Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star,  2 October 2013


I have news for readers who have been following this column. A book collecting most of the essays dealing with my comments on economic development policy, Weighing In: On the Philippine Economy and Social Progress, has just been released by Anvil Publishing. I hope it is now in bookstores.

I grouped my articles into seven coherent headings. It is therefore easily possible to search for those essays dealing on the following topics: recent economic prospects, foreign direct investment policy, economic nationalism, restrictive constitutional revisions, and labor market and wage issues. It is also possible to relate current economic issues with those that deal with historical perspectives. Further, the impact of world economic developments and regional economic issues like ASEAN and China and Japan can be appreciated as part of overall economic policy developments in the country.

I view the efforts I spend on column writing as an important mission towards making economic and social policy formulation reach proper closure. A collection of these essays contributes more focused understanding of the policy options facing the nation.

A roundtable discussion on economic and social issues. To have a better appreciation of the book, the UP School of Economics and the Philippine Center for Economic Development (PCED) sponsored a roundtable discussion on Philippine economic policy and social progress at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. This was a prelude to the book launch which followed afterward.

Three speakers participated in the roundtable forum: Gilbert Llanto, the president of the Philippine Institute for Philippine Studies (PIDS), Calixto Chikiamco, the president of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), and Felipe Medalla, former director general of the NEDA, UP Economics professor and currently, member of the Monetary Board. Raul V. Fabella, professor of Economics and and former dean, rendered the welcome remarks.

From them, all public personalities, we shall gain a critical understanding of the views I put forward in my writings. Theirs would represent an independent assessment of the relevance of my ideas. Space consideration requires that I summarize them. I will post their full views in an appropriate website for those interested in their detailed comments.

Today, we start with excerpts from remarks of Dr. Felipe M. Medalla, a lively speaker and sharp economist. I hang up any gloves of modesty to let Philip speak his words as written.

Philip Medalla on Weighing In. Philip was addressing an audience at the UP, and so he used the familiar tone. I edit none of this familiarity except to abridge and to amend any reference to clarify for the reader’s benefit.

To my main title for the book, Philip adds, Tinimbang at Hindi Kulang. (literally, “Weighed properly and not short”). I now quote fully Philip Medalla’s comments, breaking only the sentences into paragraphs for ease of reading:

“I have read many of his Philippine STAR columns, but I think it is good for people like me who are interested in economic policies to have a handy reference that puts some of Gerry’s weekly essays together in an organized way.

“To me, Weighing In is much more than a collection of weekly columns. Without discussing Gerry’s contribution to the shaping of economic policies in our country, it is hard to get a full appreciation of the book.

“I’ll start by saying that no two people have influenced economics in the Philippines, especially here in the UP School of Economics, more than Pepe Encarnacion and Gerry Sicat. The school will not be what it is today without the influence and contributions of Pepe and Gerry. Pepe [the late Dr. Jose Encarnacion Jr., dean of the school for many years] demanded rigor and pushed the faculty to publish.

“On the other, Gerry was the pioneer among UP economists in trying to change, or more precisely, reform government policies to improve the allocation of resources, to make it both more efficient and more equitable. He was also an institution builder. If not for Gerry, NEDA would not be what it is today. If not for him, there would be no PIDS or PCED.

“Indeed, if there is one thing that is at the top of Gerry’s personal advocacy and research agenda that is not adequately covered by his columns, it is the need to create institutions that would champion economic reforms and to strengthen the bureaucracy to improve socioeconomic planning and project evaluation and implementation.

“There are several reform areas where Gerry was ahead of most of us, not because of age but because of insight and foresight: trade policy reforms, labor market reforms, population policy and the link between economic development and infrastructure.

“That trade and tariff reforms no longer needed to be covered by Gerry’s recent columns should give us hope that economists can influence public policy for the better. Of course when Gerry was calling for the elimination of quantitative restrictions on imports and foreign exchange rationing and the reduction of both tariff levels and tariff differentials, the popular ‘nationalistic’ view, especially in UP [outside the School of Economics], was exactly the opposite.

“Gerry was the first to say that import substitution and protectionism in the Philippine context did much more harm than good and that trade policies that were geared to push import substitution almost inevitably hurt exports.

“Moreover, knowing the negative unintended effects of import substitution policies on exports, Gerry not just called for reducing levels of protectionism but also called for policies that mitigated the negative effects of such policies by reducing the cost penalties that import-substitution policies impose on exports, by exempting exporters’ imported inputs from taxes and duties.”

“Finally, as pointed out by Gerry, that Reproductive Health got the full backing of President Aquino is very good for the country since the ‘law represents a major step in dealing with the population issue and helping the poor on family planning concerns.’

“It is well known that when he was NEDA director general, Gerry was a very strong advocate for making family planning services available to the poor. Maybe, after nearly four decades and the rise to the papacy of a Jesuit from Argentina, Gerry’s vision regarding the role of the state in making family planning services and information accessible to the poor will be finally realized.”