Why the drug war thwarts our pursuit of inclusive growth

Why the drug war thwarts our pursuit of inclusive growth
The drug war not only threatens to slow down growth, but also qualifies as one of the most anti-poor policies in recent Philippine history

In recent years the government has committed to pursue “inclusive growth” as the overarching goal of Philippine development: economic growth that is not just rapid and sustained, but also broad-based and pro-poor.

However, inclusive growth is now under threat from President Duterte’s ruthless war on drugs, which has already led to more than 7,000 deaths (and counting).

In this article we argue that the drug war is not only anti-growth, but also overwhelmingly anti-poor. Therefore, the drug war thwarts our country’s pursuit of inclusive growth.

What is inclusive growth?

Few people know that the term “inclusive growth” originated in a 2000 paper co-written by current Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, back when he was an economist at the Asian Development Bank. He and his co-author wrote that:

“Pro-poor growth can be defined as one that enables the poor to actively participate in and significantly benefit from economic activity. It is a major departure from the trickle-down development concept. It is inclusive economic growth. Its outcome should be that no person in society is deprived of the minimum basic capabilities.”

Furthermore, “A pro-poor growth strategy entails the removal of institutional and policy-induced biases against the poor.”

Put simply, we don’t just want the economy to grow: We want to make sure that the poor also benefit from such growth. We can do that by expanding their economic opportunities, promoting their productive employment, and removing policies that are systematically biased against them.

This notion of inclusive growth adheres to the notion of human development itself, which has been defined as “enlarging people’s choices” and “advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy.” Inclusive growth also aligns with the concept of human rights by emphasizing the need to ensure “minimum basic capabilities” and “expand people’s freedoms.”

Hence, one can say that inclusive growth and basic freedoms are really two sides of the same coin. We promote inclusive growth whenever we remove constraints to people’s freedom (such as abject poverty, tyranny, and oppression). Conversely, we stifle development and inclusive growth when such “unfreedoms” proliferate.

Unfortunately, the President’s drug war goes against these elements of inclusive growth: the drug war is not just anti-growth but also anti-poor.

The drug war is anti-growth

Sure, the Philippine economy grew at an impressive 7% and 6.6% in the last two quarters of 2016. But the death toll from the President’s drug war grew even faster: The first wave of the drug war resulted in a whopping 7,080 deaths according to police data.

To give some perspective, that catastrophic death toll is already larger than the estimated number of killings during Marcos’ martial law years (3,240) or the casualties from Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 (6,340). Also, if the current rate of 1,020 deaths per month continues, there could be as many as 64,500 more drug war deaths by the end of the Duterte administration in 2022.

The sheer size of the drug war’s death toll is anti-growth because it makes for a grim, uninviting economic climate.

This much was recently admitted by some senior government officials: The tourism and PAGCOR chiefs said that, amid the human rights issues, it’s now harder to attract tourists and investors. Meanwhile, the interior secretary also said that our trade deals with the European Union could be compromised. (But they all blamed Vice President Leni Robredo for these risks, instead of the drug war itself.)

Standard & Poor’s also recently said that they might downgrade the Philippines’ credit rating because “the stability and predictability of policymaking has diminished somewhat.” This is not just due to the drug war, but also the President’s impulsive statements on foreign policy and national security.

Foreign investors look at credit ratings to gauge risk levels across different countries. But even without a lower credit rating, they will not want to invest in a country where violence is pervasive, human rights are neglected, and the rule of law is compromised. In addition, a lower credit rating will undo the much-lauded credit rating improvements we have earned in the past few years.

The drug war is anti-poor

Aside from being anti-growth, the drug war impedes inclusive growth because it is overwhelmingly anti-poor.

Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that, “Almost all of the victims were either unemployed or worked menial jobs, including as rickshaw drivers or porters, and lived in slum neighborhoods or informal settlements.” President Duterte himself acknowledged this, and said “that’s just how it is.”

No matter how fast the economy is growing, the poor cannot participate and partake in the nation’s growth if they are dead. We cannot expand the poor’s choices, opportunities, and freedoms if we kill them off the streets without hesitation or remorse.

What’s more, many of the drug war’s victims are poor household heads. Just a few days ago, a mother (and suspected drug user) was shot dead in Caloocan right in front of her daughter. By killing off these household heads, the drug war leaves thousands of parentless children in its wake. Preliminary estimates from the Department of Social Welfare and Development suggest that the number of drug war orphans could already exceed 18,000.

For these poor children, life is already hard enough. But without their parents, life becomes unbearable, not just today but also in the future. Hence, the drug war could also make it much harder to break the cycle of poverty from this generation to the next.

The drug war makes inclusive growth impossible

Inclusive growth is rapid, sustained, broad-based, and pro-poor. But as things stand, President Duterte’s drug war not only threatens to slow down growth, but also qualifies as one of the most anti-poor policies in recent Philippine history.

The previous administration already had a frustratingly difficult time making growth more inclusive because of the sheer persistence of poverty and inequality. But the Duterte drug war makes inclusive growth downright impossible to achieve.

If the government’s drug strategy focused more on rehabilitation and reintegration of drug addicts into society, or if law enforcement targeted a few high-value targets rather than a significant portion of the poor population, then drug policy and inclusive growth need not be contradictory.

But as long as the government pursues a heavy-handed and bloody war on drugs that systematically discriminates against the poor, then Filipinos can never hope to achieve inclusive growth any time soon.

This presents a conundrum for Filipinos today. Do we really want inclusive growth as the overarching goal of Philippine development? If so, we must bravely speak out against the killings: We cannot want inclusive growth and, at the same time, stay silent about the drug war.

Otherwise, we will all be living in one big hypocrisy, and any commitment to inclusive growth will just be empty words. – Rappler.com

JC Punongbayan is a PhD student and teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics. Kevin Mandrilla is an MA student at the UP Asian Center with a background in human rights advocacy. Their views do not necessarily reflect the views of their affiliations.

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