INSPIRATIONAL MESSAGE (as delivered)
Karl Kendrick T. Chua, Ph.D.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary
31st National Statistics Month Opening Ceremony
1 October 2020
Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II, National Statistician Dennis S. Mapa, fellow workers in government, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
I am happy to join today the statistical community to celebrate the 31st National Statistics Month (NSM), this time in my capacity as chair of the Philippine Statistical Board, to raise awareness on and highlight the importance of relevant, quality, and timely statistics- in particular for policymaking in this very difficult time of our history.
These days are proof that we must be ready to change and adapt in order to be continually relevant. While we are accustomed to physically attending the NSM Opening Ceremony, we can do so today through a virtual platform and this is very much in line with our theme today. Thankfully, we have the technology to support us, especially as we face the difficulties brought about by this pandemic. We hope to use this to our advantage to bridge the gaps and make information more easily accessible and available to all.
Sometimes it really takes a crisis to do a reform and our history shows so many examples. We hope that we can use this present crisis to improve the digital power of this country and our statistical system.
Before the pandemic, we had a very strong economy and were on track to becoming an upper middle-income country by 2022 and this is a very important and significant milestone. We had one of the lowest unemployment rates at around 5 percent and underemployment rate at around 14 percent in the early part of this year and last year, and also the lowest ever recorded poverty incidence of 16.7 percent as of 2018.
All of these have led to significant results. The promise of lifting 6 million Filipinos out of poverty was achieved in 2018, or four years ahead of the 2022 target. When we saw the poverty rate drop significantly from 23.5 percent in 2015 to 16.7 percent in 2018, of course all of these have been made possible by the statistics that the Philippine Statistical System produces.
Unfortunately, no one anticipated that the COVID-19 pandemic will hit the global economy and our strong economy and put a pause to our progress or even a temporary reversal. So right now, what is very important is to watch the economy very well– where does the GDP go, how is our fiscal position, what are the social indicators, and some of these are very close to what we are doing.
Some of these are very close to what we are doing. The hunger statistics that we probably should start measuring- we should probably be measuring malnutrition, especially among mothers and children, more frequently. We probably have to step up the way we measure our educational attainment, not only within the Philippines but comparing with other countries, and our population development attainment.
Challenge to statistical systems
This health crisis has brought an enormous challenge also to national statistical systems. The Philippine Statistical System (PSS) is especially affected in this crisis. Demand for timely and useful statistics has become greater than ever as policymakers are confronted with issues arising from the global pandemic.
This period of great uncertainty demands for policies anchored on timely, relevant, and reliable statistics that are truly responsive to the needs of the government and the people. The PSS faces the task of producing quality statistics and data despite the various community quarantines, strict health protocols, and restricted mobility due to limited public transportation.
My heartfelt thanks to all those who have produced and collected those statistics in the very difficult last six months, sometimes demanding a lot of sacrifices from each of you. This is where digitalization plays a pivotal role in data generation.
Digitalization and ICT
The 31st NSM’s theme “Bridging Digital Gaps: Making Information Available to All” underscores the importance of information and communications technology (ICT) in the delivery of comprehensive statistical data. These data serve as bases for identification of programs intended to achieve more inclusive and sustainable growth and development in the country. Digitalization of information during this pandemic has enabled various sectors of society to face the challenge and mitigate the impact of COVID-19. The Philippine Statistical System is not exempted from that and should do more.
Part 4 of the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022, focuses on “Increasing Growth Potential,” which highlights the maximization and adoption of Science, Technology and Innovations (STI) as a strategy to improve efficiency and productivity in the agriculture, industry, and service sectors of the economy.
In the services sector, effective ICT applications accelerate productivity by trimming down lengthy manual processes, which results in cost-effectiveness, faster delivery time, better service, and ultimately, better customer satisfaction. This, I think, should be the guiding advice or principle that the Philippines Statistical System should adopt.
In our effort to produce relevant, timely, and quality statistics, let us try to take a lesson from the fast-growing and high-skilled services sector of the country when we produce statistics. We are moving towards digital capture of data, we have started, as I understand, in several surveys including the labor force. I think we should proceed with utmost urgency and haste to complete or to transition fully from manual processing and collection of data to full automation beginning with the work that we’re doing in the LFS, part of the census, the National ID, and so on.
ICT not only spurs economic activities, but also promotes effectiveness in the implementation of social development programs. It facilitates the delivery of social services by making information readily available to those who need these services the most- and this is, I think, one of the important applications: the National ID, where the PSA and the DICT, and the other agencies represented by you today are focusing. I think this is one important priority that we have to focus on also.
With the demand for ICT growing rapidly, we in the PSS are working hand-in-hand to use more and timely statistics so that we can respond to the needs of the people. We are not just producers of data but are users as well. We are all part of the data ecosystem, and we play various roles in it. ICT will allow us to connect with each other and allow us to deliver better results.
In closing, what this crisis has made apparent is the need for us to evolve and improve our systems if we hope not just to outlast, but also build resilience against adversities such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The task ahead of us requires innovative and creative solutions that can effectively mitigate the consequences brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and allow us to recover faster and better. Hence, we must set the example by recalibrating our own systems and processes to suit the needs and demands of this new normal.
For the Philippine Statistical community, I think it is not just enough to adopt all this digital change or processes but also to review the way we manage the delivery of our statistics- how we reengineer the business process. So, in other words, if we are to use digital technology to aid our production and processing of statistics, then we must see some efficiency such as faster turnaround, and more skills of our people to help deliver using this technology.
On COVID response, now is the time for us to come together to find solutions, not just on the what to do but also on the how to do them. This is a time in our country where there are many good ideas that everyone is sharing but the key question really is not what we should do, which we have known very well from our studies and from reading the text book. I think we should work together, moving forward, on exactly how to do it. How do we deliver it when we cannot go out, when we cannot safely do our normal activities?
I call on all of public servants, researchers, and the rest of the government and the country to work together in further building the economy towards a healthy and more resilient Philippines.
Thank you and have a pleasant day.
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