Government leaders have underscored the achievements made by the Philippines in 2017 when the country realized a 6.7 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product
(GDP), making the country of more than 104 million people and archipelago of over 7,000 islands, the third fastest growing economy in Asia. The Philippines placed third after China, which attained 6.9 percent growth, and Vietnam with 6.8 percent. Many would ask why a once war-ravaged country like Vietnam has overtaken the Philippines, described as next only to Japan in the 1960s, in terms of economic growth. Recently, the Central Bank of the Philippines reported a "new record high" in foreign remittances, which amounted to US$31.3 billion or 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product and 8.3 percent of its gross national income (GNI). More than 80 percent of the total remittances to the country come from Filipino workers in the Americas, Middle East, and in some European and even Asian countries. A total ban on the deployment of workers to Kuwait, and possibly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is expected to affect remittances this year.
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Socioeconomic experts have often said that the country's growth is fueled by consumer spending, most of which is sourced from remittances and revenues generated from business process outsourcing facilities. Inclusive growth has been the goal of government leaders for decades, but it has remained a dream because most Filipinos have not gained directly from improvements in GDP and GNI. While the government has implemented a conditional cash transfer
to help the poorest of the poor, the effect of the project on the ground will only be felt years from now. It is ironic that food expenditure increased from 38.3 percent in 2012 to 41.9 percent in 2015. It only means that food is no longer cheap in this agricultural country. On the part of the Catholic Church in the country, social action desks in every ecclesial province have already implemented programs aimed at lifting the situation of the poor, including those within and around growth centers and rural areas. Church leaders and faith-based groups are not wanting in doing share to, for instance, provide links between farmers and producers and processors and businessmen. It is not rare to see priests and nuns making their presence felt in skills upgrading and sustainable development programs. There was once a mechanism introduced years ago where village and church leaders work together to address the immediate concerns of communities, whether it was livelihood or peace and order problems. The program known as Ugnayan ng Barangay at Simbahan
(Village and Church Alliance) was supposed to be a strategic partnership of government agencies and faith-based groups. But in recent months, it has metamorphosed into a monitoring group that helps policemen identify suspected drug users and peddlers later targeted by assassins. In war-torn Marawi in Mindanao and in Albay province where a volcano continues to spew lava, inclusive growth is farthest from the minds of internally displaced persons and evacuees camped in overcrowded schools that serve as temporary shelters. For victims of natural and man-made calamities, inclusive growth could only be felt in the delivery of basic government services. Without these minimum services, people forget the existence of a government or a semblance of it. Every time reports on growth rates are discussed, it should be imperative for both government and church leaders, and the academe too, to take a long, hard look at existing gaps between the very few rich and the millions of poor. An objective examination will surely reveal that the gap has continued to increase over the past few decades. Did the economic gains in recent years result in humane and decent work for the country's workforce? It is interesting to note that an average of 6,299 workers left the country daily from January to June last year. Poverty manifests its ugly head in many areas in the Philippine capital where informal settlers have built what they call homes along waterways, making them vulnerable to disasters. Church leaders are aware that there is no such thing as a "trickle-down effect" from economic gains. With uncertainties in the global political landscape, gains from remittances and the business process outsourcing industry may suffer a downturn. Government and church leaders, therefore, should be able to look into possible alternatives to keep skilled and unskilled Filipino workers employed and their productivity enhanced. Proof of success should be the voluntary transfer of informal settlers in cities to their home provinces. Failure to do so would make the much-touted inclusive growth in the country an impossible dream. Melo Acuna has worked as a broadcast journalist for the past three decades. He has spent time with faith-based groups in various dioceses in the Philippines through his work as reporter, and later as station manager of church-run radio Veritas 846.