Greeting 2023 with cautious optimism

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

As we enter 2023, we start to see more clarity in the uncertainties of the previous year. These uncertainties include the possible end of the pandemic, economic recovery, and the election of good leaders who can pull us out of these hard times.

We know for certain that COVID-19 won’t miraculously go away but is something we would have to learn to live with. We know as well that the pandemic has exposed gaps and vulnerabilities in our economy. Finally, we see indications that key people in this new administration have a good idea of what must be done to make life better for our people. The new year and the succeeding years will reveal whether they’d be able to follow through with these plans and actually deliver results.

The situation remains daunting. For example, a June 2022 Pulse Asia survey revealed that the top issues faced by the Marcos Jr. administration were controlling the prices of goods and services (38.4 percent), and creating jobs for the poor (19.7 percent). In September, more Filipinos (40 percent) said they felt that the economy had gotten worse now than the year before. Some 25 percent said it was better, while 35 percent said it stayed the same. Pulse Asia also found that the most urgent national concerns in September were controlling inflation (66 percent), increasing workers’ pay (44 percent), and creating more jobs (35 percent). As of October this year, 49 percent of Filipinos saw themselves as poor —higher than the 2021 average of 46 percent—according to the Social Weather Stations.

The outlook of businesses and consumers also weakened toward the end of the year, with business sentiment turning less optimistic in the fourth quarter—overall confidence index declined to 23.9 percent from 26.1 percent the previous quarter, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Consumers’ confidence index also declined to -14.6 percent from -12.9 percent the previous quarter. All of these tell us that a nation’s economic problems are not magically solved by a change in administration. The causes and the solutions are neither instant nor simple.

Through all these, controlling corruption seems to have a pivotal role. For example, the PwC-Management Association of the Philippines CEO survey in September showed that 67 percent of chief executives believed that corruption will delay economic recovery. Similarly, a Pulse Asia survey, taken at around the same time, revealed that 36 percent of respondents said that controlling corruption would be beneficial to economic recovery and development, while 22 percent said it would improve the plight of ordinary citizens.

In the many conversations we occasioned in the past year, we at Stratbase have always espoused that the new Marcos Jr. administration should adopt a more investment-driven strategy for long-term growth and development. We recognize that no single player possesses all necessary resources to achieve this end, so it is always good to reach out to other sectors and stakeholders for a collective effort.

The private sector has consistently demonstrated its capacity as a prime mover not only in innovation and the delivery of goods and services, but also in creating value, most especially in creating jobs, alleviating poverty, and promoting sustainability. Encouraging investments to reinvigorate the manufacturing sector will generate millions of jobs, narrow the growing trade deficit, spur the growth of domestic economy, and exponentially expand business opportunities, which generates multiple economic spheres. This will establish a strong and resilient economy.

We are hopeful and optimistic that our government leaders are already aware of the vast potential of a strategic, well-planned, and sustained public-private partnership in many areas of our economic life. This will be crucial as we address the lingering issues from the COVID pandemic, and the external risks that threaten our recovery and growth. We have heard the words. This coming year and beyond, we will be watching closely for the action that is consistent with these pronouncements.

We want to see policy choices that are aligned with what our leaders are saying. We want to see closer partnerships with the business community. We want to see real growth and development for the benefit of as many Filipinos as possible.

Happy New Year! May 2023 be kinder to us all.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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