Carlos Bernardo O. Abad Santos

Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning

National Economic and Development Authority 84th Anniversary Celebration

Strengthening the Culture of Planning In the Philippines

Pasig City

December 18, 2019


Let me start by greeting my fellow NEDAns – happy 84th anniversary to our beloved institution.

To our guests, Mr. Alberto Kimpo and Mr. Henry Lagasca, from the Local Government of Quezon City, thank you for responding to our request and for being with us today.

Thanks also to Ms. Nina Mangio who is joining us on behalf of Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto.

To our multilateral partners, former NEDA officials,

Coworkers from NEDA’s regional offices and attached agencies, and other government offices, as well as members from the academe,

Members of the media,

Everyone, good morning.

Today is special because we are not only celebrating NEDA’s more than eight decades of serving the Filipino people with integrity, professionalism, and excellence but also because today, we are painting a picture of our future.

Certainly, we should take pride in our accomplishments, but, true to our core value of excellence, we also highlight the need to become even better at what we do. Socioeconomic planning and development is not the sole responsibility of NEDA but as the country’s premier planning institution, we need to exercise effective leadership. Importantly, we need to have an enabling environment that will instill a culture of planning in government – across all agencies and at all levels.

In the past decades of boom-and-bust cycle of the Philipine economy, planning in government has been limited to largely short-term strategies; government could not think beyond a medium term horizon as there were a lot of uncertainties and challenges, having gone from one economic crisis  to another.

But as you know, the Philippine economy has been growing steadily in the past several years and this gives us a lot of room to plan for our future, especially now that we have AmBisyon Natin 2040.

We are now in a much better position to implement game-changing institutional reforms that will enable us to achieve our organizational vision of a “country where public and private sectors perform their respective roles efficiently, such that people have equal access to opportunities, resulting in inclusive development and zero poverty.”

We have been able to institute changes in our planning process in line with our slogan “Sentro ang tao sa ating plano”, yet we are still faced with several horizontal, vertical, and functional gaps within the government’s planning and budgeting processes. While the institutional arrangement stipulated in Executive Order 230 has worked and has served its purpose, it still lacks the institutionalization of holistic and long-term planning that is evidence-based, balances interests, and builds strong ownership.

Studies conducted by the ADB, World Bank, OECD, and PIDS point out that our current system of planning, policy-making, programming, and budgeting processes are fragmented, uncoordinated, and often interrupted.

The current set-up and human resources of NEDA cannot catch up with the growing demands arising from many reform initiatives from different branches and levels of government. This makes it hard for us to steer development initiatives toward the right direction when the need for us to lead and intervene arises, such as when plans and reforms are uncoordinated, and even conflicting.

Thus, a stronger planning culture in the Philippines has to be established to fully synchronize the planning, investment programming, budgeting, and implementation continuum.

This should be coupled with a results-oriented monitoring and evaluation system that will ensure that we have enough evidence on which to base decisions, whether on short-term issues or long-term development challenges.

Thankfully, there is now a growing recognition among policymakers, including those in the legislative branch, of the need to strengthen planning and an important part of this is to strengthen NEDA as an institution. As most of us here already know, bills have been filed by Senator Win Gatchalian at the Senate and Representative Joey Salceda at the Lower House for this purpose. In fact, some of our officials are supposed to be in Congress today to discuss the proposed NEDA Act.

The NEDA Act gives credence to NEDA’s authority as the economic and planning agency of the government.

Let me cite a few important elements of development planning that we would like this proposed legislation to support. 1) long-term development perspective; 2) horizontal and vertical alignment and cohesion of plans; 3) capability building for development planning and economic literacy; 4) use of evidence through monitoring and evaluation; and 5) broad ownership and support.

First, on having a long-term perspective. As we know, our political system poses constraints on development planning such that reforms and programs are interrupted when a new administration comes in. We have to have a system that allows for continuity for us to achieve our 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and realize Ambisyon Natin 2040. We are happy to note that the proposed NEDA Act seeks to institutionalize the preparation of a Long-term Development Plan that will ensure the continuity of plans and programs, even as leaderships change.

