Members of the media, colleagues in government, development partners, friends, maupay nga adlaw ha aton ngatanan.
We at NEDA are happy to echo the news of PSA that the region’s poverty situation has significantly improved. As reported, the poverty incidence among population in Eastern Visayas went down from 30.7 percent in 2018 to 28.9 percent in 2021. This is equivalent to a 1.8 percentage points reduction. It would seem small, but this equates to a significant number, like thousands.
With the 2021 28.9 percent poverty incidence among population, we actually missed our target of 23.7 percent for the same year as indicated in our Eastern Visayas Regional Development Plan (RDP). This is understandable because of the economic slump we suffered from due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it is still worth noting that 31,200 more people in Region VIII have been lifted out of poverty from 2018 to 2021. Thus, we can say that somehow, we hit our RDP 2017-2022 regional goal of reduced poverty, although not at a level we wished to be.
We are also happy to share that through the last seven years, our poverty ranking among the 17 regions of the Philippines has also been improving. Improving in the sense that from second poorest in 2015, we became the third poorest region in 2018, and in 2021, we went down two more notches on the poverty ladder. Eastern Visayas is now only the fifth poorest nationwide – but still in the top five poorest in the country.
Looking at the provinces and Tacloban City, we have a mixed performance – mix of decreases and increases. While Biliran, Samar, and Tacloban had an uptick in poverty incidence among population, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Leyte, and Southern Leyte reduced their poverty levels, the biggest reduction of which was in Eastern Samar of a remarkable 11.8 percentage points.
So, my dear friends, notwithstanding these headways, we should not rest on our laurels. There is still no place for complacency. We must sustain this poverty reduction by increasing income opportunities for every family in Eastern Visayas – even when we are still grappling with this pandemic. The economy is gradually recovering after it has reopened. This is evidenced by the 6 percent growth in the Gross Regional Domestic Product in 2021 from 2020, the first year of the pandemic. Before we hit this 6 percent growth, we were in an economy that shrunk – in 2020, the year that Covid-19 first hit us and forced us to an almost total lockdown, we were down to a negative 7.4 percent.
But, praise God, we are now on our road to recovery. Fully reopening our economy will lead to more operational businesses that can provide jobs and income to households, thereby contributing to poverty reduction. We aim to transform our production sectors so that they generate more and better-quality job opportunities. Production sectors here include agriculture and fisheries, trade, industry, and services which includes tourism. The ones already existing must be scaled up so that their productivity is increased – their products and services are at par with those leading in the market so that they can be competitive with both local and global suppliers. We are also calling for more opportunities for entrepreneurship, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods for our low-skilled labor force. Programs and projects related to re-tooling and re-skilling opportunities will be ramped up to increase the employability of our workers.
And finally, there will be continual enhancement of the education and health sectors and social protection programs to ensure that every resident of the region can reach their full potential and be adequately prepared to cope with shocks.
We need to attract more investments to the region. We need to bring down our power rates, guarantee an efficient water supply system that can feed our households and business establishments, ascertain that the Anti-Red Tape Act and the Ease of Doing Business Act are followed so that investors are not discouraged to spend money on new business in this part of the country just because it takes forever before they can be given a license to operate. We need to upskill or even reskill our labor force to ensure that the needs of the industries are met. This is the kind of economic transformation that we want. And yes, we need to do a lot more to sustain our gains in poverty reduction. We also need to continue to be vigilant in fighting Covid. Let’s not forget it is still very much in our midst. Vaccination is still free; we just have to avail of it. We also need to continue to adhere to the minimum health standards, especially in closed spaces: mask up, distance off, avoid crowds, sanitize, we know the drill. We have no choice but to continue doing these unless we want another surge. A surge that will again cripple the economy and siphon public funds that could otherwise be better spent for government services – more school buildings, hospitals, livelihood assistance, farm inputs, etc. Indeed, it takes the whole of society to recover from the pandemic, and the cooperation of each and every one is crucial in steering our economy to a high-growth trajectory, not only a robust economy but one that benefits every one of us in Eastern Visayas.
This 2021 28.9 percent poverty among population in the region will be our baseline figure in the new regional plan that the Regional Development Council is currently preparing. That is, the RDP 2023-2028, our socioeconomic development blueprint for the next six years under the Marcos administration. Henceforth, starting in 2023 and every two years thereafter, we will see if we have further reduced poverty from this current level.
We recognize that many challenges remain, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects of the global fuel crisis on the prices of our commodities and services. But we are Eastern Visayans. Mag isog kita – in a positive way. And our commitment remains: we will continue to work together to achieve our collective aspiration for a society where no one is poor and where every Filipino enjoys a matatag, maginhawa at panatag na buhay.
Thank you very much and God bless us all!