While the numbers indicate impressive and enviable economic growth in the region, business leaders agree that so much more has to be accomplished in order for qualitative growth to take place and for the economic benefits to be evenly spread throughout three provinces in the Visayas region.
These three provinces are Cebu, Bohol, and Siquijor. Negros Oriental, formerly part of Region 7, joined Negros Occidental to form a new Negros Region, before going back to Region 7 a few months ago due to lack of financial resources.
In a business portion held during the weekly 888 Media Forum, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Regional Director Efren Carreon rattled off big numbers in reference to financial growth in the region. These are a 7.2 percent GDP average growth rate in the past five years, the lowering of poverty incidence from 30.7 to 23.6 percent within a five-year period, a 100,000 BPO workforce, and the expected upturn of tourist arrivals in the region in the next few years due to the completion of the new Mactan-Cebu International Airport terminal and the upcoming Panglao International Airport in Bohol.
Dondi Joseph, president of the Cebu Business Club, pointed out that urban growth usually leads to social problems, which have remained unaddressed in the country.
“What use is economic growth if poverty remains widespread? Poverty alleviation should lead to inclusive growth where the effects trickle down throughout the region. Unlike in other cities in the world where they address their problems effectively,” he stated.
Joseph also bemoaned many local government units that are reluctant to resettle voters and refuse to spend public funds in doing so. Such a situation could prove detrimental in the next elections where the settlers tend to vote as a bloc and target those who affect their daily lives.
He said that such is the case when urban regeneration leads to infrastructure development and, unfortunately, slum resettlements where the occupants are often transported to distant areas from their place of origin.
“Better if they could follow the example of Jollibee. This fast food giant bought all the potatoes from Luzon farmers, thus assuring the farmers of a steady income. Likewise,
Nestle is targeting cacao farmers in Mindanao for its tablea needs and requirements.
Glenn Soco, president of the Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agreed with Joseph, saying that the growth of the countryside is of vital importance in the Visayas-Mindanao region for quality development.
He batted for the alignment and collaboration of the islands in the Visayas, plus the proper establishment of the state of infrastructure in order to see more business grow in the region as a whole instead of just one or two entities.
“While a bustling economy can create millionaires and billionaires, there are still a lot of poor sectors that need to be addressed. The smaller sectors need to be given more chances and opportunities in order to grow and develop, and not just the established counterparts,” he added.
As an example, he cited that malls in Japan and Korea reserve their choice spots for smaller players to give them more chances to grow and acquire more experience.
Much unlike the situation in the Philippines where malls reserve their strategic locations only for the rich concessionaires while relegating the smaller counterparts to less lucrative spots.
Another example is a comprehensive tax program where the wage earners pay fewer taxes than the bigger ones for a more equitable tax distribution scheme.
Meanwhile, NEDA Regional Director Carreon cited that President Rodrigo Duterte’s 10-point agenda, which is designed to focus on the agricultural and fishery sectors, the most poverty-stricken sectors of the total pie.
Irrigation has been given more teeth to increase the number of harvests, raise the income of farmers, and enable him to cope better with climate change.
It remains an interesting situation, however, since the average age of the farmer is over 55 years old and their children have shown no interest in following his footsteps due to the labor-intensive process, the lack of quality farm-to-market roads, and the youth preference for white-collar jobs.
The state of the fishing industry isn’t any better due to the over-exploitation of fishing grounds, and the deteriorating quality of marine life brought about by dynamite
fishing, abuse of corals, and pollution.
Yet another problem that needs to be addressed is migration to urban areas. While migration itself is not a problem per se, it can turn bad if the people are not productive,
resulting in social problems such as overcrowding, petty crimes, and scarcity of resources.
Everyone agreed that countryside development is crucial to reverse the overcrowding
of cities, thus the need to provide livelihood and employment opportunities in the countryside to reserve the city’s resources and reduce migration.
By RICHARD RAMOS