Second, on horizontal and vertical alignment and cohesion of plans, budget, and investment programs. We would like the Philippine Development Plan or PDP and its accompanying documents — the Public Investment Pan, the Results Matrices, and the Socioeconomic Reports, to be the basis of all agency plans, budget, investment programs, and even policies.  As these go through a rigorous and consultative process, the PDP, RMs, and SER should be fully utilized and taken seriously in terms of resource allocation. We need to institute an efficient process of planning, budgeting, and investment programming that will allow us to meet our development targets, with the right timing, prioritization, and adequate resource allocation.

We are hoping that the proposed NEDA Act will give enough power and resources to NEDA for it to take on a strong leadership role in this aspect. By this, we mean NEDA having influence over sectoral and agency plans, and over sub-national (regional to local) plans — all to ensure that we are all headed in the same direction; that the country is making substantial and sustainable progress that leaves no one behind.

There are a number of ways being proposed in the bill to do this. For one, the Bill institutionalizes the issuance of a “Planning Call” which will provide NEDA the authority to issue standards and guidelines for the preparation of regional and sectoral plans. This would ensure that these plans are considered and incorporated in the PDP.

The planning process will also coincide and be fully aligned with the investment programming timetable and budget calendar to ensure that strategic programs and projects identified in the plan are allocated with the required funding.

We will also be able to establish a clear mechanism for the linkage between planning, programming, and budgeting. This way, we will be able to ensure that the annual appropriations for programs and projects prepared by DBM and other concerned agencies, are aligned with the strategies of the PDP.

This will also pave the way for the integration of national, regional, and local plans and programs — that will strengthen the role and capacity of the Regional Development Councils or RDCs and the NEDA Regional Offices as the link between the national and local governments.

Further, the NEDA Act seeks to strengthen the NEDA’s organizational structure and beef up its human resources and this is certainly a welcome initiative considering our current limitations.  We are hoping that the bill will include institutional mechanisms to increase NEDA presence or influence at the subnational level.

Third, on capacity building for development planning and economic literacy. One reason why plans of government agencies and subnational government units are often weak is that their leaders, managers, and personnel lack the necessary skills and tools for socioeconomic development planning, policy making, including economic literacy. This is one of the reasons why a law declaring an Economic and Financial Literacy Week was enacted in 2016, designating NEDA as lead convenor.  We would like to see NEDA being effective in increasing economic literacy in the country, especially within government, not just during the celebration of the EFL Week but throughout the year. We would also like to have mechanisms that will enable NEDA to build capacities of local planners through technical assistance and planning oversight.

Fourth, on monitoring and evaluation to ensure evidence-based decision-making. We need to ensure that national development policies meet emerging development trends. NEDA takes pride in the competence of its people in making use of evidence to evaluate development policies and options to gauge the potential and actual impact of policies and programs. We must remember that M&E is an important and necessary part of the planning cycle. As such, instilling a culture of planning means instilling a culture of M&E as well.

Finally, on broad ownership of and support for development plans. The Philippine constitution emphasizes the need for inclusivity in both process and outcomes. In the earlier years of NEDA, it was known to be a group of technocrats that were largely removed from the realities of the common Filipino. Over the years, however, NEDA has increasingly become more participatory, paying more attention to people’s needs, beyond mere economic stability and growth. The slogan “sentro ang tao sa ating plano” became one of the inspirations of Ambisyon Natin 2040, which now represents the collective aspirations of Filipinos. We have likewise introduced changes in the planning process to make it more inclusive and relevant to the needs and aspirations of the people.  And we would like these initiatives to be institutionalized and become the new SOP or standard operating procedure.

Our vision for NEDA as the premier socioeconomic planning body that is in the forefront of enabling every Filipino to achieve a matatag, maginhawa, at panatag na buhay is clear. We have already seen a lot of progress, but we hope to see more. As we move towards Ambisyon Natin 2040, we are optimistic that, with the support of our partners and stakeholders, this vision for NEDA will turn into reality in 2020.

Happy anniversary, and mabuhay ang NEDA!