While the country continues to be bombarded from outside by negative coverage on the anti-narcotics war; the stalemate between Philippine Government forces and Islamic terrorists in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur on the southern island of Mindanao; and as members of Congress and the local media pick their sides in a mounting potential scandal that’s embroiled a leading official of the government, throwing new doubt on the integrity and ultimate outcome of last year’s national election, it’s time for some unfashionable good news from the Philippines – gross domestic product (GDP) growth up, infrastructure spending up; agricultural output up, Philippine medals in the Southeast Asian (SEA) games up.
The drugs war has generated a new all-consuming wave of emotion following the killing last week of a 17-year-old boy by anti-narcotics police. Church, civil rights and student groups have joined forces to call for an end to the government’s campaign.
The Battle of Marawi is now in its 13th week as the death toll ploughs through the 700 barrier and the Defence Ministry estimates that the relief of this southern city could take another couple of months.
Meanwhile, a very senior Philippine official, Andres Bautista, chairman of the Commission on Elections – the agency responsible for the integrity of the country’s elections – is the subject of probes by the Ombudsman’s Office, the National Bureau of Investigation and Congress into his alleged unexplained wealth. This is being linked, in some quarters, to possible election fraud committed during the May 2016 elections. The case of Mr Bautista.
But away from all these headlines are others stories which have been squeezed for space – stories that have nothing to do with blood and battle and possible breaches of the public trust. For while all that’s been going on, quietly – in the background – a number of very positive developments have been taking place. So let’s take a brief look at some of them.
GDP growth. In the second quarter of the year, GDP growth reached 6.5% – that was ahead of all the forecasts – and puts the Philippines behind China (6.9%) but ahead of every other country in the 10-states grouping of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
To emphasise that performance, Indonesia – the largest economy in Asean – grew 5.01%; second largest, Thailand, grew 3.7%; Singapore, went up by 2.5%. Currently, there are only three countries in the whole of Asia in the 6%+ Club of economic growth – China, India and the Philippines. Furthermore, the second-quarter result marks the country’s 74th consecutive quarter of growth. You’d have to look back to the 4th quarter 1998 to find the last time the Philippine economy contracted.
In line with this, BMI Research – part of the Fitch Group and a sister agency to credit-rater, Fitch Ratings – has made an upward revision of its growth forecast for the Philippines for next year, moving it to 6.3% from its previous call of 6.1%.
BMI says it’s “optimistic” and expects growth to average “a respectable 6.2% per annum in the next five years”. Over that period, the research provider says, that 6%+ growth for the country will be supported by a young Filipino population with an increased purchasing power.
But BMI wasn’t alone in revising up its growth estimates, Zurich-based multinational financial-services giant, Credit Suisse, did the same, upping its expectations for GDP growth from 6.0% to 6.1%.
Infrastructure spending. In the first half of the year, the government kicked PHP249 billion into infrastructure projects – that’s 5.3% above its projected target of PHP236.2 billion. New roads and long-overdue repairs to old ones took much of the cash.
Brand new big ticket projects are now in the pipeline for the next push in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bold PHP8 trillion ‘Build, Build, Build’ extravaganza – the biggest-by-far infrastructure spending programme ever undertaken in the course of a single administration. That’s being rolled out through to 2022.
And what’s going to boost that going forward is part of a US$3.8 billion (PHP195.34 billion) loans package from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Just announced, this is to be made available under the ADB’s Country Operations Business Plan (CORB) for 2018 to 2022; it’s already been earmarked for spending on the key areas of infrastructure, social services and good governance. The infrastructure piece of this is worth PHP92.51 billion.
The ADB had previously expressed its support for Duterte’s infrastructure package with the bank’s president, Takehiko Nakao, affirming that improving and expanding transport connectivity across the archipelago is an ADB priority. Lack of adequate infrastructure, he said, remains a major constraint to the county’s growth prospects.
Among the first infrastructural works to benefit from the CORB infusion will be the PHP56.5 billion road and sea linkage – the Central Spine Roll On/Roll Off (RoRo) Project – which will move passengers, vehicles and goods along the backbone of the country through a system of super-highways and fast catamaran RoRo services linking up the three major island regions from Luzon to the Visayas to Mindanao.
On top of that, the ADB is considering co-financing, along with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – a government agency charged with coordinating official development assistance out of Japan – a number of rail projects, including the northerly section of the Philippine National Railways’ Manila-Clark Railway. Back on the rails.
This is the 69.5-kilometre Malolos to Clark section. Last November, JICA agreed to provide loans worth PHP114.33 billion to fund the southern section of track infrastructure and stations which will extend from Tutuban (Manila rail terminus) to Malolos. This section is scheduled for completion by early 2022; the entire line is expected to be operational by 2024.
Agricultural output. Agriculture Secretary, Manny Piñol, expects the recent growth in farm output to continue through to the end of the year. Year on year, the sector expanded by 5.28% in the first quarter of the year and rose by 6.18% in the second quarter.
Output of crops – including rice and corn – was up 11.72% and accounted for half of all farm production with good weather helping the harvest of 4.15 million tons of paddy rice.
And while livestock and fisheries declined – 1.38% and 2.93% respectively – poultry production rose by 8.36%. That said, this sub-sector is now being challenged. Last week’s outbreak of avian flu in Central Luzon – the country’s poultry-production hub – has necessitated the killing of 600,000 chickens and ducks. The bill for this is likely to be costly.
The Department of Agriculture has imposed a shipment ban prohibiting the movement of poultry products from Luzon to other parts of the archipelago. That’s likely to remain in place until at least the second week of September. Meanwhile, chicken and duck farmers within a 7-kilometre cordon sanitaire around the site of the original outbreak – the town of St Luis in Pampanga province – must halt all poultry production for a period of 90 days. Threat lurks in the wings.
SEA Games. At the 29th South East Asian Games being staged in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Philippine squad made an impressive start on Monday – the third day of competitions, winning gold and silver medals in both the men’s and the women’s triathlon events.
The men’s was won by Nikko Huelgas, with a time of 1:59:30, followed by team mate, John Chicano, who finished in 2:03:24. Kim Mangrobang (2:11:14) won the women’s event with team mate Claire Adora (2:18:58) taking the silver. This brings Team Philippines’ gold haul to three, following Mary Joy Tabal’s win in the women’s marathon on Saturday.
Two more silvers were grabbed by Filipino competitors on Monday – Samantha Catantan in the women’s individual foil event and Agatha Wong in women’s optional taijian
Going into Day 4 today, the Philippines is lying in 6th position with a tally of three Golds, six Silvers and six Bronzes. That tally is expected to be added to again today.
Meanwhile, there’s still a long way to go in these games which will run for another nine days, concluding on Wednesday 30 August. By then, in total, 404 competitions will have been held across 38 sports.
The next staging on the SEA Games will be in 2019 when the Philippines will be the host. This decision was made just four days before the commencement of this year’s gathering. The Philippines which had originally offered to fill the place of Brunei which had pulled out, citing “financial and logistical reasons” for its decision, had also withdrawn as host following the government’s initial plan to divert the funds for staging the games to assist the rehabilitation effort for residents of Marawi City.
Foreign Affairs Secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano will officiate as chairman of the organising committee for the 2019 South East Asian Games which will be held at venues in Central Luzon – most likely at the Philippine Arena at Bocaue in Bulacan province – the world’s largest indoor arena with a seating capacity just shy of 52,000.
It nothing else, this sample of good news for the Philippines hopefully will serve as a much needed intermission in the coverage of darker events concerning the country.