2015: Search for Aquino's successor, challenges to economic growth

(From left) Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senator Grace Poe and Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II. (Sun.Star file)

MANILA — Like any other year under President Benigno Aquino III’s rule, 2014 was marked with political confrontations.

These include Aquino’s displeasure with the Supreme Court decision against his Disbursement Acceleration Program, the jailing of three senators implicated in the pork barrel scam, term extension talk, scuttled Aquino impeachment bid, corruption allegations against Vice President Jejomar Binay and intramurals between personalities of the next biggest political event: 2016 presidential elections.

Amid the political noise, lawmakers devoted time to several measures, which led to the enactment of bills concerning education, health, social reform package, consumer protection and disaster preparation and response.

Among the enacted measures in the list of legislative priorities were the following: 1) Republic Act (RA) 10635 – Establishing the MARINA as the Single Maritime Administration; 2) RA 10638 – Extending the corporate life of the Philippine National Railways for another 50 years; 3) RA 10641 – Allowing the full entry of foreign banks; 4) RA 10644 – Promoting job generation and inclusive growth through the development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises; 5) RA 10645 – An Act providing for the mandatory PhilHealth coverage for all senior citizens; 6) RA 10647 – Strengthening the ladderized interface between Technical-Vocational Education and Training and Higher Education; and 7) RA 10648 – Providing Scholarship grants to top graduates of all public schools.

Other important laws include the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act; Strengthening the Anti-Drug Campaign; Picture-based (cigarette) Health Warning Act; Iskolar ng Bayan Act; and the Open Learning through Distance Education.

Another vital measure passed by the House of Representatives was the much debated Joint Resolution No. 21 granting Aquino emergency powers to facilitate the expeditious acquisition of additional power generating capacities in anticipation of possible power crisis next year.

The House-approved resolution is now awaiting Senate action.

Congress also passed the P2.606-trillion national budget for 2015 and P22.46-billion supplemental budget for 2014. Both spending plans highlight rehabilitation and reconstruction projects in areas ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November last year.

“One has to monitor how the corresponding agencies will enforce these laws and mobilize the resources to ensure that they can implement the programs or seriously enforce the regulation,” Ronald Holmes, president of Pulse Asia Research Inc. told Sun.Star.

For 2015, Congress will continue to deliberate and hopefully pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, which aims to forge a final political settlement of the armed conflict in the south. The BBL will entrench the Bangsamoro political entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) by 2016.

Also in the legislative agenda is a package of reforms that will improve the business and investment climate, Senate President Franklin Drilon said.

Advocates of government transparency, meanwhile, are looking for signs that the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill will be passed into law.

“Aside from the FOI, measures that aim to revise the local government code, the party development act, and institutionalize participatory budgeting at the local and national level, are important,” said Holmes.

Race for Malacañang

2015 is also a time to keep a close eye on developments for the 2016 presidential race even as people have not made up their minds yet as to who should they pick.

Except for Binay, other potential players have yet to make an announcement including Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, ruling Liberal Party’s apparent choice for president, and Senator Grace Poe, surprise topnotcher in the 2013 midterm polls.

Poe has remained reluctant to run for a higher post, saying she is pre-occupied with her Senate work. But surveys showed she’s on the rise as people viewed her as one of three individuals with potential to assume the presidency by 2016.

She netted 21 percent in the Social Weather Stations poll, higher than Roxas’ 19 percent and second to Binay’s rating of 37 percent.

Buoyed by the survey results, some LP members are now keen on pushing for a Roxas-Poe ticket, a team-up that would be reportedly built on leadership, experience, integrity, and mass appeal.

“Mar has the track record and integrity to ensure continuity of what PNoy (President Aquino) has started. The truth about his person will contribute to this for the people will see his sincerity, dedication and passion to serve the Filipino people,” LP secretary general Mel Senen Sarmiento said in a text message to Sun.Star.

Poe, on the other hand, has charisma and untarnished image, he said.

Binay has yet to find a running-mate. Poe is also one of those being considered for the vice presidential slot, along with detained Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Batangas Governor Vilma Santos-Recto and businessman Manuel Pangilinan.

The filing of certificates of candidacy may take place in October 2015.

Economic prospects

Weak government spending and uncertainties in the global economy have tempered economic growth expectations for 2014.

For the first three quarters, the economy grew at an average of 5.8 percent, way below the official target of at least 6.5 percent.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the Philippines still has a chance to meet its 6.5-7.5 percent target for the whole year, citing improved business confidence and growth in industry and services sectors in the fourth quarter, despite foreign observations that it is unlikely to be met.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), for one, cut its 2014 forecast from 6.2 percent.

Moving into 2015, Balisacan said they have “to work even harder” to meet the 7-8 percent goal.

“Our wider fiscal space due to the country’s continuous rise in competitiveness ranking and investment grade ratings should allow us to accelerate implementation of infrastructure projects, particularly those that will address transport and logistical challenges to facilitate movement of people and goods,” he said.

He also cited opportunities presented by the country’s hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and the implementation of the Asean Economic Community by the end of 2015.

In a text message, University of Asia and the Pacific economist Cid Terrosa said growth in 2015 “will be close” to the government forecast.

He said greater government spending, investments, consumption demand, manageable inflation and cost of doing business and even election spending can support a pickup in growth next year.

Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno pegged 2015 growth at 6.2- 6.4 percent, similar to ADB’s 6.4 percent and lower than World Bank’s 6.7 percent.

“Agriculture will continue to be below its historical average because of El Niño. The global economy will continue to be weak especially Europe, Japan and China. Oil exporting countries like Russia, Venezuela, Indonesia, Iran and others will hit rough patches,” Diokno said in an email.

There will be a recovery in fiscal spending in 2015 but it will be muted, Diokno added.

“With the same (government) people, one can’t expect a different result. Besides, the increase in government budget is not phenomenal. The PPP (public private partnership) projects cannot be expected to take off in a dramatic way,” the University of the Philippines economist said.

Balisacan admitted that natural calamities and economic developments can affect growth prospects but he thinks the 7-8 percent is “still a very sensible, doable and realistic target.”

“Of course we are more optimistic than other forecasters. We have shown in the past that our performance was much better than what analysts thought,” he said. (Sunnex)

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