Today, the day after Christmas, is known as Boxing Day in England and Australia. In the last century, English boys used to go to boarding school and only come home for Christmas Day. The next day they must put their Christmas presents back in their boxes and return to school. Box them, hence Boxing Day. A tough life.
We’re lucky that we can continue to enjoy our presents. As I write this, I’ve no idea what mine will be, but I have a loving wife and a couple of adorable kids (well not exactly adorable. Being in their mid-30s, they’re a bit beyond the adorable stage. But they take after their mother, they’re good-looking). So I guess I’ll get the kind of presents I like. A Merc from Felix Ang would go down well, but I suspect it will be something rather less than that.
Anyway, it’s a day to reflect on the year that’s flown past so quickly. It’s been a typical Philippine year, full of controversy, of scandals, of politics at its best (or worst, to be honest about it). But one of excitement and challenge. There’s never a dull day in the Philippines.
The year started badly, with the House of Representatives not representing the people but themselves with a demand for money each legislator could distribute to projects of their personal choosing. It delayed the budget for three months. Which, when added to the two-month pre-election ban, set the “Build, Build, Build” program back almost half the year. It sliced 0.5-1 percent of GDP growth. The administration did well to recover and get infra build back on track. But the damage had been done. The lesson was learnt, and the 2020 budget got passed before Congress retired for Christmas.
Congress didn’t, though, pass the tax reform bill into law. And that is a great shame, as it is urgently needed so we can get new investments back on track. Business does not invest in uncertainty. The 37-percent decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the first nine months of the year can be laid at the feet of Congress.
But there was also a lot of good stuff during the year.
The year ended in splendor, with Philippine athletes romping away with 149 gold medals, 117 silvers and 121 bronzes to dominate the Southeast Asian Games, which showed the best of the Philippines as the initial glitches faded away. Now the Philippines will host the 2020 Asian Swimming Championships, following the completion of the world-class aquatic facilities in New Clark City.
Poverty incidence declined to 16.6 percent in 2018 from 23.3 percent in 2015. This is definitely good news for this administration. As former socioeconomic chief and fellow Inquirer columnist Winnie Monsod noted in her previous column, “not since the Ramos administration has the war on poverty been so effectively pursued; it managed to reduce family and population poverty incidence by 8.8 and 8.3 percentage points respectively between 1994 and 1997.”
S&P upgraded the credit rating of the Philippines to “BBB+” stable, a notch away from “A” rating. This indicates that despite the political noise, global credit rating firms have confidence in the country’s economic growth prospects. This positive outlook is likely to be reinforced by the enactment of tax reform bills pending in Congress—but is at risk if the water issue isn’t carefully handled.
The passage of the Universal Health Care Act is definitely a plus for all Filipinos. This should minimize Filipino households’ health-related out-of-pocket expenses. But it will be many years before it’s all fully working.
Rice was liberalized, and the price came down. Not enough yet—the avarice of the cartelized middlemen still has to be thwarted. Let’s hope they’re put in their place in 2020.
The implementation of the Ease of Doing Business Act and the creation of the Anti-Red Tape Authority—these measures should help the country improve its global Doing Business ranking and eventually entice more foreigners to invest in the country.
Then there’s the decades-long ratification of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. This should help foster lasting peace in Mindanao and pave the way for its full economic development. The region has vast natural resources waiting to be tapped and unlocked.
I’ll leave the bad for another day. Let’s relax with some good thoughts today. I hope you enjoyed a Merry Christmas with your family.
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