UniversityLooking ahead: What the past year brought
Looking ahead: What the past year brought
Tags:
February 4, 2015
Tags:
February 4, 2015

The year 2014 brought many changes to the Philippines. For the year ahead, there will be more challenges to face as the country readies itself for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration and the looming 2016 national elections, among others. With this, The LaSallian presents some notable events and issues that may impact the country this 2015.

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Business as usual

According to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Philippine economy will continue to grow this year, however, due to lower government spending, increase in inflation rates, and related monetary tightening, the targets released beforehand had to be changed. The gross domestic product (GDP) growth, which was initially predicted at 6.4% for April 2014 became 6.2%, while for 2015, it was cut down from 6.7% to 6.4% for the first quarter.

In a study by the International Labor Organization (ILO), it says that the Philippine government’s adoption of a universal health care program last 2013 helped improve the GDP of the country up to 2014. Despite this, jobs are still insufficient, with the underemployment rate at 18.3%, since most new jobs are only available for part-time workers.

During a presentation last October 2014 conducted by the ILO and and ADB, the National Economic Development Authority says the Philippines is ready for the ASEAN integration, citing a strong economy and confidence from the international community despite the Bohol earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda last November 2013.

The government is also creating ways to make the country more competitive in the market, raise investments, and support enterprise development. A major effort includes foreign investments rising to 77% in the earlier months of 2014, reaching $3.6 billion.

The proposed budget for 2015 — P2.6 trillion — allots P35.28 billion for the transport infrastructure program. Rail transport will be given the highest percentage with an allocation of P16.85 billion. In recent news, the fares of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) have been increased since January 4, 2015, and were met with complaints by commuters. Maximum fares for LRT-1, LRT-2 and MRT are now P30, P25 and P28, respectively.

“Personally, it may have been better if they actually improved the system and the facilities before the fare increase. It makes sense since people would be willing to pay more if they actually see the development,” Julienne Magdaraog (II, BS-BIO) remarks.

At the onset of the implementation of the fare hike, various groups like Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) urged the Supreme Court to stop the fare hike, declaring its implementation as unconstitutional. The government recently said it was about time for a fare hike, since the subsidy gained from the LRT and MRT fares will also be used for other projects. Train fares have increased by P13-15.

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Gearing up for the elections

With the 2016 national elections fast-approaching, preparations for it are already under way — the political parties are now in the process of selecting their candidates, and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has been making necessary arrangements. Among these, the COMELEC officially launched last October 2014 the online voters’ registration project iRehistro, which can be accessed through www.irehistro.com. The project helps ease the registration and monitoring of registered voters before the end of registration period on October 31, 2015.

Samantha Montes (II, POM-BSA) says that so far, the preparations have been going smoothly, but it’s still too early to tell if the preparations are really going well. “Maybe it’s because the people are thinking that they still have another year to register and prepare. The others are probably waiting for the final list of candidates to be released before they decide if they will vote or not,” she furthers.

Recently, the COMELEC finalized a P1.2 billion contract with Smartmatic to refurbish 82,000 units of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines and handle the automated elections for 2016. Smartmatic was accused of violating laws during the past elections, including the distribution of defective PCOS machines. The Citizens for Clean and Credible Elections also said Smartmatic was merely a reseller, and that the company subcontracted the Jarltech International Corporation to produce the machines.

With the contract being finalized, it was met with various criticisms, including how it was undergone without doing a public bidding first, and some government officials saying Smartmatic should in fact be blacklisted.

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III seeks to fulfill the promises he made to the people for the remainder of his term. Among these, the proposed budget for 2015 allotted P424.39 billion for the government’s education program. This will support the Department of Education’s spending on the construction of classrooms, creation of teaching positions and procurement of textbooks, among others.

Challenges in public health

Last July 2014, the Philippine population officially reached 100 million according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. The government says this is both an opportunity and challenge the country must recognize. With the implementation of the reproductive health law last April 2014, this helps regulate the population growth of the country from unwanted pregnancies by providing more knowledge and access to Filipinos regarding family planning.

Other public health issues from the past year include the measles outbreak, MERS Coronavirus infection, mandatory HIV testing, mental health in areas devastated by typhoon Yolanda, and the Ebola outbreak. Among these, Ebola was considered to be the biggest health problem worldwide, with its death toll rising to 7,905 out of 20,206 cases at year-end according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although the Philippines is not yet affected, the Philippine government remains firm with their drive to make the country Ebola-free. Recent news involves 133 Filipino peacekeepers coming from Ebola-stricken countries sent to a 21-day quarantine last November, and were tested negative for the virus.

Dealing with calamities

Last November 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda ravaged many parts of the Eastern Visayas, which eventually led to government efforts on improving climate change adaptation and mitigation. The typhoon caused approximately 6,300 deaths and affected 1,473,251 families. Last April 2014 — eight months after the typhoon — the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan amounting to P170.9 billion was released, which included rehabilitation plans on resettlement, infrastructure, livelihood and social services.

For national calamity funds in 2015, the Budget Briefer of the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department states that a total of P58.1 billion will be allocated to climate change adaptation and mitigation in order to hasten the response to calamities and the rebuilding of communities.

“I would have to say that the current measures [for disaster risk reduction] did improve, such as we are more prepared now in terms of collecting relief goods and [providing] life boats whenever there is a typhoon coming and even keep track of how strong it is and where it is heading specifically. Although I think more efforts [need to be exerted] in order to solve the root of the problem,” shares Marian Ferriols (II, AB-OSDM).

Year of the Poor

With the 5-day Papal Visit that ended last Jan. 19, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines declared 2015 as the Year of the Poor. To give opportunity for the Filipinos to participate in the papal visit, January 15, 16 and 19 were declared by the government as special non-working holidays in the National Capital Region.

Following the theme “Mercy and Compassion,” the highlight of the papal visit is not on Pope Francis himself, but on the communities devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda. During a ceremonial speech last year, the pope addressed victims of the typhoon and said, “I have been close to your people, I have seen how great the pain has been but also how strong the people have been. Faith emerged from the ruins; it came from solidarity in the moment of hardship.”

Royce Clarenz Ocampo (IV, CS-NE) says that the pope’s visit in Tacloban can also help voice out the needs of the communities still recovering from the typhoon. “The pope’s arrival contributes to the relentlessness of the people in Tacloban to rebuild their lives. In that way, it also serves as another testimony of the Filipinos’ resilience during tragedies like this,” he adds in Filipino.

2014 consisted of many ups and downs for the country, but it is expected that the Philippines will face more challenges and opportunities this year. It is up to the Filipinos if they will be open to the many changes that will occur. With the proposed P2.6 trillion budget plan of the government, the various agencies and officials involved are also given the responsibility to allocate the funds to their rightful place.