Dominguez: PH ‘financially able’ to arrest economic fallout
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has enough resources to tackle the pandemic head-on with its P1.17-trillion war chest to help vulnerable sectors and front-line health-care workers, and to prop up the economy, the Duterte administration’s chief economic manager said on Sunday.
“Even though we had the bad luck to have this COVID-19, we are financially able” not only to contain the disease but also to arrest its economic fallout, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said in a statement.
Dominguez last week said the Philippines would post zero growth, if not contract by 0.8 percent this year, while the budget deficit could balloon to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)—way past the 3.2 percent of GDP programmed for this year—as the government would spend more than it ought to, especially for COVID-19 response.
He provided reporters a document showing the administration’s “four-pillar socioeconomic strategy against COVID-19.”
The first pillar is a P305.2-billion emergency support for vulnerable groups and individuals, including displaced workers, small businesses and local governments. It includes the P205 billion in cash subsidies to 18 million low-income households and at least P35 billion in wage subsidy for those employed by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
Dominguez earlier said up to 1.2 million Filipinos could temporarily lose their jobs amid the pandemic.
The second pillar involves marshaling P35.7 billion worth of resources to fight the disease, including health insurance coverage for all COVID-19 payments, special risk allowance, hazard pay and personal protective equipment for front-line health workers, as well as increased testing capacity.
The third calls for fiscal and monetary actions to finance emergency initiatives and to keep the economy afloat. This is worth P830.5 billion, including P310 billion or $6.1 billion in borrowings from multilateral lenders and bilateral partners.
The fourth—an economic recovery plan to create jobs and sustain economic growth—is still in the works.
It will be based on the nationwide survey of more than 44,000 consumers and MSMEs last week. The results will be “used in crafting a bounce-back program with differentiated interventions for various groups” postquarantine, the document read.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Sunday appealed anew to big businesses to continue paying their employees who had been unable to report for work because of the extended community quarantine.
The number of displaced workers had already breached the million mark, he noted.
But even if they wanted to, not all companies could pay their workers because most of them have been forced to suspend operations and are thus not earning, according to a group of business leaders that employ nearly 80,000 workers.
Big companies continue paying their workers, but not SMEs, which account for nearly all kinds of business establishments in the country, according to the Entrepreneurs Organization Philippines.
Bello said 98 percent of close to 42,000 establishments were seeking the P5,000 one-time assistance for each worker under the COVID-19 adjustment measures program of the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole).
Rules benefit big business
In an April 7 open letter to Mr. Duterte, the Entrepreneurs Organization Philippines aired grievances over the lockdown, including how the rules were benefiting big business players.
The group, which has 180 members who are all decision-makers in their companies, said more businesses should operate again so they could help support their workers.
“Allow companies to send a … [skeleton] force to work to pay suppliers so that they, in turn, can pay their employees. We need the money to flow and be shared,” it said.
The group said a few were controlling the economy.
“Big businesses are all in banking, food manufacturing, supermarkets, convenience stores, drugstore business, and they are the ones now who are doubling, even tripling their business, while the SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] have lost all their revenues, it added.
“They now have all the money and SMEs do not have enough, even for payroll. Please allow some
operations to allow money to flow to the minimum wage earners who are generally employed by SMEs,” the group said.
Based on reports from Dole regional offices, 1,048,649 workers in the formal sector were either affected by temporary closures or flexible work arrangements.
In the informal sector, 250,000 workers need assistance under the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Displaced/Disadvantaged Workers Program-Barangay Ko, Bahay Ko program.
As of April 11, the biggest displacement was recorded in Metro Manila at 246,810 workers, followed by Central Luzon at 179,875; Calabarzon, 99,178; Davao region, 90,414; and Cagayan Valley, 75,189.
Central Visayas had 51,150 displaced workers; Cordillera region, 46,614; Northern Mindanao, 46,351; Bicol, 41,322; Western Visayas, 36,526; and Mimaropa, 30,721.
The areas with the least affected workers were Caraga, 26,981; Eastern Visayas, 24,940; Zamboanga Peninsula, 24,664; Ilocos region, 17,378; and Soccsksargen, 11,536.
Bello said 31,612 establishments with 719,649 workers had temporarily closed, while 10,224 enterprises had resorted to flexible work arrangements, such as reduction of workdays, work rotation, forced leave and work-from-home schemes, affecting 366,404 workers.
A majority of the affected workers belong to the manufacturing, hotel, restaurants and tourism-related sectors and education. —WITH A REPORT FROM TINA G. SANTOS INQ
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