A record-high national budget | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

A record-high national budget

/ 04:35 AM July 10, 2024

On Monday, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that the ranks of the country’s unemployed swelled last May to 4.1 percent of the labor force, the highest level in four months as more Filipinos actively looked for jobs.

The disappointing unemployment report came on the heels of a similarly disheartening survey of the Social Weather Stations showing that the number of Filipino families who experienced “involuntary hunger” — defined as experiencing hunger and not having access to food at least once in the past three months — rose to 14.2 percent in March 2024.

The March number exceeded the 2023 rate of 10.7 percent and was the highest since the 16.8 percent recorded in May 2021.

Adding to the country’s pain is the July 1 report of the World Bank revealing that the Philippines has remained a lower-middle-income country, earning for it the unwanted distinction of being the only country among the original members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations yet to graduate to upper-middle-income status.

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All of these challenges are adding to the already immense pressure on President Marcos to deliver on his promise of a better life for Filipinos, especially as he detailed in his inaugural State of the Nation Address (Sona) in 2022 the aspiration for the Philippines to become an upper-middle-income country by the end of this year.

Quality of jobs

That hope had already been dashed, but all is not lost. The World Bank reported that the country’s gross national income per capita, for example, hit a record high of $4,230 in 2023, a 7.1-percent increase from the previous year’s $3,950, and overshooting the target of $4,130 to $4,203 set in the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028.

This as the Philippines continues to recover from the extensive damage wrought by the restrictive COVID-19 lockdowns as well as newer challenges such as elevated prices of basic commodities and the policy rate of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas on which banks’ lending rates are pegged at 17-year highs.

The Marcos administration can also take heart from the latest underemployment rate, which dropped to 9.9 percent last May, far lower than the 11.7 percent in the same month last year and the 14.6 percent posted in April.

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The notable decline points to an improvement in the quality of jobs as there are fewer employed individuals wanting to have additional hours of work for better compensation.

But despite these welcome developments set against a backdrop of increased joblessness and hunger, Secretary Arsenio Balisacan of the National Economic and Development Authority knows full well that rejoicing will have to wait as the Marcos administration’s mission “is far from complete.”

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Poverty rate

More than the record high per capita income, Balisacan said that what matters more “is that the fruits of economic growth — opportunities, better jobs, and higher incomes — are felt by all Filipinos, especially the poor.” The government must persist in its efforts to reduce the poverty rate to a single-digit level by 2028, he said.

To achieve this, it becomes even more critical for the government to ensure not only that this year’s approved budget is spent as planned but that the proposed 2025 National Expenditure Program — “designed to fulfill needs, aspirations of Filipinos”—is indeed responsive to the country’s priorities for the majority of its people, of which one of every five is considered poor.

The proposed 2025 budget of P6.352 trillion, 10.1 percent higher than this year’s P5.768 trillion expenditure program, is another record-high national budget.

According to Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman, the proposed budget “seeks to continue fostering economic and social transformation for a prosperous, inclusive, and resilient future under the President’s vision of a Bagong Pilipinas.”

“We have crafted this carefully and meticulously to ensure that we stay on track with our economic growth targets while ensuring no one is left behind,” Pangandaman added.

Twin targets

The education sector will continue to get the biggest percentage of the national budget, with budget increases allotted for the health sector, the local government units as well as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Lawmakers, civil society, and the public will get the chance to scrutinize the hefty 2025 budget when it is presented to Congress within 30 days from Mr. Marcos’ coming Sona.

Pangandaman, who chairs the Development Budget Coordination Committee, said she hoped that the approval and the faithful execution of the budget — which reflects the Marcos administration’s priorities — would help the Marcos administration attain its twin targets of achieving the elusive upper-middle-income status and single-digit poverty levels by the time it steps down in 2028.

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Hoping is all good, but what the Filipino people want is for the Marcos administration to do less of the wishing and more of the actual doing so that the programs enshrined in the 2025 budget will deliver the promised results.

TAGS: Editorial, opinion

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