WHEN President Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at a joint session of Congress tomorrow, Monday, it will mark the start of the second half of his administration. A great deal is expected in these next three years, especially in the economic field. The World Bank sees the Philippines as the fastest growing economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) today. It is now the 13th largest economy in Asia, and projected to be the 5th largest in Asia and 16th largest in the world by 2050.
What could be the most significant economic development for the country in the coming months and years is a joint oil and gas exploration with China which is expected to begin this November, according to Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, chairman of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
President Duterte signed last May 28 Executive Order No. 80 removing a final roadblock to an oil exploration, development, and production agreement between the Philippine Exploration Corp. and the China National Offshore Oil Corp. The administration had earlier signed its first agreement with an Israeli company in 2018 covering a 416,000-hectare area east of Palawan. The new agreement with China covers a 720,000-hectare area in Calamian, west of Palawan. Calamian is one of two regions near Palawan believed to have considerable oil resources; the other is Reed Bank.
The oil exploration agreement is only one area in the multi-faceted relations we have developed with China in the last three years. Our trade with China, including Hong Kong, reached $417 billion this May, making it the Philippines’ top trading partner. Philippine banana exports tripled in the first quarter of 2019 to $160 million. Philippine Online Gaming Operations (POGO) earned P24 billion in taxes. In 2018, 1.2 million Chinese tourists boosted the Philippine economy by P32 billion; 2 million are expected by 2020, a potential addition of P50 billion to the economy.
In our “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, China is involved in a big way, including two donated bridges across the Pasig River, funding for a P500-million Metro Manila flood-control project now on its second year, a P175-billion South Rail Project, and an P18.7-billion Kaliwa Dam to boost Metro Manila’s water supply.
We may have ongoing disputes in our conflicting claims to certain islands in the South China Sea, particularly in the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone we have renamed West Philippine Sea, but President Duterte appears to have the situation well in hand. He believes the political dispute will eventually be settled; in the meantime, he is determined to see the Philippines benefit from the many economic programs that are underway.
The first half of the Duterte administration ends today with considerable economic growth and progress. We look forward to the second half which, we expect, will be marked with even more economic growth, as the President spells out his plans for the country in the next three years in his State of the Nation Address tomorrow.