NEDA under the leadership of Arsenio Balisacan: Shaping national development with honor, excellence, and passion

National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio Balisacan delivers the keynote speech of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) 51st commencement exercises on August 5, 2023, at the UPLB Copeland Gymnasium. Photo by Abraham Arboleda, UP MPRO

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan received the 2023 Most Distinguished Alumnus award from the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA)—an award meant to honor iskos and iskas who have made outstanding contributions to positive change in the country and inspire others (whether UP alumni or not) to follow suit and learn from their example.

In Arsi Balisacan’s example, we see a public servant with a stellar record for having a clear vision over what he wants and wishes to accomplish, and consequently, achieving them.

Twice the country’s NEDA Secretary, Balisacan displays a profound passion for his work, constantly sharpening his mind and inspiring his colleagues to strive for the same level of excellence. It is for this reason that he and his work are renowned among colleagues, academics, and fellow public servants within the various fields of economics, public policy, agriculture, governance, and development.

“You have to love what you do and demonstrate your passion through your work. This way, you will always be one step ahead and won’t need to wait for instructions to start working towards your objective—that is what I always tell the people I work with,” advised Balisacan.

Previously, Balisacan served as the NEDA Secretary during the administration of Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III. Today, he finds himself serving once again in the same role, but this time, under the administration of current President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. NEDA, the government agency mandated to take the lead in steering the overall direction of the country’s short-, medium-, and long-term development goals, finds itself once again under his leadership.

During his first term under the Aquino presidency, Arsi recognized the need to establish and secure sustainable growth across all future administrations, effectively changing the narrative that the Philippines would continue to be the “poor man of Asia” by 2050. Arsi was among the leaders who were adamant in refusing this narrative.

“We decided: ‘Let’s craft a new future for us, but let’s make it science-based. First, we have to know what the ambitions of ordinary Filipinos are from all over the country,” instructed Balisacan.

Thus, NEDA, through its own initiative, consulted Filipinos from various walks of life to determine their desired future and formulate a vision that would serve as the north star of the development plans of future administrations. The visioning exercise led the country to identify both its desired and undesired futures, undertaking a rigorous and empirical exercise and obtaining inputs and sentiments from all groups of all sectors, researchers, experts, and stakeholders. The result of the initiative: the AmBisyon Natin 2040—that by 2040, all Filipinos enjoy a matatag, maginhawaat panatag na buhay..

Now, the AmBisyon serves as the anchor for the country’s current Philippine Development Plan, and is reiterated among government agencies and universities as the country’s collective and long-term desired future for all. Through his guidance, Balisacan was not only able to exemplify the key characteristics of a government leader—forward-looking, moral, and equipped with exceptional knowledge and skills—but also that of a true academic, whose character and mind have been sharpened by his passion for learning.

Now that the two-time Secretary has just finished his first year in his repeated stint at government, people are curious to know where he gets his drive, his persistence, his commitment, and his endurance to “keep running the race” of public service. More than one eyebrow was raised when President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. sought out to call Balisacan to his Cabinet, and even more were raised when the latter accepted.

In his commencement address to the UPLB Class of 2023, Balisacan congratulated the graduates and imparted three points of wisdom: cultivate your passions, learn to embrace change, and stay anchored to your principles.

A former economics professor at the University of the Philippines for three decades, Balisacan shared that though he had already sought and found answers to many of the questions he had during his youth—regarding development, social transformation, and poverty alleviation—more questions still came; and more questions have evolved and changed. His passion for the work and his eagerness to learn, however, remained the same.

“When you do what you love, and you do it the best that you can—it spreads,” said Balisacan.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Balisacan now sees the fruits of his labor paying off as he is set to receive the Most Distinguished Alumnus Award from one of the country’s most esteemed and national universities.

Despite all his years in public service, Arsi’s enduring curiosity to learn and eagerness to serve remain his defining traits. As he tirelessly pursues the increased welfare and better futures for the Filipino people, his unwavering diligence has evolved into a refined discipline that proves invaluable. Today, his life stands as a testament to the ideal of a true Iskolar ng Bayan, selflessly dedicated to serving the people.

Balisacan was elected a lifelong member (Academician) of the National Academy of Science and Technology in 2008 for his research and other scholarly work in economics. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Hawaii, an MS in Agricultural Economics from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, and a BS in Agriculture (magna cum laude) from the Mariano Marcos State University.