THE Philippine economy grew 0.9 percent in 2009, barely exceeding the low end of the government's target, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) reported Thursday.

NSCB said growth would have been almost double at 1.7 percent if not for Tropical Storm Ondoy and Typhoon Pepeng, which slowed the economic engine last year.

The global financial slump has also contributed to the lower GDP growth, the NSCB added.

Gross domestic product (GDP) refers to the total market value of all final goods and services produced in a country in a given year, equal to total consumer, investment, and government spending, plus the value of exports, minus the value of imports.

The economy grew 3.8 percent last year. The full-year growth figure for 2009 was the worst since the 1998 Asian financial crisis, which saw the local economy contract by 0.6 percent.

It also grew 1.4 percent year-on-year in the last quarter of 2009, higher than the past three quarters’ growth of 0.6 percent, 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent.

GDP growth came in at 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter despite twin storms that damaged crops in Northern Luzon.

"This continued the trend of positive performance amidst the global economic crisis and recent natural calamities," said Augusto Santos, acting director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) of the full-year performance.

The government had projected growth of 0.7 percent to 1 percent for the whole of last year, near the lower end of its 0.8 percent to 1.8 percent target.

“The Philippine economy has never entered into a recession despite the odds,” added Santos. “Having kept the economy from a recession thus far, the tasks ahead are clear. As the economic resiliency plan delivers the primary goals

of saving and creating jobs, protecting the most vulnerable, and starting infrastructure development to enhance competitiveness, we must ascertain that the subdued economic recovery this year will benefit most Filipinos."

The farming, fishery and forestry sector grew 0.1 percent in 2009 from a year ago, the industry sector shrank 2.0 percent while the service sector registered a moderate growth of 3.2 percent, the NSCB reported.

Remittances from the overseas Filipino workers (OFW) went up 15.6 percent in 2009 after reaching US$ 25.9 billion. In 2008, remittances were recorded at US$ 22.4 billion.

Negative contributors to growth include the 17.8 percent drop in exports and -5.1-percent drop in manufacturing.

‘Dismal growth’

Former budget secretary and University of the Philippines (UP) economics professor Benjamin Diokno meanwhile disputed the reported resiliency of the economy.

“Compared with the original GDP growth target of 6.1 to 7.1 percent, the 0.9 percent annual growth is dismal. We should note that the fourth quarter numbers are preliminary. There’s a strong likelihood that the numbers might be revised down this April, as NSCB has done in second and third quarters,” Diokno told Sun.Star in a text message.

“In the meantime, per capita income has shrunk by one percent and agricultural output also shrunk,” the budget chief of former President Joseph Estrada added.

The NSCB said the domestic economy could not keep pace with the population growth in 2009 as per capita GDP declined by 1.0 percent from a 1.8 percent growth in 2008.

University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) economist Cid Terrosa however accepted the latest economic data.

“I believe that’s the best the economy can achieve given the circumstances as defined by the crisis,” he said.

Global recovery underway

As this developed, Santos said a global economic rebound is underway and the government is set to maintain policies providing the right environment for key growth drivers — business process outsourcing, finance, mining and quarrying, construction, and private services.

The Neda has also identified high-value agribusiness/aquaculture, renewable energy, shipbuilding, tourism, and information and communication technology (ICT) as major economic drivers.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said last week that government would continue spending to stimulate the economy and create jobs, as it aims to grow by 3-4 percent this year.

Santos meanwhile put the economic target between 2.6 percent to 3.6 percent.

“We will continue with stimulus spending although at a reduced scale," he said. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)