By Cecil Morella
MANILA, October 12, 2011 (AFP) – Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Wednesday announced a $1.66 billion program to help his country cope with the deepening global economic turmoil.
Aquino said the money would be spent over the rest of the year, however even with the stimulus program the government revised down its economic growth forecast for 2011 by 0.5 percentage points to 4.5-5.5 percent.
â€œThe global economy has undergone a bit of a slowdown recently… this slowdown is already making some impact on growth in the region, including the Philippines,â€ Aquino told reporters.
â€œRest assured, the government is working overtime to make certain that we do what must be done to maintain our economyâ€™s momentum.â€
Aquino said the 72 billion pesos ($1.66 billion) in the stimulus program would be spent on projects â€œthat will have a high macro economic impact and help the poorâ€.
Some of the money will be spent on infrastructure projects such as roads, irrigation canals and improving Manilaâ€™s light rail system, according to the government.
Other funds will go to relocating communities threatened by landslides and floods, while the state weather serviceâ€™s typhoon-forecasting equipment will be upgraded.
Hospitals will also get extra funding, while healthcare subsidies to the poor will be boosted, and more nurses will be hired, the government said.
The education ministry will also get extra funding to help the surging outsourcing sector address manpower problems by providing training to prospective applicants.
Shortly after Aquino announced the stimulus program, the government said its economic growth forecast for this year had been cut from 5.0-6.0 percent to 4.5-5.5 percent.
The forecast for next year was also trimmed, to 5.0-6.0 percent from 5.5-6.5 percent.
Aquino said the Philippinesâ€™ crucial electronic exports sector had been particularly hard hit this year because sales to Japan, one of its biggest markets, fell away following the devastating earthquake and tsunami there.
He also said Philippine economic managers were nervously watching the debt crisis in Europe.
However Aquino urged Filipinos to remain optimistic about the countryâ€™s economic prospects.
â€œWhile the current global economic climate is not necessarily conducive to growth, challenges such as this have not prevented us from progress before, and they will not prevent us from progress in the future,â€ he said.
â€œWe will do what we can within the bounds of fiscal prudence to keep the economy growing and to make certain that the effects of this growth are felt more widely.â€