Fact: The gov’t has done a lousy job

By: Solita Collas-Monsod - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | September 19,2020 - 08:00 AM

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) just came out with growth forecasts for the region as well as member countries. Developing Asia is to contract by 0.7 percent this year, and Developing Asia without the newly industrialized economies will contract by 0.5 percent. The Philippines will contract by 7.3 percent, and Thailand will contract by 8 percent.

What is the message that we get? That since every country, or almost everyone, will experience growth contraction, we’re not doing so bad after all, especially since Thailand is not doing as well. The worst is over. Our government has done about as good a job as any other. Duterte pa rin.

Wrong, Reader. This government has not done as good a job as any other, and I am outraged that as a result, we have allowed so many of our middle and lower economic class Filipinos to suffer. We all should be told the truth, and President Duterte should apologize to the people for the ineptitude of his government. In fact, whether he is sick or not, I think he should step down, and allow Vice President Leni Robredo to take over. Then we will have a better chance of getting over the health and economic crisis that this administration has exacerbated.

Why do I think the government has done a lousy job? Let’s look at the ADB data. Only consider, Reader. As of the end of 2019 (pre-COVID-19), the Philippines’ growth performance of 6 percent made it rank No. 4 out of the 11 countries (Cambodia 7.1 percent, Vietnam 7 percent, Myanmar 6.8 percent) in Southeast Asia. Compare that to Thailand’s 2.4 percent, second to the bottom (Singapore was the bottom at 0.7 percent). Obviously, the Philippines was far above the average growth for the region, which was 4.4 percent.

Then, COVID-19 struck. And in ADB’s April 2020 outlook, the Southeast Asian region’s growth performance was forecasted to slow down to 1 percent. The Philippines was expected to have a growth performance of 2 percent (higher than the regional average), while the forecast for Thailand was -4.8 percent.

But that was before the Philippines’ actual growth (more specifically, a contraction) for the first six months was published. And the country showed a huge contraction in this year’s second quarter of 16.5 percent (first quarter, -0.7 percent). Reader, the Philippines has been keeping track of its GDP since 1946. Never before, not even in the country’s debt crisis under Ferdinand Marcos, has it performed so poorly.

If President Duterte wanted to emulate Ferdinand Marcos, his idol, he has certainly done it, in spades.

And now, in its latest forecast, the ADB expects the country to contract by 7.3 percent, much deeper than the Southeast Asian average of 3.8 percent. If we actually contract as much as predicted, the question now is: How did the Philippines deteriorate from being the fourth best performing country in 2019 to the second to the worst performing country in 2020?

Studies have shown that the major factor that accounts for differences in growth performance between countries is government policies and institutions (accounting for 70-79 percent of differentials—initial conditions, natural resources and geography, and demography account for the rest).

Conclusion: We should never have contracted as badly as we did. Who is responsible for this? Without a doubt, the Duterte administration.

But we don’t have to even look at the data to conclude that the government is responsible. All we have to do is look at who was crowing over the Philippines’ growth performance in the past four years. Was it not the administration? Therefore, they should take responsibility for this year’s execrable performance, too.

And Reader, you can see why President Duterte and his administration stumbled so badly: Instead of concentrating on the problem at hand, there were too many distractions—it had to destroy ABS-CBN, it had to pass an anti-terrorism bill, it had to try to establish a revolutionary government, it had to protect the Chinese government, it had to conceal the problems regarding the President’s health from the people.

And who suffers for this? Let me remind you, Reader. It is the middle class and the poor. That’s at least 90 percent of our population.

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