Pessimism in this time of the pandemic 

Published September 14, 2020, 4:51 PM

by Manila Bulletin

In the latest  Social Weather  Stations  (SWS)  survey held  last July,  40 percent  of  Filipinos surveyed  said  they expect  the national  economy to worsen in the next 12 months, against  30 percent who said it will improve and 24 percent who  think it will stay the same.

This high level of pessimism  came at the height  of  the COVID-19 pandemic  in July, four months  after Metro Manila and the rest  of Luzon were  locked down under  the strictest Enhanced  Community Quarantine (ECQ), when  people were told to stay home, businesses and offices were shut down, and   incomes  –both personal and national – plunged.

It was the same situation in the rest of the world – with the  pandemic  reaching its worst in the United States, along with Brazil in South America,  Italy,  Spain,  and United Kingdom in Europe, Iran in the Middle East, and India in Asia.  In  Southeast  Asia,  the Philippines and Indonesia  led  in the number of infections and deaths.  With no end in sight to the surging pandemic, the pessimism  shown in the SWS survey was only  to be  expected.

Governor Benjamin  Diokno  of  the  Bangko Sentral  ng  Pilipinas noted that the survey was held in July,  after the lockdowns in March, April, and May  when, indeed, pessimism  enveloped  the entire country.  In the third quarter—July-August-September, he said, the government  started to reopen  the economy.

He recalled that  the country’s  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – which measures  the nation’s  local production—fell  by  9 percent in the first half of the year;  it was a devastating  16.5 percent drop in the second quarter.  No wonder, the survey  of  July  showed  a huge percentage of Filipinos  believing  the national economy was  bound to worsen   in the coming months.

But, Governor  Diokno  said last  weekend,  “I  expect  that  the  economy  will be more open in the fourth quarter….  The virus infection   has started  to flatten  and  the government  has shifted  from general  lockdown  to localized lockdowns. I  truly believe the worst is behind us . We are now  heading towards the path of recovery from the crisis.”

The  national  economy  entered  a  recession  for the first time in 30 years  after   the lockdowns in the first   two  quarters   of the year. The  July  survey  thus  found  so many   Filipinos – 40 percent – believing it will be even worse  next year.

But the situation has improved considerably since then,  Governor  Diokno  pointed out.  The lockdowns  are  easing,  the economy is reopening, people are beginning  to move about, although they continue to be guarded against  the virus.  We  should see  this rising optimism in the next SWS survey.