Last year, I put together some ideas on what needs to be done to solve the myriad problems that our country is facing.
Today, in light of a new administration and renewed hope for our country's future, I am once more sharing my "4 Proposed Solutions to Help Fix the Philippines"
1. Ending Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Economic Growth
The Philippines has been in a boom and bust cycle for several decades now. We have failed to achieve the necessary GDP growths to bring us to developed nation status relative to other East Asian nations (i.e., 8 percent growth of South Korea in the last 50 years and double-digit growth rates of China in the last 20 years). The best in 19 years we have achieved is 7.3 percent growth in 2007. The rest of the decade it has been 3 to 5 percent growth on average annually, too small to overcome poverty levels pegged at nearly 1/3 of the nation.
To achieve economic prosperity we must begin to hit 8 percent GDP growth annually for say at least a decade or so.
How do we begin to achieve this in the next 6 years? Where do we start?
By focusing initially on the following economic engine drivers with relentlessness and zeal, namely agricultural and fisheries modernization, rapid infrastructure development, tourism and education.
Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization/Protecting the Environment. If we are to achieve developed nation status in the next decade or so, we must address the incomes of those in the agricultural sector who comprise nearly half of our nation's population. Close to half of the population's incomes come from agriculture. Without a successful modernization of this sector we cannot hope to move away from poverty. The boom and bust cycle of our economy will not end. Upping the incomes of our farmers and fisher folk are fundamental and modernizing our agriculture and fisheries is key.
We must move towards self sufficiency in rice and food. We must ensure that the capacity and productivity of our farmers are increased by way of access to credit, training and other support services. We must mobilize agricultural communities in the local level with strong partnerships with the LGUs to make agricultural and fisheries modernization a reality.We actually have a program called the AFMA or the Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act but it has been implemented haphazardly and inconsistently.
Private sector investments in agriculture have also been less than ideal. There must be an effort as well to encourage the private sector to engage in agricultural enterprises.
The vision of AFMA was to pump in funds for the agricultural sector in the form of irrigation projects, farm implements, support services, research, post harvest facilities among others but funding has been minimal for the last decade since its enactment because of budget shortfalls. Also, we have had 5 agricultural secretaries in the last 6 years. Talk about consistency. Of course there is corruption that has taken away meager resources from the programs and benefitted a few rather than the farmers and the fisher folk. This too must be addressed and we will discuss this later on.
Environmental protection and the promotion of environment-friendly policies in agriculture and fisheries is also a must if we are to ensure that development is sustainable. Global warming and climate change issues need to be forcefully addressed if agricultural and aquatic resource productivity are made optimal.
Rapid Infrastructure Development. We need more six-lane highways throughout the country, more seaports, more airports and more railway systems to move us to developed nation status in a decade. Infrastructure will provide jobs. It will boost tourism, providing easy access for tourism spots to tourist arrivals.
We must modernize our infrastructure. Our road systems are antiquated. Our railway and mass transport systems moreso. We need to upgrade our seaports and our airports. All these require massive spending and government alone wont be able to do it. An Infrastructure Modernization Act similar to AFMA is a must. The private sector must be involved in helping fund these projects with a reasonable rate of return.
It is time to rethink how our infrastructure programs are laid down and implemented in the country. It has been riddled with corruption and has been slow in its implementation. The bureaucracy is slow to absorb the funds available for infrastructure. It is time to put in place out of the box solutions to decades old problems that refuse to go away. It is time put in place an Infrastructure Modernization Act (IMA) that will re energize the bureaucracy (or sidestep that part of the bureaucracy that refuses to adapt) and bring it to the level of its counterparts in ASEAN in terms of swiftness and efficiency in the implementation of these infrastructure programs.
Tourism Development. We must aggressively put in place the needed strategic plan to increase our tourism arrivals by 100 percent or some 6 million tourists by the end of 6 years beginning 2010. Data shows that each tourist arrival is equivalent to one job. To achieve this, we must take advantage of the recently enacted Tourism Development Act of 2009 and put in place a system that would harness private sector participation in tourism related enterprises.We need to create more hotel rooms, more transport businesses, more restaurants and more tourism related enterprises to absorb the influx of tourists. We must ensure that the culture of tourism is instilled in the service sector. We must provide the tourism and service sector the needed philosophy and paradigm shift that would make us competitive in ASEAN.
For every tourist arrival, a job is generated. Tourism revenue will boost our economy and provide the nation the needed revenues to fund other projects and programs. We must encourage overseas Filipinos to invest in Tourism related enterprises such as hotels,inns, bed and breakfast lodges, transportation and food businesses.
Ensuring Access to Quality Education and Health Services for All. There are studies that have shown that there is a direct relation between poverty incidence and the level of educational attainment. The higher the level of educational attainment, the less the incidence of poverty. Hence quality education is a means to address poverty reduction. It is also a means to ensure that our economy has the educated and capable workforce it needs to remain competitive in the 21st century where knowledge based economies it has been said will have the edge.
To ensure that quality education is achieved throughout the nation, the education sector must be mobilized down to the grassroots. The Local Governments, Parents, Teachers and Community Associations, the DEPED and the CHED must come together. Each play a crucial role in moving the education agenda forward. The national government must work towards providing LGUs with a greater role in pushing for quality education in the public schools system nationwide.
With the huge backlog of classrooms, teachers, desks and textbooks, legislation is necessary to modernize our education system by focusing on decentralization and devolution of both the funding and the responsibilities of the task of providing quality education to the local governments and local school boards.
We must likewise develop a progressive health agenda that will ensure that the poor have access to affordable health care. Productivity of our work force is greatly hampered when access to quality health services are minimal. Rural folk in particular must have greater access to health services if their productivity is to increase. Incidence of malnutrition among children must be curbed if they are to grow up as productive and responsible citizens of the nation.
In sum, agricultural and fisheries modernization, infrastructure modernization, tourism development and providing quality education for all should serve as the economic growth strategy that will bring us to the initial phase of finally ridding our nation of the poverty is has been saddled with all these decades. We say initial phase because to be sure, there are other key areas and sectors of the economy that need to be developed but what we have laid down are the key areas at this stage. In the medium and long term we must build our manufacturing and industrial capacity. We must strengthen our power and energy sector.
All photos by Liz Reyes