GDP growth attainment laudable; upgrading quality of life imperative

The Philippine Statistics Authority’s announcement that the country achieved a 7.6 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022 affirms that, despite high inflation rates, the economy is on track in regaining its pre-Covid pandemic footing. This improves on the 5.7 percent growth in 2021 after the steep decline of -9.52 percent in 2020, in which three quarters of quarantine and lockdown pushed the economy into recession. It is also the highest GDP growth recorded since 1976.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) reported that the “robust performance in the fourth quarter reflected strong domestic demand, with three-fourths contributed by household consumption and almost a fifth by investment.”

The full reopening of the economy, highlighted by the return to face-to-face classes at all levels, has rejuvenated businesses that suffered the brunt of mobility restrictions at the height of the pandemic. Previously, it was also announced that the country had attained its highest level of employment since 2005; it was observed that more Filipinos were employed in full-time, higher-paying jobs in stable, private sector firms.

Yet, more hard work lies ahead. The outlook for the global economy is dominated by the looming threat of recession. Thousands of Filipinos are still impelled to seek overseas employment despite the much reduced unemployment level.

The latest nationwide survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) for the fourth quarter of 2022 showed that while 34 percent of adult Filipinos said that their quality of life improved in the past 12 months, 26 percent said it got worse, and 39 percent said it was the same. Viewed from another perspective, the total of those who said it was worse and the same is twice more than those who were more upbeat and optimistic.

Growth with equity and enhanced quality of life have always been NEDA’s guideposts. In Ambisyon 2040, the blueprint for the country’s long-term economic growth, the goals are not defined solely in terms of GDP attainment but by how the benefits of economic growth translate into the fulfillment of the people’s lofty aspirations:

“By 2040, Filipinos will enjoy a strongly rooted, comfortable, and secure life. In 2040, we will all enjoy a stable and comfortable lifestyle, secure in the knowledge that we have enough for our daily needs and unexpected expenses, that we can plan and prepare for our own and our children’s future. Our family lives together in a place of our own, and we have the freedom to go where we desire, protected and enabled by a clean, efficient, and fair government.”

This is why one of the important goals of the 2023-2028 Philippine Development Plan announced by the Marcos administration is for the country to attain a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita that will enable the Philippines to join the ranks of upper middle-income countries in the next few years. This is a steep challenge as some four million families are estimated to have experienced severe income declines due to the pandemic.