THE government needs to spend P1 trillion on infrastructure if it is to meet a growth target of 6% in 2019, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said, as he detailed “catch-up” measures to facilitate spending delayed by the stalled 2019 budget.

In a hearing, Mr. Dominguez told the Senate finance committee, “To enable us to hit a GDP growth rate above 6% this year, national government needs to ramp up its spending. In 2019, national government disbursements are targeted to reach P3.774 trillion, equivalent to 19.6% of GDP. This is 10.7% higher than the actual disbursement in 2018. Meanwhile, total infrastructure disbursements would have to reach P1 trillion, equivalent to 5.2% of GDP, with the national government accounting for 808.7 billion pesos of targeted infrastructure spending.”

According to his remarks to the committee, contained in a joint opening statement he delivered also on behalf of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the budget delay led to a “missed opportunity” to create as many as 260,000-320,000 jobs and “derailed poverty reduction efforts, where as many as 420,000 more Filipinos could have been taken out of poverty.” It also cost the education department 4,110 new classrooms and delayed repairs to 18,575 more.

Mr. Dominguez added that an on-time budget would have added at least a percentage point to first quarter GDP growth, to about 6.6%, and possibly as high as 7.2%.

Speaking to reporters following the hearing, Mr. Dominguez added that he would like to lay the groundwork for more agriculture growth through increased funding for research and amendments to the Local Government Code.

“We need a program. Obviously, doing things the way it was done before is not going to work, so we need a new program to see what can be done to achieve at least 2% per annum growth (in agriculture),” Mr. Dominguez told reporters.

Mr. Dominguez said he plans to meet Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol Tuesday to discuss the Department of Agriculture’s catch-up plan.

“We are meeting tomorrow with Secretary Piñol; unfortunately, they were not able to present anything in the last two meetings,” Mr. Dominguez, a former Agriculture Secretary, said.

“We’ll meet tomorrow to review, to listen to what their plan is to bring about growth of at least 2% per annum in agriculture,” he said.

When asked how he would address concerns in the agricultural sector, Mr. Dominguez said he would increase funding in agricultural research.

“I certainly would make up for the backlog in agricultural research because knowledge is what drives growth,” he said.

“I’m talking about the Bureau of Agricultural Research, the research done by Agri schools in the country, PhilRice (Philippine Rice Research Institute), etc.”

In addition, Mr. Dominguez said the DA should ensure effective implementation of its programs for farmers.

“I think that’s one, you increase the fund of knowledge, you make the environment for agriculture, make the conditions for farmers easier, you make sure they have sufficient water, access to roads, access to fertilizer,” he said.

“And you have to implement it and implement it in an effective way.”

He raised the need to review and amend the Local Government Code of 1991 or Republic Act 7160. “Lastly, I would really ask for the legislature to review the devolution of agricultural extension workers, because they‘ve been devolved to the local governments and quite frankly many time the local governments do not utilize them properly.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan