The country’s economy shrank in the first three months of the year, marking its fifth straight quarter of recession triggered by a prolonged pandemic. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 4.2 percent in January to March, worse than the minus 0.7 percent registered a year earlier, but better compared with minus 8.3 percent in the final three months of 2020.
While public spending increased at its fastest pace in three quarters, expanding by 16.1 percent, all major sectors of the economy contracted in the first quarter. Household consumption, which accounts for more than 70 percent of GDP, failed to gain momentum as it declined anew by minus 4.8 percent for the fourth straight quarter. Lower spending is clearly an offshoot of the elevated unemployment rate with 3.44 million jobless Filipinos as of March.
Among ASEAN countries, the Philippines’ latest reported GDP has emerged as a laggard. Indonesia’s economy fell by 0.7 percent, while Vietnam and Singapore grew by 4.5 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively. Economists expect Malaysia and Thailand to contract by 2.6 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
Instead of being dismissive of such comparison, the government could do better by improving the overall quality of its response to the pandemic. COVID-19 continues to pose serious threats especially with the emergence of deadly variants that have already been detected in Filipinos who have tested positive for the virus.
While the vaccine rollout is still way below the targeted pace, health advocates are pressing the government to improve and ramp up prevention, tracing, detection and isolation. Systematic mass testing of workers to control transmission in workplaces is still imperative.
Expectedly, the country’s economic managers remain optimistic in their assessment that the economy is “on the mend,” pointing to the slowing rates of decline across sectors. After the enactment of two Bayanihan measures last year, they have stood their ground on their strategy: maintain “fiscal stamina” versus COVID-19.
Instead of additional stimulus measures, the government prefers to focus on the Build-Build-Build infrastructure and other economic programs for which up to P2.5 trillion, or 14 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), has been allocated. These will be funded substantially from the 2021 General Appropriations Act or national budget.
Meantime, the people are “voting with their feet,” trooping to hundreds of community pantries that have mushroomed all over the country after civic-spirited Ana Patricia Non started it all with her initiative on Maligaya street in Quezon City. Communities are stepping up to address the consequences of hunger and joblessness by directly assisting their brethren.
Filipinos are amplifying and masking their discontent with the status quo by sharing assorted jokes, memes and images posted on social media outlets.
Rather than despair or be intimidated, they are responding with remarkable courage and determination.