By Cai Ordinario, July 25 2018; Business Mirror


Image Credit to Business Mirror

THE Philippines’s socioeconomic challenges have been cited as among the reasons the country has lagged behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of growth and development.

Given this predicament, the Australian government, in the decades that it has nurtured its partnership with the country, has been helping its host nation change its fate for the better.

In recent years, the focus of its local assistance has been in efforts to provide support for the country to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or the Global Agenda 2030.

Adopted in September 2015, the SDGs, or “global goals,” is a set of 17 socioeconomic objectives that 193 United Nations-member countries, including the Philippines, are committed to meet by 2030. These are composed of 169 targets and about 300 indicators.

The SDGs aim at ending poverty and hunger, promoting universal health, encouraging education for all and lifelong learning, achieving gender equality, effecting sustainable water management, ensuring sustainable energy for all, promoting decent work for all, establishing resilient infrastructure, and reducing income inequality among countries.

The goals also include creating sustainable cities, ensuring sustainable consumption and production, taking action against climate change, conserving and sustaining the use of oceans and marine resources, reducing biodiversity loss, achieving peaceful and inclusive societies, and revitalizing global partnership for development.

In particular, Australia said its three strategic objectives in the Philippines are to enhance the foundations for economic growth by investing in infrastructure, providing aid for trade and education, building stronger institutions for transparent and accountable governance, and improving conditions for peace and stability.

The aggregate Australian official development assistance (ODA) to the Philippines is at $83.2 million from 2017 to 2018, and $85.4 million this year until 2019.

Total Australian ODA to the Philippines was around $84 million between 2015 and 2016, which represented around 0.3 percent of the Philippines’s annual government revenue of more than $42.5 trillion and overseas remittances of $28.5 billion.

“It is not the size of the program per se which is important, but rather its ability to leverage [on] change. Our economic partnership with the Philippines will focus on trade, investment and aid, working together to encourage growth,” the Australian government said in its Aid Investment Plan (AIP) for the Philippines 2015/2016 to 2017/2018.

Education: Largest ODA

AUSTRALIAN ODA to the Philippines by its Investment Priorities 2018-2019 showed that its largest investment in the country was in education at 42 percent, followed by infrastructure and building resilience with 18 percent each.

Effective governance accounted for 12 percent; while agriculture, fisheries and water accounted for 6 percent; general development support, 3 percent; and health, 1 percent.

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) ODA portfolio review for 2016 showed that Australia was the country’s fourth-largest source of foreign assistance for development.

The socioeconomic planning department said the Australian government financed a total of 73 ODA grant projects with a total amount of $823.78 million. This accounted for 5.28 percent of the country’s total ODA loans and grants portfolio in 2016.

During that year, the country had a total of $15.6 billion worth of ODA loans and grants portfolio, broken down into $12.21-billion loans and $3.39-billion grants.

In terms of grants, the Australian government is deemed as the Philippines’s second-largest source, which accounted for 20.53 percent of all ODA grants in 2016—second only to the United States.

BEST education program

BASED on Neda documents, the largest project of Australia as of December 2017 is the Basic Education Sector Transformation (Best) Program, which is being implemented with the Department of Education (DepEd).

The Best Program started in July 2013, following the approval of the Philippines’s Investment Coordination Committee and subsequent confirmation by the Neda.

“[It] aims to contribute to [the improvement of] the preparedness of school graduates in the Philippines, [for them] to participate productively in the work force, in technical vocational training and to undertake further stud[ies],” the Australian Embassy said of the program.

Best is being implemented in six target regions: the National Capital Region, Region 5 (Bicol), Region 6 (Western Visayas), Region 7 (Central Visayas), Region 8 (Eastern Visayas) and Region 10 (Northern Mindanao).

The program contributes to the improved quality of education outcomes, more equitable access of all people at all levels of education, and heightened service delivery through better governance.

Outcomes for the 2018 to 2019 implementation of the program includes increasing the number of children who can demonstrate mastery of basic education curriculum competencies, particularly English, mathematics and science.

It also hopes to improve the participation of boys and girls in school, as well as for the education department to improve its delivery of basic education services that are gender responsive.

The program has two major components: (1) the improvement of teaching and learning, and (2) strengthening systems. The first addresses barriers to learning achievement and student access, while the other addresses system issues facing the DepEd in delivering its services.

“Change management, action research and communications for development strategies have been built into the [above-mentioned] components to maximize the effectiveness of proposed interventions,” the Australian government said.

‘Education powerhouse’

ACCORDING to its embassy in Manila, Australia continues to be one of the top preferred learning destinations of Filipinos, with more than 10,000 students coming to the “Land Down Under” for their education every year.

The country is a global education powerhouse with some of the world’s best facilities and educators, providing students with over 22,000 courses across 1,100 institutions.

Australian education has a distinct focus on meeting global industry needs, providing quality training and connecting skills with job outcomes. The universities have a proven global track record, ranking consistently high for their quality of education, research and student satisfaction. Institutions continue to figure in the top-50 ranked universities in the world across a range of study fields, including arts and humanities, clinical, preclinical and health, engineering and technology, life sciences, physical sciences and social sciences.

In addition to its strong academic credentials, Australia has five of the 30 best cities in the world for students based on student mix, affordability, quality of life and employer activity.

Many of the international students who have studied in Australia have returned to their own countries and elsewhere in the world to become government ministers, business leaders, researchers, scientists, medical practitioners and community leaders. The Australian education system has produced scientists, designers, educators, entrepreneurs, artists and humanitarians who have changed the world and received acclaim—from the Nobel Peace Prize Awards, to the Oscars.

This year the Australian Embassy in the Philippines has been deploying a strategic digital marketing campaign to further highlight Australia’s quality and diverse educational offerings. A growing number of Filipinos are learning about the extensive range of institutions and exemplary campus life, hearing them directly from students and alumni about their personal stories and career outcomes.

(They may reference these pieces of information through the @Study in Australia and @Australia in the Philippines Facebook pages.)

Mitigating risks, conflicts

APART from Best and its efforts on education, the Australian government is also financing other socioeconomic projects in the country, including the $54.35-million Peace Building in Conflict-Afflicted Mindanao.

The endeavor is being implemented by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process in Regions 9, 10, 11 and 12, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Metro Manila.

Said list also includes nationwide projects, such as the $38.29-million Philippines: Disaster and Climate Risks Management; the $36.19-million Australia-World Bank Philippines Development Fund; and the $32.66-million Asia Foundation Partnership Philippines.

The country’s development challenges remain daunting, to say the least. Problems in education and disaster-risk reduction have been known as among the most persistent.

Notwithstanding, the efforts extended by the Australian government in changing the Philippines’s fate have given hope to many, especially those in sectors that have seen the worst of the country’s development challenges. Filipinos are one in hoping that more will continue to benefit from the best of what Australia has to offer in terms of development assistance. With a report from the Embassy of Australia in the Philippines.