Arsenio M. Balisacan, PhD
New Socioeconomic Planning Secretary
National Economic and Development Authority
National Economic and Development Authority
Escriva Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig City
4 July 2022 | 9:00 AM
Secretary Karl Chua,
Officials and colleagues from NEDA Central and Regional Offices,
the Philippine Statistics Authority,
the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute,
the Philippine Institute for Development Studies,
the Public-Private Partnership Center,
the Tariff Commission,
the Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency,
and the Commission on Population and Development,
Friends from the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
First, I would like to sincerely thank and congratulate outgoing Secretary Karl Chua and his team. Thank you for warmly welcoming my appointment to NEDA and ensuring a smooth transition. Your inputs and insights on technical and administrative matters during our transition meetings have been beneficial as I gain my bearings and prepare to hit the ground running. Congratulations, because under your leadership—together with former Secretary Ernesto Pernia’s—NEDA has provided expertise and level-headed recommendations to government decision-making, especially policies addressing the unprecedented health and economic crises.
I am deeply honored to serve NEDA once again. When President Bongbong Marcos invited me to join his Cabinet as Socioeconomic Planning Secretary, I was fully aware that the challenges before me were far more complex than the last time I was at NEDA’s helm. They are quite distinct from my responsibilities in the past six years—that of starting, growing, and strengthening the Philippine Competition Commission. Truth to tell, I was looking forward to retirement after the PCC. Nevertheless, having always viewed public service as a great privilege, when the invitation to serve again came, I humbly accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading NEDA, recognizing its critical role in the country’s recovery and post-pandemic development.
I am happy to share that the President and the Economic Team are in substantial agreement on the overall goal of the new administration. We all agree to quickly revive job creation and poverty reduction by steering the economy back to the high-growth path while addressing government debt and the sharply rising prices of food and essential commodities. In particular, we aim for economic growth at least at par with pre-pandemic levels through 2028. And we are raising the bar higher: we must make this growth more inclusive and resilient. In other words, growth must be pro-poor and can weather adverse global events such as pandemics, calamities due to climate change, and geopolitical and technological disruptions. With quality growth and jobs, we aim to rapidly reduce poverty to a single-digit level at the end of the administration. I recognize such a target is ambitious, but I firmly believe it is achievable. I say this with confidence because the reforms past administrations laid down have made our economy’s foundations stronger. Thus, a robust economy is truly realizable—one capable of recovering lost ground and tapping into the country’s latent human and natural capital to accelerate the country’s progress and be on a par with its neighbors in the region.
Keeping these targets in mind, let me briefly share three things stakeholders and Filipinos can expect from NEDA under my leadership.
First, expect NEDA to be committed to pushing for necessary measures to raise the country’s economic performance. During my previous tenure here, NEDA helped shepherd the country to a growth trajectory that was quite rapid relative to our Asian neighbors. We are proud to have achieved many milestones during that time. Particularly significant to me are the Philippines being on investors’ radars and climbing the ranks based on globally recognized comparative indicators in economic performance and institutions, technology, preparedness, and fundamentals such as ease of doing business. The economic reforms in the past two decades, including under the Duterte administration, have encouraged stakeholders to expect greater things from the Philippine economy. As such, despite all the headwinds and economic pains confronting us in the near term, we can aim to do even better and surpass the country’s previous performance, bringing it closer to its long-term development anchor: the AmBisyon Natin 2040. Understandably, we may need to revisit the targets, given the setbacks caused by the pandemic. Nonetheless, the aspirations and vision remain relevant, guiding us to stay the course toward improving the welfare of Filipinos.
Second, expect NEDA to enhance its proactive engagement with stakeholders — including the President and policymakers in Congress and the executive branch—on policy advising, planning, and monitoring. We shall strive to be in the front rather than behind the curve of critical policy issues involving national and local development, including policy and program coordination. Current and future economic challenges require careful analysis and planning to be quickly translated into dynamic, timely, implementable, and economically sound interventions with effective monitoring and evaluation, as the interventions may need to be adjusted at a moment’s notice.
In light of the Mandanas-Garcia ruling, the President has recognized the need to strengthen NEDA’s presence and role in local government units. Such proactive engagement requires closely coordinating national and local policies so that plans and programs, especially public investments, appropriately reflect local development priorities, especially since certain government services have been devolved to the LGUs.
We shall also work closely with Congress for the speedy enactment of priority bills and structural reforms that can address binding constraints to market access for essential goods and services. We will ramp up the implementation of the National ID System — that’s my PSA, and our National Statistician is here — and coordinate with agencies to digitalize government transactions so that we can rapidly and efficiently provide targeted support to the poor and vulnerable groups.
Having been a policymaker, policy adviser, and public servant for over two decades, I have learned from experience that policy objectives are far less likely to be met—and can create unintended consequences—when government bodies operate in organizational silos. As the country’s main socioeconomic planning body, NEDA is well-placed to engage in the critical task of policy coordination.
Third, expect NEDA to uphold a culture of openness, transparency, and professionalism concerning the direction of national economic policies, plans, and programs. We recognize the importance of keeping the business community informed to make optimal investment decisions. It is a fact that uncertainty raises the cost of doing business. Hence, we aim to keep stakeholders well informed of proposed changes to the rules that govern them. Such engagement would entail constant coordination and consultation with the affected parties to ensure that the proposed changes genuinely address their concerns.
Moreover, it is critical that we swiftly complete and implement the Implementing Rules and Regulations or IRR of the newly enacted CREATE Law and key economic liberalization reforms—that is, amendments to the Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and Foreign Investments Act. It is critical to inspire the business sector to have confidence in our institutions and encourage the private sector to actively participate in the country’s economic recovery and help rapidly generate livelihood opportunities for Filipinos. Further, we will ensure that comments on the revised IRR of the amended BOT Law for PPPs are heard and carefully considered. We see much potential in the private sector’s role in upgrading the country’s infrastructure, raising productivity in agriculture and manufacturing, integrating businesses and workforce into global value chains, and preparing systems and institutions for climate change and automation disruptions.
Indeed, the road before us seems daunting and clouded with uncertainty. It is full of known and yet unknown risks that threaten to derail our progress as a country. These challenges behoove that we are creative and strategic in our policy directions.
I look forward to productively working with all of you at NEDA and its attached agencies in pursuit of sustained and inclusive growth for the development of the Filipino people. With all of us supporting each other, I am optimistic that we can and will diligently fulfill our mandate, rising to meet the pressing challenges before us head-on. And as we carry on with our mandate, we practice within the NEDA family what we tell the outside world: openness, transparency, integrity, professionalism, and excellence.