The SONA of our discontent

was my Trade Tripper column in the past weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

Writing this almost five days after the State of the Nation Address (SONA) means that most other commentators have likely said what needs to be said. And yet, implications need to be seen more clearly from what was left unmentioned in the SONA.

Why do this? Not for complaining or pessimism’s sake. But precisely to address our nation’s concerns. For how do we resolve something when we don’t even want to recognize that it needs resolving?

So, as always, context is important. While poverty incidence is said to have improved at 24.9%, the accuracy of that number is suspect considering self-rated poverty went up to 55% in the last three months.

In any event, our poverty numbers (taken at face value) are still way below our ASEAN counterparts, matching only Laos and Myanmar, with even Cambodia having a lower incidence of poverty.

This within the context of almost three million Filipinos currently unemployed, nearly 80% of which are youths 15-34 years old. While unemployment figures recently improved somewhat, many of those considered “employed” are actually either unpaid (about 10%) or underemployed (nearly 20%).

Clearly, we need more jobs. But how, with an imminent power crisis involving Metro Manila and surrounding provinces? This on top of the Philippines’ already unsatisfactory electrification rate of 83%, which is below Thailand’s 88% and Vietnam’s 98%.

Add to this the ridiculous possibility of having a water shortage, despite Metro Manila being constantly inundated by floods. With the metropolis’ rising population, it remains dependent on one dam for its water supply. Which could get worse with the coming of El Niño. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) long warned about this problem, not only with supply but also sanitation.

Then you have other indicators: The 2014 IMD World Competitive Yearbook (WCY) ranked the Philippines 42 (out of 60) this year, four notches down from 2013’s 38.

The 2014 Economic Freedom Index ranks the Philippines 89 (out of 186 countries, “slightly below the world average”), including low ratings for “rule of law,” as well as ease of doing business (in the Philippines, “launching a business takes 15 procedures and 35 days”).

The Philippines also dropped in the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index, from 44 in 2010 to 57 in 2014.

Our universities fare well neither in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-2014 nor in the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings.

Connect to that the Philippines’ disconcertingly worsening performance in intelligence test scores, averaging 86% IQ levels according to some studies (one of which pointed to the increased exposure to lead as possible culprit).

In OpenSignal’s survey of different countries’ broadband speed, the Philippines came in the slowest and last with regard to time and speed on LTE.

Then there is traffic, with the Japan International Cooperation Agency reporting that Metro Manila traffic in 2012 cost the country an amount equal to 7% of the GDP. Think of that alongside planned increased road repairs. Then you have our overcrowded, chaotic MRT system. Our airport has been rated the world’s worst in 2013, the second time in a row it was so labeled.

And don’t forget smuggling.

All the foregoing probably explains the Philippines having foreign direct investments in 2013 of $3.86 billions, spectacularly short of Malaysia’s $11.7 billion, Indonesia’s $22 billion, Thailand’s $13 billion, and Singapore’s $56 billion.

And this probably accounts for the International Monetary Fund lowering its 2014 Philippine growth outlook to 6.2% (rather than 6.5%).

That, remember, is within the context of recent massive government spending, putting the government back in deficit territory (nearly P54 billion), with public expenditures surging the last few months by 40%.

And we still have to grasp how the hostilities happening right now in the Middle East would affect our overseas workers’ continued employment.

Even assuming that our people do get jobs (and get paid for it), there is also the possible rice shortage next year.

All these within the context of ASEAN 2015 integration, with the necessity of pitting our products and services vis-à-vis competition from our Southeast Asian counterparts.

But what should worry us the most is that teenage pregnancy in this country rose by 70% in the past 10-year period (114,205 in 1999 to 195,662 in 2009). The 2010 figures show 206,574 of such pregnancies, with more than half of that number being girls below 14 years of age. This makes us among the highest in ASEAN and the only country where that number is increasing.

Also disconcertingly, 13-14% of all registered marriages are among teenagers below 20 years old. Meanwhile, there is also a rise in annulment cases, with the Office of the Solicitor General reporting a 100% increase in just 10 years.

The RH Law can’t really help, particularly with regard to rape (many incestuous), which is on the rise. One study documented 4,572 cases of rape for 2010, a 13% increase from 2009.

Then there are the China and the Bangsamoro issues. Oh, and the Freedom of Informatiom bill.