Infrastructure vs reigning in inequality in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the preparation of the country's VNR report 2019 catalysed a multi-stakeholder consultation process to which some CSOs, like Social Watch Philippines (SWP) were invited. SWP, in turn, convened a broader consultation process that will result both in inputs to the VNR as well as in an independent civil society report.

The Philippines is currently one of the fastest growing economies of the world, with GDP hovering around 6 to 7 percent in 2018 and growing at an average of almost 5 percent a year in the last decade, but those figures coexist with a high poverty rate, a paradox situation called ‘jobless growth’.

SWP comments that “there seems to be an unspoken yet dominant perspective on wealth, that as long as poverty is minimized, there should be no objection to the unbridled gains of the rich. It is assumed that wealth will trickle down to the poorest. Trickle-down economics asserts that high growth rates increase employment, income, and standards of living. However, that is not the case at all. In fact, economic inequality or the gap between the poorest and the richest continues to widen, with the poor comprising the majority and coexisting with an elite few. As such, it is of utmost importance to realize that it is not about the rate of economic growth, but the kind of economic growth that the country is experiencing”.

Filipino growth is largely based on the ‘Build Build Build’ (BBB) programme, an ambitious infrastructure initiative with 75 flagship projects planned, funded by the government, ODA (mainly from China) and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).

BBB is judged by civil society as as debt-generating, too urban-centric, concentrating on developed areas and neglecting the rural areas. Its progress has been uneven, because of the lack of capacity and funding, deficiencies in design, and poor coordination.

Trade-offs have yet to be evaluated. “The negative impact of this massive infrastructure programme, specifically conversion to other land uses of already diminishing farmlands, is still to be determined. But one emerging impact has been the movement of the rural poor from agriculture to the construction industry and the disruption of agricultural value chain development initiatives of small producers that have been neglected by the state for a long time. All told, spending in agriculture, where most of the poorest derive their livelihood is disappointing for a country wishing to achieve green industrialization. One could also foresee that the fossil-intensive infrastructure and power programs and projects could reverse modest gains achieved in environmental protection and rehabilitation.”

In his welcoming address, the late Isagani Serrano, convenor of Social Watch Philippines and president of Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), summarized his advice to Filipino civil society colleagues that is also a message to citizens of the world: “Many good things are happening within society as a whole. But we really need to engage government more, not only to make a “whole government approach,” but a “whole of society approach” to work towards bringing us closer to our dream of fairness in a fragile world.”

Read THE PH SDG AGENDA: Closing Gaps, Overcoming Policy Incoherence here.

Source: Report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2019.

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