Over 400 youth leaders from more than 100 schools and 35 organizations from all over the Philippines participated in the first-ever Sulong Pilipinas e-conference to draw up a list of actionable reforms to help the country recover from the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposals at the end of the four-hour virtual workshop included ensuring food security via higher farm productivity; harnessing the national identification (ID) system for delivering social protection programs; and improving Internet connectivity to help educate the youth under “new normal” conditions and better connect micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to the digital economy.
Jointly organized by the Department of Finance (DOF) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), “Sulong Pilipinas: Youth Partners for Progress” was held last Thursday via the Zoom large meeting service and streamed via Facebook.
In his welcome remarks, Finance Secretary and Sulong Pilipinas Lead Convenor Carlos Dominguez III said: “The phrases ‘unusual circumstances’ and ‘unprecedented times’ are a reminder of the evolving challenges that we face as a country–and they imply that all sectors need to come together and engage in dialogue on reshaping public policy toward meeting the needs of Filipino families.”
Dominguez expressed confidence that the Philippines can bounce back from this unprecedented health crisis, given President Duterte’s prudent approach to fiscal management, which has placed the country in a strong position to weather the impact of the pandemic that has battered the global economy.
NEDA Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua presented the government’s proposed Economic Recovery Program. This provided context for the workshop participants, who were among the first to learn about the recovery plan, as they engaged in virtual small group breakout discussions to identify the top actionable recommendations for government.
Chua emphasized the four-pillar strategy of the Duterte administration to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
It covers the following 1) providing poor and low-income households, small-business employees and other vulnerable groups emergency and wage subsidies; 2) marshalling the country’s medical resources and ensuring the safety of healthcare frontliners; 3) fiscal and monetary actions to finance emergency initiatives and keep the economy afloat, and 4) an economic recovery plan to create jobs and sustain growth under a post-quarantine scenario.
“We need to implement a phased and adaptive recovery approach,” Chua said.
Presenting the top recommendations at the end of the workshop, the youth representatives said “We believe these are the most important measures that the government should take to ensure that the Philippines recovers from COVID-19 as quickly and efficiently as possible while helping our countrymen who are most affected by the pandemic.”
Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II, who received the recommendations on behalf of the Duterte administration’s economic team, underscored the importance of public engagement in governance. “We take your recommendations seriously. After all, it is your generation that will benefit in the long-term should we succeed in our current efforts. It is your generation that will learn from the mistakes and the good practices of government and the private sector in handling this unprecedented health emergency,” he said.
Lambino, who was conference director of the first Sulong Pilipinas workshop in 2016, stressed that the “you are now part of the process of finding solutions toward improving the situation of our fellow Filipinos, especially those who are most vulnerable” to the economic fallout from COVID-19.
On behalf of the participants, the top recommendations were presented to the government by Ray Alyannah Lagasca, Vice President of the National Youth Parliament (NYP) and National Secretary General of Youth for Mental Health, Inc. (Y4MH); Roberto Antonio Leviste, Vice President for External Affairs of the De La Salle University – University Student Government (DLSU-USG); Kevin San Miguel Cuevas, a representative from the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Alumni Association; and Dan Michael Sean Marocom, National Finalist from the 58th Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP).
During the virtual open forum, Leviste said that, “Through Sulong Pilipinas, (one) will witness the power of the youth and how everyone can collaborate towards nation-building.”
Lagasca noted that the event “was an exercise of social democracy and good governance” and that “what (the youth) truly yearns for is inclusion in post-event work and transparency, as we hope for the implementation of these recommendations.”
Below are the top recommendations from the workshop:
1. Agriculture and food security: To boost countryside development, ensuring food security, and promoting the growth of agriculture, the participants urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to work with local governments in providing organic farming training, mentorship programs, and the appropriate modern technology to farmers from impoverished communities by 2021.
This includes ensuring the integrity and efficiency of the entire value chain—from farm to table—especially to ensure that farmers are not exploited.
