The Philippine GDP surged by a higher than expected 7.8 percent in the first quarter, surpassing the growth posted by other East Asian economies and reaffirming that the once laggard southeast Asian economy is now on a sustained growth path.
The National Statistical Coordination Board reported Thursday that an upbeat business and consumer sentiment, increased public spending and a robust manufacturing and construction sectors boosted the country's economy in the first quarter.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the Philippines GDP growth is higher than that of Indonesia (6 percent) , Thailand (5.3 percent), Vietnam (4.9 percent), and China (7.7 percent) and "puts to rest the doubts cast on the 2012 figure as being due to base effects only."
"What's remarkable about the 7.8 percent growth is that it came from a strong growth base of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012," said Emilio Neri Jr., lead economist for the Bank of the Philippine Islands.
This, Neri said, "clearly demonstrates that the Philippine economy has achieved a much higher growth trajectory."
Consumption spending continues to drive the Philippine economy supported mostly by the steady inflow of remittances from the 10 million Filipinos working overseas.
Likewise, sustained government spending promoted growth in the first quarter. Public spending rose 13.2 percent on back of increased funding for conditional cash transfer and public infrastructure.
"Public spending continues to drive the economy forward," Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said, adding that despite concerns over the global economy, "the country's public spending performance continues to respond to high local demand."
Abad cited the 45.6 percent growth in spending for public construction. This, he said, didn't only boost the GDP in the first quarter but will also promote growth in the succeeding years as better infrastructure will attract more investors and support inclusive growth.
The robust growth posted by the construction and manufacturing sectors are the key factors from the production side that boosted GDP. Balisacan welcomed this development as it this is a "good positioning towards an industry-led economy."
The manufacturing sector, in particular, expanded by an impressive 9.7 percent despite a lower demand for Philippine exports.
Balisacan said this may be due to higher domestic demand. He noted that the main contributors to the strong growth of manufacturing were manufactures of food, household appliances, communication equipment, chemical and chemical products, transport equipment, and machinery and other equipment.
Construction grew by 32.5 percent thanks to increased funding for public infrastructure and a rebound in private construction.
Moving forward, it is essential for the country's economic planners not only to sustain growth but also assure that economic gains will help in reducing poverty incidence and joblessness.
Economist Cid Terosa, economics professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, considers the first quarter growth as a " welcome surprise".
He advised that "to sustain growth, strong investment spending and trade performance are vital."
Balisacan said the government is focusing on sectors that won't only support growth but also provide more jobs. These include infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, logistics, outsourcing, shipbuilding, housing, and the halal food industry.
Apart from investing on infrastructure, he also stressed the importance of investing on education and research and development to encourage more investors to come in the country. These investments will create jobs which will in turn promote inclusive growth.
"We remain positive in our outlook and we will translate this into positive action to achieve inclusive growth. We hope that the private sector will maintain a positive outlook as well, and translate this into greater participation in the growth process," he said.