What Lies Ahead

The year that passed was widely regarded as one of the most memorable, given the numerous history-making headlines that it produced.

In 2016, the world saw a proliferation of terrorist attacks, the rise of populist candidates and the death of countless celebrities.

Yet 2016 for Filipinos was the year an outsider, someone not associated with the traditional political elite, was elected the chief executive of the nation.

In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte stormed to victory. With his anti-elitist, “Filipino First” rhetoric that emphasized policy to alleviate the plight of the poor.

In his campaign, he promised a plethora of government programs that are designed to be “pro-poor”. The year that passed was one of promises, the current year should see these promises brought to fruition.

Before the year’s end, Filipinos were greeted with the news that the economy expanded by a sizable 7.1% in the 3rd quarter. Bearing in mind that Duterte has only been in power for the latter half of that year means credit should still go to the preceding Aquino administration.

This year would be a good barometer to judge the Duterte administration’s economic acumen, especially as major financial institutions tip the country to continue its economic boom.

While Duterte may not have been known for his macroeconomic abilities, his perceived strengths is in trickling down gains to the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

During his campaign, the incumbent promised a wide range of social programs for the poor including: free irrigation for farmers, free tuition in state colleges and more affordable healthcare.

So far, Duterte has delivered on two out of three of those promises. In December, the Agriculture Department announced they were no longer charging fees for irrigation systems for all farmers.

It was also announced that state colleges and universities would stop charging tuition fees from undergraduate students, but that was eventually revised by President Duterte who instead stated prioritization for “financially disadvantaged but academically able students”.

Healthcare is among the biggest financial strains for Filipinos, and it is an area that Duterte emphasized he would invest on during his campaign.

It was initially reported that the health budget took a cut, but the Health Department clarified that added funding to state insurance system – PhilHealth – meant that the budget actually increased by 15%.

The proposed increase is meant to cover “universal healthcare coverage” for all indigent Filipinos, that includes automatic health insurance coverage for an estimated eight million Filipinos not currently enrolled in PhilHealth.

The increased healthcare budget also covers “free hospitalization and medicines” for the indigent, those unemployed as well as the elderly. However, the drugs covered only include those commonly prescribed by doctors.

Still, the proposed line-up of social programs awaiting Filipinos is 2017 is promising. The items are all included in the appropriated 2017 budget, which means the policy and funding is there – all that is needed now is the implementation.

If properly implemented, what lies ahead in 2017 could be the trickling down of the country’s economic gains in the past six years to the lowest rung of our society. We will have to wait and see.

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