All hands on deck to enable ship of state to sail on an even keel

E CARTOON MAY 13, 2024.jpg

Updates on gross domestic product (GDP) growth, inflation and jobs released last week by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reflected the outcome of the efforts of the country’s economic managers to steer the ship of state on an even keel in the face of continuing challenges.

First-quarter GDP grew 5.7 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024. Even while this is outside their 6.0 to 7.0 percent growth forecast for 2023 — and lower than the 6.5 to 7.5 percent target for 2024 — our economic managers point out that the country fared better than the rest of its neighbors last year. Hence, there is room for optimism on better performance ahead.
Yet, the inflation and jobs figures also bear watching.

Overall inflation moved up to 3.8 percent in April 2024 from 3.7 percent in March; in April 2023, inflation rate was higher at 6.6 percent. More detailed analysis by the PSA shows that the top three commodity groups accounted for nearly 80 percent of the inflation rate increase. These are: “a) Food and non-alcoholic beverages with 59.7 percent share or 2.3 percentage points; b) Restaurants and accommodation services with 13.7 percent share or 0.5 percentage point; and c) Transport with 6.2 percent share or 0.2 percentage point.”

Further analysis points to rice price inflation as the most significant contributor to overall inflation. In a press briefing last month, National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa reported that rice inflation was at 24.4 percent in March 2024, inching toward the record-high of 24.6 percent in February 2009. He said further that rice prices will continue on an upward spiral ‘until July because of the base effect unless there is some intervention.”

President Marcos traveled to the provinces over the weekend, with Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel and Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rex Gatchalian to distribute financial assistance to farmers in communities and farms hard-hit by drought brought on by El Niño that has hampered rice production.

According to National Irrigation Administration (NIA) chief Eduardo Guillen, a collaborative effort has been launched to bring down rice production cost to stem the tide of rice price inflation. The agencies involved are the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (Philmech), the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and the National Rice Program (NRP).
The prolonged heat wave throughout the country due to El Niño has “discouraged many job seekers, especially in the agriculture sector, leading to an increase in the number of unemployed Filipinos,” according to the PSA. Most of the decline in agricultural workers came from those who grow corn, which decreased by 360,000, followed by paddy rice growers, which dropped to 204,000.The number of workers in the fisheries and aquaculture sector also dropped by 449,000, wherein 285,000 were from marine fishing and 216,000 from seaweed gatherers.

On a bright note, the underemployment rate, or the measurement of individuals forced to work in low-paying or low-skill jobs, declined to 5.39 million or 11 percent from 6.8 million a month ago.
Indeed, government faces tough challenges in attaining growth targets that will enable most Filipinos to live decently and comfortably — and all concerned sectors must pitch in their share.