Enormous challenges face our next president

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

Bridge Construction | MTA Photos via Flickr/Commons 2.0

With at least five major candidates filing for president of the country in the May 2022 elections, there is no doubt that popularity will not be enough to bring the country together, but the ability of the new leadership to put together a good economic team, coupled with experienced health experts in the aftermath of the worst pandemic to hit the world.

Whoever is the next occupant of Malacanang will face enormous challenges. As highly respected NEDA chief Karl Chua said, it will take ten years for the economy of the Philippines to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and return to pre-pandemic growth. While the economy is slowly recovering and expected to expand by up to five percent this year, Secretary Karl warned that we would feel the losses up to the next 10 to 40 years.

A critical factor in sustainable recovery would be the vaccination rollout. As averred by economists from First Metro Investment Corp. and the University of Asia and Pacific in their September Call Market Report, they said they “remain confident that the economy will overcome the current obstacles – especially with faster vaccination rollouts and better weather conditions.”

It goes without saying that economic recovery will be an uphill climb, with the government doing a tough balancing act between lives and livelihood. However, several positive developments are driving optimism, such as the decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and the lowering of hospital admissions. The government is set on vaccinating at least 50 percent of the target population by the end of this year. It is also speeding up the rollout to reach the target of 80 to 90 percent immunization by the first quarter of 2022.

“It goes without saying that economic recovery will be an uphill climb, with the government doing a tough balancing act between lives and livelihood. However, several positive developments are driving optimism, such as the decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and the lowering of hospital admissions”

Secretary Charlie Galvez has confirmed that we have secured enough vaccines, which is why guidelines for the vaccination of children aged 12 to 17 are now being drafted to expand the vaccination coverage. In addition, booster shots will be administered to health care workers starting in November. Worldwide, scientists are optimistic that the pandemic will be “under control” by next year because of the effectiveness of the vaccines, particularly the US-made ones, plus the emergence of promising drugs and other therapies to treat severe COVID-19 infection.

According to the Asian Development Bank, sustained growth in public infrastructure spending is necessary for the country’s economic growth this year and next. Even the United States recognizes the importance of investing in infrastructure to revive its economy, underscored by the massive $2-trillion social infrastructure bill being pushed by President Biden.

Under the proposed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, new spending is outlined to modernize, improve or rehabilitate roads, bridges, and transport systems over five years as America’s roadways are deteriorating, while over 45,000 bridges are described to be in poor condition. According to the “2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the current state of US infrastructure only merits a grade of “C” and would need about $2.6 trillion over the next decade to put everything in good condition.

Aside from roads and bridges, the US infrastructure bill also covers spending to improve broadband internet access with an estimated 40 million Americans having no broadband access; upgrade public rail and other transport systems; improve airports and ports; expand the network of electric vehicle charging stations and rebuild or improve water and power systems, among others.

“As articulated by Build Build Build committee chairman Anna Mae Lamentillo, a good infrastructure network is necessary to achieve tangible and inclusive economic growth, citing the risks and difficulties that people in the countryside go through because of the lack of roads and bridges.”

Everyone knows the critical role of infrastructure in generating jobs and spurring economic growth, especially during an economic depression. Certainly, the P39.5 billion released by the Development Bank of the Philippines for infrastructure lending to both private and government firms to finance over 400 infrastructure projects across the nation is a big step in the right direction.

As articulated by Build Build Build committee chairman Anna Mae Lamentillo, a good infrastructure network is necessary to achieve tangible and inclusive economic growth, citing the risks and difficulties that people in the countryside go through because of the lack of roads and bridges. To date, some 29,264 kilometers of roads, 5,950 bridges, 11,340 evacuation centers, 150,149 classrooms, 214 airport projects, and 451 seaport projects have been completed under the Build Build Build program, said Lamentillo, who believes he should institutionalize the program.

The World Bank report titled “Well Maintained: Economic Benefits from more Reliable and Resilient Infrastructure” also highlights the importance of keeping infrastructure in good condition to boost prosperity. G20 finance ministers have placed infrastructure maintenance at the top of their policy agenda, seeing it as an investment with significant, long-term benefits.

Clearly, our next president will need a good economic team to boost economic recovery efforts and navigate the country’s challenges in the coming years.

For our part, we continue the work we have been doing with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and the Department of Trade and Industry to attract American companies that are planning to relocate to the ASEAN region as part of their diversification efforts from China.

As the current chairman of the ASEAN Committee in Washington, my focus will be on our country’s economic recovery and the region. We have lined up several economic activities, such as the embassy’s first in-person networking event with the US Chamber of Commerce. We also plan to hold several hybrid forums with US business groups and put together investment promotions forums with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) headed by Director General Charito Plaza.
Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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