Building the Filipino nation anew

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MIGUEL DE GUZMAN

Under a new political environment, we can expect three things to happen to our social and business relationships. There will be pockets of change here and there. Either more sustainable reforms will be realized, or the status quo will persist.

Government operations and political processes in the next six years will certainly affect the everyday lives of Filipinos — economically, socially, politically.

The new government must keep in mind that the issues confronting the nation have numerous dimensions and must be addressed on multiple fronts. This should dictate what solutions are needed, and how these will be set in motion in order to achieve recovery and growth, more than two years after the pandemic first reached our shores.

These issues are known intimately by no less than the people themselves. In Pulse Asia’s February 2022 survey on the “Most Urgent National Concerns for a Presidential Candidate to Address,” the five top-of-mind concerns of the people were “Controlling inflation” (48%), “Improving/Increasing the pay of workers” (38%), “Reducing poverty of many Filipinos” (33%), “Fighting graft and corruption in government” (32%), and “Creating more jobs” (29%).

In March 2022, Pulse Asia also conducted a survey on the “Most Urgent National Concerns” and the findings showed the most pressing economic concerns of Filipinos — “Controlling inflation” (58%), “Increasing the pay of workers” (43%), “Creating more jobs” (31%), “Reducing the poverty of many Filipinos” (31%), and “Fighting graft and corruption in government” (26%).

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) currently reported that “The headline inflation in the Philippines increased further to 4.9% in April 2022, from 4% in March 2022. This is the highest recorded inflation since January 2019. Inflation in April 2021 was lower at 4.1%. The average inflation for the first four months of the year stood at 3.7%.”

These days, inflation is primarily driven by the economic scarring caused by the Duterte administration’s mismanagement of the health crisis and the sustained increase in oil prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

As to the rate of joblessness, the PSA showed that an additional 1.64 million employed individuals have been added to the employed population of 45.33 million in March 2021, as the labor participation rate marginally increased to 65.4% in March 2022.

Estimates on the rate of unemployment eased from 6.4% in February to 5.8% in March 2022, while the employment rate registered at 93.6% and 94.2% respectively in the same period. This, however, is still lower than the 94.7% employment rate in January 2020.

On the ground, Filipinos are feeling the pinch more than ever because of the high prices of commodities.

If it is at all any consolation, economic hardships triggered by the pandemic are now alleviated by the reopening of more business operations, spurred by the nationwide downgrading of alert restrictions.

The new president’s priorities to rebuild our much-battered nation could best be captured by the following:

First, pandemic management should always consider the economic and social consequences of any decision. The past two years have shown how feeble the country’s healthcare and social protection systems are. The poorer, more vulnerable segments of society suffered from these gaps. An enhanced social protection system will provide a bigger cushion for externalities and disasters.

Second, an enabling and stable environment should be laid down for the private and non-government sectors.

The past administration’s whimsical and arbitrary decisions and pronouncements created the culture of animosity between government, the private sector, and civil society. The initiatives of the private sector and civil society in alleviating the crisis and reinvigorating the economy were downplayed.

Without this, the private sector could have accomplished greater deeds. If it were only seen as a valuable partner by the government, it could have done more to uplift the economic and social lives of the people.

With the new political set-up, a three-way trusting relationship between government, the private sector, and civil society will be essential in the promotion of business operations, social relations, and national recovery and development efforts.

Third, the state-centered approach of the past administration should be relaxed, if not put to rest. More significantly, it would be much better if the new government became more citizen-responsive. The delivery of public services could be more effective and driven by Filipinos’ most urgent concerns.

Rebuilding the Filipino nation, corroded by the COVID-19 pandemic and management gaps, needs the establishment of a socio-economic consensus toward post pandemic recovery and growth.

There must be a meeting of minds between the new president and the different stakeholders and sectors of society. Only this will guarantee an inclusive and sustainable national development.

With good wishes and aspirations for the Filipino people, let us all tread past the old order and move forward to a new direction and future.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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