Research group IBON said that the second year of slowing growth under the Duterte administration should be enough to jolt it out of its complacency and denial. The downturn in the last two years and the poor prospects in the year to come should be a wake-up call to start to undertake the difficult but necessary reforms for genuinely inclusive growth and national development.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported a 6.2% annual growth in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for 2018, lower than government’s revised growth target of 6.5-6.9% for the year. Government cited slowing agriculture and high inflation as among the main factors pulling back growth, while the main drivers were growth in construction, and trade and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, personal and household goods.
“Growth is slowing most of all because of the economy’s unsound fundamentals in backward agriculture and shallow industry,” said Sonny Africa, IBON executive director.
The agriculture sector registered just 0.8% growth in 2018 from 4% in 2017. This is the sector’s worst performance since its contraction in 2016. Yet, Africa said, the administration seems to have little interest in reversing this trend. For example, the Php49.3 billion agriculture department budget for 2019 proposed by Congress is Php1.4 billion less than the Php50.7 billion in 2018 (in equivalent cash-based terms).
Africa also noted that manufacturing growth slowed to 4.9% in 2018 from 8.4% the year before, which is the slowest since the 4.7% growth in 2011. He said that this is due to weaker demand in domestic consumption and weaker exports amid the global economic slowdown. Manufacturing also remains shallow in being low value-added, foreign-dominated, and dependent on foreign capital and technology.
Africa pointed out that recent rapid growth has instead relied on external short-term factors that are fading. Yet remittances are slowing, exports are falling, and interest rates are rising. The real estate and consumer spending booms are also petering out.
Growth in overseas remittances slowed from 5.0% in 2016 to 4.3% in 2017 to just 3.1% in the first 10 months of 2018, said Africa. Exports growth increased from 11.6% in 2016 to 19.5% in 2017, but then fell to 11.5% in 2018. Meanwhile, the benchmark overnight reverse repurchase (RRP) rate rose steeply from 3.0% in 2017 to 4.8% by end-2018, reversing the decade-long general decline in interest rates.
Africa also said that household consumption spending markedly slowed from 7.1% growth in 2016 and 5.9% in 2017 to just 5.6% in 2018. The real estate boom is also tapering with 2016 growth of 8.9% in real estate, renting and business activities declining to 7.4% in 2017 and falling further to just 4.8% in 2018.
“Rising government spending and its infrastructure offensive haven’t been enough to offset the reliance on waning external factors,” said Africa. “The administration’s efforts to stimulate growth to its 7-8% target with even more spending, are not going to be enough amid high disguised unemployment, low incomes, and the global slowdown this year.” Global GDP growth is estimated to slow from 3.1% in 2018 to 3.0% this year.
“The Duterte administration needs to stop downplaying slowing growth and hyping that this as still among the fastest in the region and the world because the growth is becoming more jobless than ever,” Africa said.” The number of employed only increased by 162,000 from 41 million in 2016 to 41.2 million in 2018, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Average annual job creation was then only 81,000 in the period 2017-2018, which is the lowest level of job creation among post-Marcos administrations.
Africa said that government continues to ignore telltale signs of an economic downturn and deceive Filipinos with its rosy picture of the economy. He said that the sooner the administration admits the failure of its neoliberal policies, the sooner measures that will spur domestic industries and benefit the Filipino people can be implemented. ###