The country is in a “better position” to weather the coronavirus crisis as the government moves to facilitate “inclusive” economic recovery and promote safe digital commerce and government services, President Duterte declared Monday.
In his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), the President outlined the government’s programs to aid displaced workers, small entrepreneurs, farmers and fishermen, and industries while seeking public cooperation in supporting local products and the tourism industry in the country.
He said the country has made significant gains in the past year, including strong economic position, but these “diminished considerably and quickly for reasons beyond one’s anticipation” in the face of the pandemic.
“Our fiscal position is strong, our economic and fiscal management prudent and our banking system robust. We are in a better position to weather the crisis caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic,” he said.
“The gains we achieved in the first three and a half years were put to a test when the pandemic suddenly struck the global community. While I am aware that the road towards a comfortable life for all would be far easy if pandemic had not occurred and along the rest of the world we suffered, the global scale and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented,” he said.
Under the government’s plan, the President laid down livelihood, skills training and education programs for displaced overseas Filipino workers and their families.
Duterte asked Technical Education and Skills Development (TESDA) to craft special training programs to retool the OFWs so they can find employment opportunities here at home. The Commission on Higher Education has also been asked by the President to implement scholarship programs for the qualified dependents of OFWs.
The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry have also been directed to come up with agri-business and entrepreneurship projects to help displaced OFWs rebuild their livelihood.
“Further, I ask the Land Bank and other government financial institutions to continue providing low-interest loans to our OFWs,” Duterte said.
The President also vowed the government to step up efforts to help businesses especially the micro small and medium enterprises affected by the pandemic. He has promised to provide responsive government assistance and services, capitalization, and business operations support as the nation adapts to the new normal.
Duterte also appealed to lessors to allow the deferment of lease payments of their tenants particularly the small businesses.
He asked them to show compassion and not cut their power and water or drive them away just because of delayed payments.
“This is not the time to drive away lessees. During normal times they were the primary source of your income stream. Now, it’s time to be fair and compassionate. Come up with amenable arrangement with your tenants,” he said.
“Commercial establishments are requested to give grace periods [or] allow deferment of payments, especially for MSMEs that were forced to close down during the quarantine period. Let us help them recover,” he said.
He also urged Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and banks operating in the country to provide regulatory relief for MSMEs and allow loan payment extensions, without incurring penalties and charges.
“We need your help to prevent the collapse of companies saddled with accumulated amortizations and payables caused by the closure of their businesses at the height of the strict quarantine periods,” he said.
To assist the recovery of industries, the President asked Congress to swiftly pass measures such as Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act and Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Act.
Infrastructure development will also be intensified to help spur high growth, attract investments, create jobs, and achieve financial inclusion for all Filipinos, according to the President.
He mentioned the resumption of the construction of the North Luzon Expressway Harbor Link, the NLEX-SLEX Connector, the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, the R-1 Bridge Project, the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway Project, and the Subic Freeport Expressway Project, among others.
“To realize the maximum benefit from the country’s investments, the infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build Program, which are labor and capital intensive, are not mere springboards for the country’s swift recovery [post]-pandemic. They are economic benefits — economic benefits to be distributed to all corners of the country and push sustainability in urban centers, particularly [Metro] Manila,” he said.
To help promote the nation’s economic recovery, the President also called for public cooperation in patronizing local products and travel destinations.
“As we embark on these efforts towards inclusive recovery, we should acknowledge that all forms of government support will go to naught if the new MSMEs do not thrive because of lack of consumer support,” he said.
“Ito ang panahon para suportahan natin ang ating mga kababayan na nagnenegosyo at gumagawa ng mga produktong sariling atin. (This is the time to support our countrymen involved in businesses and make local products),” he added.
He said the government counts on the full support of the people in relation to local tourism and recreation industries which he claimed are among the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“While we slowly try to put the fun back in our local travels, the national government agencies and LGUs must harmonize their policies to boost tourism [while] ensuring everyone’s well-being. We enjoin our people to help boost the economy by traveling locally once the necessary systems are in place,” he said.
The President also backed the country’s shift to digital transactions in commerce and government while promising the protection of consumers against fraud and other scams.
He said the Department of Science and Technology has offered its Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program to enable businesses to access training that will help them transition to online and contactless operations.
To protect consumers, Duterte has directed the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure the empowerment of Filipinos on their consumer rights, and coordinate strategies between public and private organizations “in building a fair, safe, resilient, and sustainable economy.”
Duterte however recognized that consumers may be vulnerable to risks related security, data privacy, and misrepresentation. To address these concerns, he pressed for the need to patrol the country’s cyberspace and enforce online consumer and data protection and privacy laws.
“We must run after online scammers and those undermining the people’s trust in online transactions. We must continue to protect Filipinos in the new normal and remind the world that we are responsible stewards of data. I am committed to protect both the physical and digital lives of our law-abiding countrymen,” he said.
On e-governance, Duterte said the national government shall lead the way in the transition to online systems. “I reiterate my call for all government instrumentalities to implement systems that shall make physical queuing a thing of the past,” he said.
He directed the Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Budget and Management, Anti-Red Tape Authority and other concerned agencies to make possible services available online.
“We need to adjust to and adopt a paper-less type business and work performance. We need e-governance [to provide] our people with the services they need [from] the comfort of their homes or workplaces. It will enable our bureaucracy to better transition into the ‘new normal’ and cut or minimize red tape,” he said.