MARCH 4, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - After Malacañang announced its ambitious "Plan 7, 8, 9," President Arroyo bared her new economic plan of an "8 by ’08."

"Our objective for this year is to invest in the people in order to attain the eight blessings in 2008. Investing in the people so we can achieve 8 by ’08," Mrs. Arroyo said.

While Plan 7, 8, 9 refers to the growth targets of the administration for the next three years, 8 by ’08 contains its policy direction and other targets for the next two years.

Mrs. Arroyo announced her 8 by ’08 during the awarding ceremonies for the 11 most inspiring tourism entrepreneurs at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City yesterday.

She explained 8 by ’08 "involves job creation; better cost of living; strong peso; more investments; pro-poor education; pro-poor healthcare, housing, food; green Philippines and anti-terrorism.

The policy was apparently Mrs. Arroyo’s response to criticisms from the opposition that the economic gains of her administration were not felt by the people.

Malacañang has repeatedly bragged about the sustained growth of the economy under the Arroyo administration.

Growth, as measured by gross domestic product, was recorded at 5.5 percent last year and for this year, the target range is 6.0 percent to 6.5 percent.

While the growth figures look good on paper, critics argued this has not been translated to real benefits for the people.

Critics cited the increase in the value added tax by two percent, which raised revenues for the government but increased the burden on the low-income groups.

Two weeks ago, the President’s economic managers came out with Plan 7,8,9 or a growth target of seven percent this year, eight percent in 2008 and nine percent in 2009.

The idea is for the government to wipe out unemployment and ease poverty by creating new jobs and according to the economic managers, this would be achieved through a high growth rate.

‘Social payback’

Arroyo’s economic managers, however, assured the people that they would benefit from the increase in the collection of revenues in form of a "social payback."

"That is precisely why with the economic gains we now have because of the fiscal reforms we have instituted, it would allow us already to increase investments in infrastructure and social services to the people as part of our social payback," Budget and Management Secretary Rolando Andaya said.

Andaya led the economic managers in Davao City for the first leg of the five regional briefings that would also bring them to the cities of Iloilo, Cebu, Baguio and Pampanga within the next two weeks.

Aside from Andaya, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Armando Tetangco, also gave their inputs in reviewing the economic successes of 2006 as well as the outlook for this year.

WB country director for the Philippines Joachim Von Amsberg earlier cited the need for the fiscal reforms to benefit more people.

The WB official prodded the government to produce more social results and infrastructure since the fiscal reforms were in place.

"We are doing exactly just what the World Bank thinks we should do," Andaya said.

He said that although the fruits of the fiscal reforms are there, the government is operating on a re-enacted budget, which has prevented a bigger allocation for basic services.

"And now since we have the new budget, the increases in spending in social services and infrastructure would be clearly shown," Andaya said.

Andaya pointed out the focus of the P1.3-trillion budget for this year is to increase the allocation on social infrastructure and education.

The biggest slice of the budget allocation for education will go to the construction of 5,400 additional classrooms, on top of the 12,226 classrooms already programmed for this year.

"The budget also allows us the creation of more teaching positions particularly in the fields of math and the sciences while we have also over P2 billion for food supplements for school children all over the country," Andaya pointed out.

He added that increased spending has also been earmarked for health services.

Teves spoke of the government’s efforts to increase tax collection through its revenue collecting agencies in order to meet its target even beyond 2007.

"Whatever gains we can attain from these efforts to increase our revenue collection would also mean the available money that could be spent for the social projects, among others, we have programmed for the greater number of our people," Teves said.

He said the fiscal reforms have been implemented precisely to the benefit of the people.

"We are working on bringing more services to a greater number of our people by the gains that we achieve from these fiscal reforms," Teves said.

Tetangco, for his part, said the government for this year will continue to build on the macroeconomic strengths to allow a broader base to experience the positive impact of the country’s economic gains.

"The BSP shall remain focused on carrying out a monetary policy that supports sustainable economic growth," Tetangco said.

Yap added the government would provide more support for thousands of farmers in the countryside who largely depend on agriculture alone.

He said the Department of Agriculture is set to provide more services to the farmers from the construction of farm-to-market roads to more irrigation projects.

"And we are helping them market their products both here and abroad," Yap said.

Favila, on the other hand, said the government is working on sustaining the robust exports and investment performance in an effort to translate the results of such efforts to more jobs for the people.

He said the government is now focusing on improving the quality of the country’s human resources, as well as lowering transaction flows and costs of doing business, developing efficient access to financing and building a seamless infrastructure network.

On the other hand, Andaya said that despite the increase in allocation for social infrastructure, the government would still work on accelerating the reduction of the 2007 budget deficit from the planned 2.0 percent of the Gross Domestic Product to only .09 percent this year.

Andaya said the government is working on attaining a balanced budget by 2008 while focusing on more productive government expenditures for the people.

On the power sector, Lotilla discussed the efforts to put up more power generation projects to prevent power shortage.

"We have different transmission line projects in various parts of the country to ensure adequate supply of power to our people, which is a key aspect in the lives of our people," Lotilla said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo announced the government is looking forward to draw more than three million tourists to visit the country for this year.

She pointed out that the entry of more tourists into country would generate more jobs.

Mrs. Arroyo said that for every tourist visiting the country, it would mean a job opportunity being created.

Mrs. Arroyo noted the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) has around P10 million available to microfinance tourism entrepreneurs.

The funds are available under the PTA’s Grassroots Entrepreneurs for Eco-Tourism (GREET) program, she said.

Mrs. Arroyo urged the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship through its "Go Negosyo" program to tie-up with the PTA in order to tap the GREET microfinancing for tourism entrepreneurs.

"If we can exceed the three million (target for tourists), there will be more jobs in tourism, especially for our entrepreneurs," the President said. -Edith Regalado

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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