2. Education and science and technology: To ensure continuity and quality of education at all times, the youth sector called on the Departments of Education (DepEd) and of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to improve internet infrastructure, boost speed, ensure proper training, and explore short message service or SMS and other telecommunications channels for students, parents, and teachers, by August 2020, as well as realign budgets to promote preparedness for flexible learning.
3. Financial inclusion and digitalization: To expedite the distribution of government aid to affected households during calamities and similar situations, the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and of Health (DOH), DICT and Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) should work together to incorporate the appropriate socio-economic information in the National ID System by 2021, and utilize these in data-driven and evidence-based programs.
4. Health: To ensure that the Philippines is as prepared for the “new normal” post-COVID-19, the DOH should increase testing capacity by establishing more testing centers and procuring more testing kits.
5. Infrastructure, transportation, and logistics: To avert the potential loss of jobs in the transport sector, and provide the Filipino workers with safe and efficient means of transportation, the government should contract and pay transport operators to provide transport services along high volume transit corridors; raise capacity and efficiency of public transport with improved infrastructure and safety measures; and shift to automatic fare collection to minimize subsidy requirement by the implementation of general community quarantine (GCQ) by the fourth quarter of 2020.
6. Manufacturing: To create employment for displaced workers in the countryside and provinces, the economic team (including key agencies like the Philippine Economic Zone Authority or PEZA and the Board of Investments or BOI) should work with local government units (LGUs) in developing industries; expediting strategic approval of industrial parks; and promoting these areas to foreign and local companies as destinations for investment.
A technical working group (TWG) focused on countryside investment should be formed to lay out these initial measures by the end of 2020.
7. Peace and order: To ensure public trust in efforts to control the pandemic, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement agencies should be consistent and coordinated in their enforcement of quarantine guidelines, effective immediately.
8. Services: To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on businesses in the tourism sector for a period of six (6) months from May to October 2020, the government should explore measures such as the postponement of tax payments without penalties; discount on utilities; rental-free periods and rental rebates for facilities operating in airports; and the relaxation of government guidelines limiting hotel use, subject to necessary safety measures.
9. Social Protection: To help our citizens cope with the negative impact of COVID-19 and the climate crisis, the DSWD and LGUs should strengthen social protection by providing ample emergency relief such as emergency packs and unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) to low- and no-income families; production support to farmers and fisherfolk; wage subsidies; and increased financial assistance to informal earners, near-poor households and displaced overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) within the next few months.
10. MSME development: To help boost the economy and provide income for affected workers, the government should encourage Filipinos to support local businesses and products by providing financial and technical assistance to local micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), as well as support these businesses in the digitalization process within the next few years.
Participating youth organizations included NYP, Y4MH, DLSU-USG, YSEALI Alumni Association, TOSP, National Federation of Junior Philippine Institute of Accountants (NFJPIA), Junior Philippine Economics Society (JPES), Junior Financial Executives of the Philippines (JFINEX), Youth Alliance for Health Reform (YAHR), FOI Youth Initiative (FYI), Philippine Young Entrepreneurs Association (PYEA), Teach for the Philippines, Youth Against Illegal Drugs (YAID), Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP), Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health (VYLH) and the Youth for Sin Tax Movement.
Being the first Sulong Pilipinas forum for 2020, Thursday’s event was also the first time the conference was held online to observe physical distancing protocols following the implementing guidelines of the ECQ.
Sulong Pilipinas is the annual consultative workshop that started in Davao City even before then-City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in 2016.
Among the proposals drawn up from the first Sulong Pilipinas in Davao City in 2016 led to the crafting of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP), the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure modernization program, the National ID System and the Ease of Doing Business (EODB) Act.
Following a 2017 Sulong Pilipinas recommendation of ensuring accessible primary healthcare for every Filipino, the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law and a new tobacco tax measure to help finance it were enacted.
Meanwhile, recommendations from last year’s Sulong Pilipinas have been helping guide the administration’s push for reforms in agriculture, particularly the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).