Duterte ‘a bit worried’ about pandemic-hit economy

Published April 17, 2021, 4:11 PM

by Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte is troubled by the state of the country’s economy in the wake of the damaging impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on April 12, 2021. KING RODRIGUEZ/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

The President, in a recent televised address, recognized the economic fallout from the pandemic, citing billions in lost income after many were unable to work due to movement curbs to stem the fresh surge of coronavirus cases in the country.

“I’m a bit worried about really the economy,” the President said during his “Talk to the People” aired on state television Thursday, April 15.

Duterte asked Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez to give updates the about the condition of the economy during the meting with several Cabinet members.

“At this point, how’s the economy going? I mean, we lose so many billions a day na hindi makatrabaho ‘yong mga tao (when people cannot work) So kindly tell the people frankly, truthfully, kung ano ang ginagawa natin at kung ano lang ang maabot natin (what we are doing and what’s our goal),” he added.

Lopez, in his report to the President, admitted that the local economy remained “definitely challenged” as over a million lost their jobs during the strict lockdown.

According to the trade chief, the economy was actually starting to recover from the pandemic blow but the country endured a surge in coronavirus cases last month. The case spike, he said, prompted the government to place Metro Manila and four nearby provinces under enhanced community quarantine, the most restrictive of the four risk classification enforced by the government, from March 29 to April 11.

Lopez, however, said around 1.5 million jobs were lost after some businesses were forced to stop or scale down operations during the two-week ECQ in National Capital Region Plus.

“Ang estimate po ng ating mga ekonomista led by NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) ay halos kulang one percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) ang tinamaan dito sa dalawang linggo ng ECQ (Our economists led by NEDA estimated that almost one percent of the GDP was affected by the two-week ECQ),” Lopez said.

After the two-week strict lockdown, Lopez said the risk classification of National Capital Region Plus was de-escalated to the less restrictive modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until the end of April due to “our desire to balance and reopen a bit the economy to bring back jobs.”

Under MECQ, people are still advised to stay at home except for going to work and getting essential needs. More businesses were allowed to operate but public transportation remained limited and mass gatherings are still discouraged.

Of the 1.5 million jobs lost during the ECQ, he said around 500,000 people could return to work and earn income after the restrictions were eased.

“Subalit nasa MECQ pa rin ho so it’s still a relatively mataas ang restriction natin kaya po ang ating ekonomiya ay masasabi nating hindi pa rin ho siya totally maibabalik kung tulad doon sa GCQ or lalo na sa modified GCQ (But it’s still under MECQ so it’s still relatively high restriction so our economy cannot totally return to a level if it is under GCQ or modified GCQ),” Lopez said.

In citing the importance of less restrictive quarantine level, Lopez said a large part of the local economy is based in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces.

“Lahat po ng ahensiya ng ating pamahalaan ay nagtutulong-tulong, nag-aambag-ambag kung ano ang puwedeng i-contribute dito po sa laban, ito pong giyera laban sa COVID (All government agencies are working together on what else to contribute to the fight, the war against COVID),” he added.

The government aims to to boost the country’s economic recovery through measures such as national budget, Bayanihan law, and Build, Build, Build infrastructure program. Recently, the President lifted the suspension on new mining deals to help spurt economic growth. He also asked Congress pass three key economic bills, including amending restrictions on foreign investments, to hasten fiscal recovery.

The local economy shrank by 9.6 percent last year following the strict movement controls first imposed in March 2020. The government hopes the economy will bounce back this year with growth between 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent.