By Cai Ordinario, February 5, 2021; Business Mirror

With less than two years left, the Duterte administration remains confident it can still attain the targets set under the updated Philippine Development Plan (PDP), the country’s medium-term socioeconomic blueprint, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Neda Policy and Planning Group Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon told the BusinessMirror the targets remain attainable because much of the groundwork has been included in the ReChargePH framework, the country’s recovery plan from the Covid-19 pandemic.

ReCharge PH sought to refocus, sharpen the design and accelerate the implementation of programs under the 2020 General Appropriations to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and help the Philippine economy recover from the sharp decline by the second quarter of the year.

“The priorities we have enumerated [in the PDP] are also the ones in ReCharge PH. That is why we have already started implementation of the strategies,” Edillon said. She noted in a briefing that the priority of the Duterte administration in the last two years is to recover from the Great Lockdown.

Some of these targets, Edillon said, could even be exceeded, given recent developments. This includes the PDP growth target for 2022 which is pegged at 6.5 to 7.5 percent.

This target is already lower than the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) projection of 8 to 10 percent for 2022.

“We think that we can actually surpass that target [DBCC]. We have come up with this target [DBCC] early on as we were updating the PDP. Given recent developments, we at the DBCC are setting for ourselves a higher target and we think we have the wherewithal to be able to grow much faster than the PDP,” she said in a briefing.

Meanwhile, some targets were adjusted to take into consideration the impact of the pandemic on Filipinos. This includes the country’s poverty reduction targets.

Edillon said in the original PDP, the target was to reduce poverty incidence to 13 to 15 percent. However, in the updated PDP, the target is to clock in a 15.5 to 17.5 percent poverty incidence rate this year.

She explained that there is no poverty incidence target for 2022 because the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) will not be conducted in 2022.

“At the time we were planning for the PDP, there was already a plan for a bi-annual collection of the FIES and that’s the reason we have a 2022 target, but that has been changed so that now there will no longer be a 2022 collection of the FIES,” Edillon explained.

The FIES is a survey that is conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) every three years. It was last done in 2018 and will again be conducted this year.

Government uses the results gleaned from the FIES to compute poverty incidence nationwide. Poverty incidence is determined using poverty thresholds.

Based on the official PSA estimates, National Statistician Claire Dennis S. Mapa earlier said the poverty threshold was estimated at P25,800 per year per Filipino or, for a family of five, P126,000 per year.

Individuals and families who earn less than this amount annually are automatically considered poor in the government’s estimates. Mapa said there are about 3 million families who are poor, consisting of around 17.67 million or close to 18 million individuals.

Employment and social protection
Not all targets will be positive. In terms of employment, the target is to see unemployment average 7 to 9 percent in 2021 and 2022, higher than the 3.8 to 5.2 percent average in 2020.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua explained during the briefing that this target is feasible given the number of new entrants to the labor force expected, particularly in 2022.

By 2022, Chua said, the labor force will welcome the first College graduates who completed the K-12 education system. The number of graduates would likely swell the ranks of the unemployed.

Moreover, efforts to digitalize, which have already begun and likely to continue, will make the labor market “tight” this year and in 2022.

“By the end of 2020, we are still short by 1.8 million jobs. By 2021, we expect to generate between 2.4 million and 2.8 million jobs. However, we do expect some new entrants into the LF [labor force], hence the higher unemployment rate,” Edillon told the BusinessMirror.

“The push for digitalization is happening now. In fact, the different training programs for digital skills for individuals and businesses started last year. But you are right; we may not see the fruits right away, that is why we are pushing for more graduate scholarship programs and apprenticeship,” she added.

In order to help the unemployed and the vulnerable in society, given the lessons of the pandemic, the government will endeavor to achieve universal social protection through the development of a Social Protection Code and institutionalize a Social Protection Floor.

Developing the code will require doing away with the duplication of social protection interventions among government entities. It will also ensure that Filipinos living in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) will have access to social protection programs.

A social protection floor will also guarantee the access of people to social protection services. Once finalized, a policy directive will be issued to adopt and enumerate the components of the Social Protection Floor.

This effort will be aided by the implementation of the PhilSys or National ID, to be synchronized with the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) Listahan.

This will give rise to a registry of vulnerable groups that will address data constraints. This will help facilitate the delivery of social services and access to social protection programs.