The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the government failed to balance its response to the coronavirus disease with the need of equally salvaging the economy from the pandemic-induced crisis.
During a Senate hearing on the NEDA’s proposed 2022 budget on Wednesday, Oct. 13, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the government narrowly focused the response on the health aspect of the crisis.
Chua said the Inter-Agency Task Force’s (IATF) over emphasis on containing the virus has led to “other consequences,” such as high unemployment, deep economic recession, diminishing income of Filipinos, among others.
“I have always been a proponent of better balancing the two important facets of our lives today, COVID and non-COVID, I think in the past, we have been too focused narrowly on COVID,” Chua told the Senate.
This is not the first time a member of President Duterte’s economic team has voiced out frustrations over the government’s coronavirus response.
In September, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, the government’s chief economic manager, said he was among the “lonely voices” calling for the inter-agency body to ease quarantine restrictions for the sake of the economy.
“Sometimes in the IATF we are a lonely voice of trying to put rationality, trying to convince people that, you know, the idea of lockdowns don't really work for the entire community,” Dominguez said on Sept. 8.
Chua said the economic mangers “pushed very hard” on reopening further the economy and change the risk management to granular lockdowns from a region-wide enforcement of stringent quarantine controls, such as enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
“One thing we are seeing is we are moving away from ECQ. We have a new system, alert one to four, focusing only the quarantines or lockdowns on a more granular scale,” he said.
Moreover, Chua said NEDA has pushed the reopening of face-to-face class that will be piloted next month.
“A lot of our restrictions I understand have been lifted, only focusing on the 3C’s,” said Chua, referring to the Closed, Crowded and Close Contact strategy.
Meanwhile, Chua shrugged off the slashed economic growth forecast of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the Philippines, noting that he is “more optimistic” than the Washington-based institution.
Chua explained that while there was reimposed ECQ in the third-quarter, it was more calibrated and had much more latitude unlike in the previous stringent lockdowns.
“For instance, Google Mobility data shows that even at the same level of ECQ classification, our workers are just down 20 percent, last year around the time of August, September, it was down by 50 percent,” the NEDA said.
“We continuously monitor this data, and I think given the more mobility that we have, the economy would not see the same fate as we saw last year. Of course we will have to continuously improve this over time,” he added.
In the latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF expects the Philippine economy to grow by 3.2 percent this year, much lower than the original forecast of 5.4 percent.
The IMF also sees the Philippines growing by only 6.3 percent next year, lower than the original seven percent.