MANILA, May 9 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine economy expanded 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2019, the slowest growth rate recorded in 16 quarters, since the first quarter of 2015 which was recorded at 5.0 percent, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said on Thursday.
Assistant Secretary Josie Perez, PSA officer-in-charge, said the 5.6-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first quarter of 2019 was slower than the 6.5-percent increase recorded in the first quarter of 2018.
"Trade and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, personal and household goods; manufacturing; and financial intermediation were the main drivers of growth for the quarter," she told a news conference.
Among the major economic sectors, Perez said services witnessed the fastest growth with 7.0 percent, followed by industry with a growth of 4.4 percent. Agriculture, Hunting, forestry and fishing had a growth of 0.8 percent, she added.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia blamed the sharp slowdown on the delayed approval of the 2019 national budget by the lawmakers.
"We estimate that we should have grown by as much as 6.6 percent this first quarter, if we were operating under the 2019 fiscal program," Pernia said at the same news conference.
To reach the full-year growth target of 6.0 to 7.0 percent, Pernia said the economy will need to grow an average of 6.1 percent over the next three quarters.
"This is still achievable given the current performance of the private sector and if the government sector is able to jumpstart and speed up the implementation of its new programs and projects," Pernia said.
On the supply side, Pernia said both industry and agriculture sectors posted slower growth.
Pernia said the agriculture sector's slower growth is attributed to the El Nino phenomenon, which is projected to continue until August of this year.
"The longer term solution is to build the resiliency of the sector, which will require changes in production and processing patterns and practices of the agriculture sector," he said.
Meanwhile, Pernia said private construction also slowed down, which is expected given the business cycle of the sector.
"However, if we are able to quickly implement the reforms that reduce the cost of doing business, then the uptick in private construction may happen even sooner," he said.
"Fortunately, foreign investments will also be encouraged with our country's international credit rating upgrade to BBB+, historically the highest for the country," Pernia added.
On the demand side, Pernia said the PSA noted the acceleration in household spending, at 6.3 percent growth. "We expect this to remain robust with a more upbeat consumer sentiment over the quarters ahead and the continued moderation in inflation," he said.