ABS-CBN News : Next NEDA chief Arsenio Balisacan bats for 'inclusive' growth amid debt woes

By Warren De Guzman | ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Incoming Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan on Wednesday said he would focus on balancing economic growth and poverty alleviation as the country faces ballooning debt.

The incoming administration must maintain the economic recovery but it has to be "prudent" in spending especially on infrastructure given its P12.68 trillion national debt and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 63.5 percent.

Balisacan, who will be the next director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) once again, said he would look into the pending infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build program.

“We need to balance the infrastructure on the one hand and social protection, health, and education. What do you do with world-class infrastructure, when your people are getting ranked, their children are ranked poorly, the poorest in the region? That is the dilemma," Balisacan said.

"You want to push for world-class infrastructure, but health is in crisis, education is in crisis, so we need to go back and reflect on what is really fundamental. What is development? For me, development should be shared by all, especially the poor. I would like to see that. The growth we put in place must be highly inclusive," he added.

A review is crucial to ensure that no resources are wasted but Balisacan clarified that no projects would be discontinued especially those under ongoing construction.

"In the past, we have many of those kinds of initiatives, we had a change in administration and it was discontinued. That is a bad practice. If it is a good project, continue," Balisacan said.

"We are not going to stop anything that is ongoing. It is clear that we have to continue what is there. Obviously, if it is obviously wrong, the infrastructure, you have to do something about that." he added.

Incumbent NEDA director-general Karl Kendrick Chua said by the end of his term there would be 17 completed flagship projects and 77 ongoing projects worth P4 trillion "that are beyond shovel ready."

At least 25 others have not been approved yet, he added.

Meanwhile, Balisacan said he would also focus on funding social protection and education as well as the 4Ps program.

Balisacan said the fight against poverty needs to be prioritized. The gains in poverty reduction were tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Poverty rate has gone down to 16.7 percent in 2018 from 23.5 percent in 2015.

But the 2021 data could be worse than 2018 due to the pandemic, he said.

Balisacan would meet with current NEDA officials before the inauguration of President-elect Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr.