support from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of the Government of Germany.

The Genebank collection continues to grow in size and usage, with more than 181,000 samples shipped to 65 countries over the last five years. The GRSPL will make it possible to handle the growing volume of seeds submitted for safekeeping, as well as of requests for seeds, without compromising seed quality, handling standards, and end-user requirements.

The use of biotech seeds also promotes environment safety and not just of food security. According to the latest ISAAA report, 20th anniversary (1996-2015) of the Global Commercialization of Biotech Crops and Biotech Crop Highlights in 2015 (Brief 51), herbicide tolerant crops, which are planted to 95.9 million hectares of land in 2015, reduce the negative impact of farming on the environment by decreasing the need for tilling.

This leads to a plethora of environmental advantages such as conserved biodiversity, prevented deforestation, less soil erosion and water pollution, and decreased carbon dioxide emissions, among others. With these benefits, biotechnology ensures that the society’s needs are addressed and at the same time, the environment is protected.

One of the main arguments raised by environment groups led by Greenpeace and Masipag while using agriculture biotechnology in seed growth and propagation is the loss of the traditional varieties. This fear, however, is unfounded as scientists here and abroad have all these years kept the germplasm of different seed varieties for conservation, scientific research and breeding purposes.

Before he steps down from office along with outgoing President Aquino, a co-terminus Cabinet official Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has issued new guidelines drawn by various government agencies to shape up the use and imports of Genetically Modified (GM) crops in local farms all around the country. This was in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling that called for such crafting of clear-cut guidelines on the use of imported GM crops to protect not only the local farmers but also ensure food security of Filipinos.

 Four days after the elections, incoming President Duterte seemed to create more excitement each day replacing the gloom, especially to those in the business sector who obviously supported other presidential candidates. The  naysayers’ scenario loosely spread towards the end of the official campaign period failed to stop Duterte’s big win.

 The prospects of the Philippine economy shine bright with hopes and optimism as it gather steam while Duterte is just starting with his new job – as the presumptive President for now.

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