Let’s hope we don’t get left behind again

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

PBBM speaks at the opening ceremony of the 3rd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council in Cebu City on July 28, | Photo via PIA

Whenever there is a new administration, there is always that hope that things will get better. This sentiment was evident in the recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations, showing a record-high 96 percent of Filipinos welcoming 2024 with high hopes. The latest Pulse Asia survey also showed that 92 percent of Filipinos remain optimistic and hopeful for 2024 despite various challenges. “This is the prevailing sentiment in every geographic area and socio-economic grouping,” said Pulse Asia.

This positive sentiment is reflected in the decline in poverty incidence to 22.4 percent in the first half of 2023, with the decrease seen in 14 out of 17 regions in the country, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). According to the National Economic and Development Authority, poverty incidence will go even lower for the second half of 2023 once PSA data becomes available.

The government aims to reduce the poverty incidence rate to 12.9-13.2 percent in 2025 and to single-digit levels by 2028 – and this is possible if the country’s economic growth remains “robust and inclusive.”

The Philippine economy grew by 5.6 percent in 2023 – outpacing major economies in Asia that include China (5.2 percent), Vietnam (5.0 percent), and Malaysia (3.8 percent) – establishing the country as one of the best-performing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

The International Monetary Fund also noted that the Philippine economy has “emerged strongly from the pandemic,” with economic growth projected to “bounce back” to 6 percent in 2024.

I’m one of those who firmly believe the opportunity for our economic takeoff is coming our way, judging from the extraordinary, renewed interest in the Philippines from the Western world. A recent article in the East Asia Forum says economic planners maintain their optimism for the Philippines due to “a robust post-pandemic rebound and positive evaluations from credit rating agencies” (Standard & Poor’s affirmed the country’s “BBB+” long-term and “A-2” short-term credit ratings while Fitch kept its “stable” outlook for the Philippines).

The Philippines has really been getting a lot of attention after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took over, especially with his participation in international fora such as the UN General Assembly, the ASEAN and APEC Summits, the World Economic Forum as well as official and state visits that have brought attention to the country as a viable and smart investment choice.

Congressman Edcel Lagman says there is no executory law for PI as a route for Charter change. Senator Imee Marcos is correct in saying things should be done properly to avoid controversies.

“Allowing ourselves to be distracted by political divisions – we will indeed be left behind by our neighbors. To put it bluntly in Tagalog, “Wala na talaga mangyayari sa atin.”

From day one, I have been pointing out that the messaging for Charter change must be presented clearly and done properly to avoid suspicions of deceit on amendments to the economic provisions. The proposed changes must be debated thoroughly, not only in the halls of the Senate and Congress but in business and public forums as well.

Unfortunately, things are turning from bad to worse because of the political wrangling, compounded by fears of instability due to pronouncements made by former president Duterte about Mindanao’s secession. Senator Chiz Escudero and former senator Ping Lacson say this is totally unconstitutional because Article 1 of the 1987 Constitution states that “The national territory comprises the Philippine archipelago, with all the islands and waters embraced therein, and all other territories over which the Philippines has sovereignty or jurisdiction.”

Officials of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao also disagree with secession because they want to “help protect the gains of the peace processes,” urging Mindanaoans to “continue to support the current administration and allow peace and civility to reign.”

There are clear indications Vietnam and Cambodia are leaving behind the Philippines, and there is no doubt we need to move with dispatch on the economic provisions as an important step for bringing in foreign investments into the country. From where I sit, I know there is so much economic potential coming our way – but we need to get our act together because the uncertainty caused by divisive political rhetoric could turn off investors.

There is no question that we need to change the restrictive and overly protective economic provisions in the Constitution to achieve economic prosperity. As President Marcos himself said, “National security is no longer simply about territorial defense. Economic security is national security,” – and we need to upgrade the capability of the armed forces to defend our sovereignty and protect our maritime territory. We have so many grand plans in modernizing our armed forces, like purchasing our first submarine and other hardware as part of our military modernization plan – but if the economy is in shambles, there’s no way we can afford it.

Many Filipinos agree with Senate President Migz Zubiri, who gets it right: chaos and division are the last things we need. Allowing ourselves to be distracted by political divisions – we will indeed be left behind by our neighbors. To put it bluntly in Tagalog, “Wala na talaga mangyayari sa atin.”

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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