5.9%
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2020 - 12:00am

The good news is that our economic growth surged 6.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019. But the final growth number for the third quarter was adjusted downwards to only 6%.

The bad news is that the 2019 economic growth number is only 5.9%, barely missing the lower end of the official target range. This is the first time in 8 years the economy failed to expand by 6% or better.

Economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia attributes the lower growth achievement to the delay in the enactment of the 2019 budget. His “guesstimate” is that we lost a full percentage point (or more) because public spending was largely frozen in through the first half of 2019.

That full percentage point might have pulled us up to match Vietnam’s 7% growth for the year. That dynamic nation leads East and Southeast Asian growth, with China climbing down to a 6% expansion rate – largely as a result of the effects of the trade war with the US.

Vietnam is not about to slow down and wait for us to recover from the frailties of our own politics. It is putting in all the right policies to charge up its rapid expansion – especially in building state of the art infra to support economic activity. At the moment, Vietnamese per capita consumption of steel is twice ours. That says a lot.

 Twenty-five years ago, I accompanied then President Fidel Ramos on a state visit to Vietnam. Standing by the roadside in Hanoi, he popped a surprising and prescient question: “Alex, when will Vietnam overtake us?”

Taken by surprise, I paused for a few moments while observing Vietnamese farmers bicycle into town with sacks of cash. On the same bikes, they would strap Sony TV sets and pedal back to their villages.

“I don’t think they ever will, Mr. President,” I muttered, “they don’t have a banking system.” At that time, we had universal banks while the Vietnamese were hiring our corporate lawyers to write out contracts for them.

I was never so wrong. Vietnam rapidly gained ground on us. Today they are growing a large agricultural surplus and keeping a lion’s share of direct investments flows into the region.

Our agriculture, burdened with obsolete orthodoxies and backward farm systems, continues to hold our economic growth hostage. Until rice tariffication forces a revolution in our agriculture, farm inefficiency will be a leash on our growth.

We fully intend to outgrow Vietnam this year.  Our economic managers project growth that could exceed 7%, helped by the timely passage of the national expenditure plan and a special law that allows use this year of the unspent project funds last year.

Hopefully, natural calamities will not dent that projection.

In-city

If we intend to gain headway in the massive effort to clean up Manila Bay, the coastal municipalities need to be effective in their assigned tasks.

The City of Bacoor has proven to among the most assiduous local governments in the cleanup effort. Recently, DILG presented Bacoor with the Gold Award for its achievements towards cleaning up the bay.

The most challenging component of the cleanup effort is the relocation and resettlement of informal settlers along the coastline. The informal settler communities not only dump waste directly into the Bay. The settlements also clog up waterways, causing flooding in the urban areas.

Managing the urban poor communities requires permanent resettlement programs. There are no quick fixes here. Resettlement programs must be sustainable. To be so, they should provide housing options within the city, close to sources of livelihood of the poor, and yet properly engineered to prevent pollution of the bay.

Consistent with the DENR’s Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy and pursuant to President Duterte’s Administrative Order No. 16, the city sought the help of urban planners and engineers to develop plans for the 420-hectare Bacoor Reclamation Project.

This reclamation project will simultaneously address several problems confronting this congested city whose population is expected to double in a few years. It will enable construction of proper drainage channels to solve the city’s flooding problems. It will allow the installation of treatment facilities to ensure only clean water is expelled to the bay.

The reclamation project will create space for new roads to complement the Cavitex system and supplement the old congested roadways. It will provide space for the construction of medium rise housing to accommodate the informal settler communities. These housing projects will allow in-city resettlement.

Furthermore, the reclamation project will allow for the development of green areas for residents of the crowded city. It will help create a fully managed coastline that will open the way for the revival of the traditional aquaculture of city residents.

All previous efforts to clean the bay’s waters failed because they did not provide a comprehensive solution that enables both in-city resettlement as well as full coastal management. An estimated P50 billion has been spent on cleaning up Manila Bay with little results to speak of.

 This is what sets the Bacoor Reclamation Project apart from the efforts to other LGUs around the bay. It is a comprehensive solution to simultaneously address in city resettlement issues, water treatment, road congestion and coastal management in one package. It takes inspiration from the best reclamation projects abroad.

Most important, the ambitious project is fully supported by the citizens of Bacoor. All the barangay councils have signed on to a manifesto of support for the project spearheaded by Mayor Lani Mercado.

The comprehensive plan drawn up by Bacoor could be a model for other coastal communities.

FIDEL RAMOS RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE
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