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May 23, 2016

Enter the Presumptive President: What Lies Ahead?

Choosing the President’s men (and women)
Presumptive President Duterte is presently busy selecting the members of his cabinet, as well as other officials to fill up 6,000 positions in the bureaucracy.  As an organization advocating inclusive social and economic development, Social Watch Philippines believes that the choice of the members of the cabinet and other appointive officials is crucial to the success of the incoming administration.

“Cabinet officials are charged with the difficult task of implementing policies and programs of the government.  They are tasked with actual delivery of services.  As such, they are expected to be professionals who are preferably experts in the assigned tasks of their respective departments,” Prof. Leonor Magtolis Briones, Lead Convenor of Social Watch Philippines pointed out.

A former president who is known for the high caliber of his cabinet has this to say: “It is impossible for a president to know everything. He is not expected to know agriculture, science and technology, education, and the entire array of government services. This is why he has to get experts and professionals for his cabinet.”

Prof. Briones further pointed out that “members of the cabinet should not only be experts. They have to be prepared to implement the law, and protect the Constitution. It will also be helpful if they are accepted by their respective constituencies. It must be recognized that the Commission on Appointments will have the final say in appointments. Finally, it will be wise to ensure regional and gender balance in the cabinet.”

The declaration of amnesty and the grant of at least four key government cabinet positions to the Communist Party of the Philippines will only be legitimate after the successful conduct of negotiations for amnesty. It is expected that there will be conditions from either side.

Amnesties have been successfully granted before. Nonetheless, an important question is “will the same concessions be granted to other communist parties who adhere to communism”?

The President’s economic team and the need for a harmonized development plan
“Since the announcement of some incoming agency heads, the formation of the President’s economic team (comprising of NEDA, DOF, DBM) becomes crucial in laying down the details of the 8-point economic agenda, setting macroeconomic and fiscal policies, and importantly, crafting of development plan and policies and the corresponding budget to effectively address socio-economic issues,” Briones emphasized.

“The development plan will have to harmonize the objectives of the 8-point economic program which is directed to the business sector and the social development sectors which have been promised to the CPP-NDF,” she added.


The 8-point economic agenda and the socio-economic situation
“It seems that the outline of Duterte’s 8-point economic agenda is similar to the programs of the other Presidential candidates. Some of the present key economic policies will be carried over by the next administration,” Briones observed. SWP’s Lead Convenor called on presumptive President Duterte to open discussions on fleshing out the details of the agenda to the public for further scrutiny and dialogue.

She also noted that while growth for the past year surged due to election spending, it remains a question whether it will be sustained and create substantial impact for the poor and unemployed.

She further explained, “Expecting a 6.8%-7.8% growth this year, increased activity during election season (i.e. election year and the year preceding it) create a picture of progress and upward growth. This is brought about by election spending which generates more jobs such as in construction and campaign work, albeit temporarily. There is also an effect on banking and finance with the splurge of money circulating in the economy. It should be noted that Government Final Consumption Expenditure was at an average of 7.8% during full year (FY) 2015 compared to 3.3% in 2014. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth even registered higher rate during the fourth quarter of 2015 in 15.8% and 9.9% for the first quarter of 2016.”

According to the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA), the GDP grew by 5.9% during FY 2015. However, its distribution remained dismal since the agriculture sector posted only 0.1% growth while the major growth drivers in services and industry sectors posted 6.8% and 6.0% growth respectively. 2016 first quarter figures were higher as GDP posted 6.9% growth with services (7.9%) and industry (8.7%) driving the economy, while agriculture languished further at -4.4%

On the other hand, PSA estimated poverty incidence among the Filipinos at 26.3% during the first semester of 2015, half a percent above the 2014 figures. This will fall short of the MDG target of 17.2% by 2015. Meanwhile, Social Weather Stations (SWS) found out that 13.4% of the Filipino families experienced involuntary hunger in FY 2015.

Now that the elections are over, the question is whether post-elections growth will directly benefit the poor and the marginalized. “Will this be sustainable enough to lift people out of poverty?” Briones asked.

What is in store for the youth?
PSA’s Labor Force Survey in January 2016 recorded unemployment at 5.8% (equivalent to 2.469 million persons) and underemployment at 19.7% (equivalent to 7.879 million persons). In terms of age brackets and educational attainment, PSA stated that the unemployed consisted mostly of those aged 15-24 years old (1.189 million or 48.2%) and those in the prime working age (25-34 years old) at 1.179 million or 47.8 percent; and those who have reached high school (1.120 million or 45.4%) and college (844.4 thousand or 34.2%) levels.

“Even excluding data from Leyte in the past eight quarters, there has been little change in unemployment and underemployment. And considering that persons at work are defined by the Labor Force Survey as those working even for an hour a week, these figures show how the state of employment is much more precarious than presented”, Prof. Briones remarked.

She also made a point over how the youth have influenced the outcome of the elections. “Clearly, the younger age brackets (18-24 and 25-34), who are the supposed to be the most productive citizens, have expressed their frustration over the unchanging employment situation. The emergence of millennial voices happened because many of the youth are jobless.”

Closing statement
The first 100 days will be a critical reflection of President Duterte’s vision for the country and a building block of what it is to come for the next six years. Prof. Briones called upon the citizens to continue campaigning for a budget that serves as genuine equalizer in addressing poverty, inequality and sustainable development. “We call the Duterte presidency to instill enabling mechanisms for citizens’ participation in public finance, foster transparency and accountability in spending people’s money and maintain the balance of power in government,” she said in closing.

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