With some 25 percent of Filipinos living in poverty, the biggest challenge for Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto “Ernie” M. Pernia is to significantly slash this figure to just 16 percent of the population by the end of President Duterte’s term in 2022.
In recent interviews, Pernia, 73, emphasized the need to distribute economic growth to benefit the countryside—not surprising given his extensive background and specialization in development economics.
The soft-spoken professor emeritus of economics at the University of the Philippines Diliman also counts demographic economics as well as human resource economics among his fields of interest. This might explain his advocacy of the reproductive health law to slow down population growth and allow better redistribution of resources among families.
At the recent “Sulong Pilipinas: Hakbang Tungo sa Kaunlaran” consultative workshop held in Davao City between business leaders and President Duterte’s economic managers, the director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), cited the need to shift from a consumption-driven economy to an investment and export-driven one to achieve growth. At present, consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the economy.
The agriculture and manufacturing sectors should be supported as well to create more jobs even for the less-skilled members of the labor force, Pernia said, while the share of services in the economic output may have to be reduced even as it is now a huge contributor to economic growth.
The Duterte administration also wants “to make overseas employment an option, not a necessity,” the Neda chief added.
“We will try to generate more jobs here so the desire to go abroad will be lessened,” Pernia said.
Pernia earlier told the Inquirer that the Duterte administration will prioritize poverty reduction, regional and rural development as well as quality education and healthcare.
Cutting red tape
He also noted several steps that the government will undertake to bring about a “much-improved” investment climate, among them cutting red tape, easing constitutional restrictions on foreign direct investment and putting in place a competitive tax system. Along with better infrastructure and an improved law and order situation, these initiatives are expected to bring in more investments that will create more jobs and ultimately reduce poverty.
The Davao consultative meet with business leaders also spelled out Mr. Duterte’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda, which includes the continuation of current macroeconomic policies, among them fiscal, monetary and trade policies, and increasing annual infrastructure spending to account for 5 percent of gross domestic product, with public-private partnerships playing a key role.
Mr. Duterte’s socioeconomic agenda also focuses on ensuring security of land tenure to encourage investments; investing in human capital development, including health and education systems; promoting science, technology and the creative arts to enhance innovation; improving social protection programs, among them the conditional cash transfer program to protect the poor against instability and economic shocks, and strengthening the implementation of the responsible parenthood and reproductive health law to enable couples to make informed choices on financial and family planning.
Metro Manila dominance
“Speedy and efficient action on the [proposed socioeconomic agenda] will result in significant poverty- and inequality-reducing economic growth,” Pernia said in May when his appointment was announced.
In his most recent output at the UP School of Economics, a discussion paper titled “Do Regions Gain from an Open Economy?” that he penned with then Ph.D. candidate Janine Elora M. Lazatin, the Neda chief noted “the dominance of Metropolitan Manila in the national economic landscape, albeit spread effects into adjacent regions are increasingly apparent.”
The paper noted that “regional gains appear to be uneven with regions (seen to be) lagging at a disadvantage; by extension, the welfare effect on the poor appears unequal, as well.”
Given such realities, Pernia would have to translate his long years of academic and research experience into actually reducing poverty, unemployment and underemployment while sustaining robust economic growth.
Pernia obtained his Ph.D. in economic demography from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976, and his MA in economics from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1969.
He obtained his economics degree from the University of San Carlos in 1967 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, magna cum laude, from San Carlos Major Seminary in Cebu in 1963.
He was also cum laude when he took his bachelor’s degree in theology from the University of Santo Tomas Central Seminary.
According to Pernia’s curriculum vitae posted on the UP School of Economics website, he also worked as economist and researcher at the Manila-based multilateral lender Asian Development Bank, the International Labor Organization’s regional office in Bangkok, Thailand, and the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Pernia also authored or took part in the publication of at least 10 books and monographs, 35 journal articles and reference papers, as well as discussion papers and articles on a wide range of topics, including development planning, population and urbanization. TVJ
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