By Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine economy grew by 6.6 percent in 2012, one of the strongest economic growths in Asia.
The full-year growth was pushed up after the country's gross domestic product (GDP) grew by a higher-than-expected 6.8 percent in the fourth quarter.
According to the National Economic and Development Authority ( NEDA), the economic policy-making agency of the government, from October to December last year, all major sectors of the economy registered remarkable growth.
Paradoxically, while there was a sizeable GDP growth in the fourth quarter, the country's unemployment rate worsened to 6.8 percent in October, up from the 6.4 percent recorded during the same month in the previous year.
Data from the National Statistics Office (NSO), the government agency in charge of monitoring economic data, showed that there were 2.76 million unemployed Filipinos in October, 2012, 120,000 higher than the 2.64 million jobless individuals in October 2011.
NEDA Director General Arsenio Balisacan has said that despite the country's robust economic growth this year, generating more jobs and quality employment remains a challenge.
"Achieving rapid economic growth is one thing, and inclusive growth is clearly another. Given the latest labor and employment figures, generating employment and ensuring that these are of good quality remain our greatest challenges," Balisacan said.
The government will continue to improve the country's competitiveness "as this will lead to more investments that will create the needed employment in the medium to long term," Balisacan added.
"In addition, we, at NEDA, have been collaborating with other agencies, including the Department of Labor and Employment, to identify strategies to boost employment in the short term," he added.
The NSO said that the country had around 63.3 million Filipinos aged 15 years old and above in October 2012. Of this figure, 40.4 million persons were in the labor force.
This translates to a labor force participation rate of 63.9 percent in October 2012, down from the 66.3 percent recorded during the same month last year.
The number of employed persons decreased to 37.67 million from the 38.55 million with jobs last year.
Ibon Foundation, a Manila-based independent think tank, said that despite the respectably high economic growth rate in the Philippines, the country has the worst unemployment rate in Southeast Asia.
"The Philippines' average economic growth is reportedly higher than some Southeast Asian countries but at the same time, it also has the worst unemployment rates in the region," Ibon Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa said in a statement issued recently.
"The country's unemployment rate of 7 percent in 2011 was more than double the regional average of 3.2 percent and higher than in Indonesia (6.6 percent), Myanmar (4.0 percent), Malaysia ( 3.1 percent), Singapore (2.7 percent), Brunei (2.6 percent), Vietnam (2.0 percent), Cambodia (1.7 percent), Laos (1.4 percent) and Thailand (0.7 percent)," Africa said.
He added that the disparity between the high GDP growth and the unemployment rate "further highlights the exclusionary character of the country's growth."
"The country's unemployment crisis will remain unresolved without a genuine thrust to develop Filipino manufacturing and domestic agriculture," Africa said.
Unfortunately, Africa said, the Philippine government persists in promoting low employment and low value-added sectors such as business process outsourcing (BPO), mining, tourism, enclave manufacturing for export, and cheap labor export.
"These are sectors where foreign investors and economies benefit disproportionately more than Filipinos," he said.
Rene Ofreneo of the School of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of the Philippines said that more than half, or 51. 2 percent of unemployed Filipinos, were in 15-to-24 age group, " which only validates the difficulty faced by fresh graduates looking for work."
Ofreneo said that a third, or 33.3 percent of those unemployed, were high school graduates, 13.9 percent were college undergraduates, and 19.2 percent were college graduates. "The pattern of the labor force did not change. A major change will happen if there will be a major structural change in the economy like an industrial transformation and an agricultural modernization," Ofreneo said.
Meanwhile, Balisacan said while the 2012 growth of 6.6 percent was above the government target of 5 percent to 6 percent, this does not mean that growth would be much higher in 2013.
He said that there is still no reason to revise the 6-percent to 7-percent official growth assumption for 2013, although the economic managers will continue to monitor the progress on the fiscal side and developments abroad to determine if there is a need to change the forecast.
"We think 6 percent to 7 percent is more realistic given the risks. The global economy is more receptive to expansion now but the risks are quite high," Balisacan added.