MANILA, Mar 9 (Mabuhay) — The Duterte administration’s economic managers are still pushing for the further reopening of the economy despite the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, emphasizing that this could be done safely and that the vaccination program is already underway.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Acting Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, and Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said that to accelerate economic growth and job creation this year, a “three-pronged strategy” is needed.
The chiefs of the NEDA, DOF, and DBM are collectively referred to as the economic managers.
In the past three days, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases reached over 3,000 a day, blamed on the increase in people’s mobility as quarantine restrictions are gradually eased and more and more sectors are reopened for business.
Despite the rising cases, the Palace thumbed down the possibility of going into a full-scale lockdown since there are sufficient number of beds in hospitals’ intensive care units as well as isolation facilities.
The economic managers laid out the following strategies for the reopening of the economy.
First, safely reopening the economy while strictly adhering to health standards.
Second, fully implementing the recovery package, especially those whose budgets have already been allocated but not yet fully spent.
Third, ensuring timely implementation of the vaccine program to cover the entire adult population.
The economic managers made the joint statement after the number of unemployed Filipinos rose by 1.6 million year-on-year in January and by 200,000 compared to the October 2020 Labor Force Survey.
This resulted amid the increase in labor force participation or the number of adults, 15 years old and above, actively looking for work to 60.5% or 45.2 million in January from 43.6 million in October last year.
“On the first strategy, the gradual reopening of the economy requires a more careful and calibrated approach, given the risks from the new COVID-19 variants. A more targeted approach is also needed,” the economic managers said.
“On the one hand, we will need to be more vigilant in high-risk areas by strictly enforcing the health standards and using localized quarantines. This way, we can reduce virus spread without affecting the healthy majority who are in need of jobs to address their hunger and other health concerns,” they said.
In low-risk areas, the economic chiefs said the government can gradually start allowing expanded capacities in businesses, transport, and other sectors, as well as safely widening the age group allowed to go out.
The government is considering the deployment anew of soldiers and police to enforce minimum health standards in public places, COVID-19 response chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez said on Monday.
The economic managers, likewise, pushed anew for the resumption of pilot testing of face-to-face classes in the lowest-risk areas “as we roll out the vaccine.”
To recall, President Rodrigo Duterte thumbed down the resumption of face-to-face classes until August “habang wala pang nababakunahan sa bansa.”
Back in December, Duterte recalled his order allowing a dry run of face-to-face classes in January 2021 in select areas amid reports of a new COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom.
Economic managers, however, said “prolonging home-based learning will have permanent scarring effects on many students and thus lower their future productivity and earning potential.”
“The gradual return to school can also help their mental, social and emotional well-being. This will also give many parents the opportunity to return to work full-time and contribute to the economic recovery,” they said.
On the second strategy, the secretaries of NEDA, DOF, and DBM said the full and fast implementation of the recovery package would underpin economic growth this year and onwards.
“The higher stimulus through the Bayanihan II, the 2020 budget extension, the 2021 budget, as well as the swift enactment or implementation of key legislations are all crucial,” the economic managers said.
“These reforms include the Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Act, the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, and the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiative to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery (GUIDE) Act,” they added.
The economic managers emphasized the need to ensure that programs already budgeted for under Bayanihan II and under the 2020 and 2021 budgets are implemented quickly.
“Our recovery and long-term development prospects also hinge on accelerating the infrastructure program, which has the highest multiplier effect on jobs and on the economy,” they said.
On the third strategy, the economic managers said that while the road ahead remains challenging, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the COVID-19 vaccination program in progress.
“On March 1, 2021, we started inoculating our medical front liners. This is a leap forward for our healthcare system and the entire country. The added confidence it provides will boost our recovery further,” they said.
The Philippines began its COVID-19 vaccination program last March 1.
At least 1.12 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to the Philippines so far.
Of this number, 600,000 doses were Sinovac donated by the Chinese government while 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines were donated by wealthy nations and firms under the COVAX facility which is a global facility aiding low and middle income countries in their pandemic response.
“We continue to receive more doses to keep the vaccination program going for the high-risk populations. We aim to provide vaccines to at least 70 million Filipinos this year, or 100 percent of the entire adult population,” the economic managers said.
“Rolling out these lifesaving doses will allow us to safely open the economy more and restore jobs and incomes to make our fight against hunger more sustainable,” they said.
Apart from the “three-pronged” strategies, the economic managers called on individuals and businesses to strictly implement and comply with the minimum health standards such as wearing masks, keeping social distance, washing of hands, and staying home when with symptoms.
“Be very responsible also when at home, as many cases now spread among household members. Our health and safety rest largely in our own hands,” they said.
Nevertheless, the government is committed to delivering evidence-based, prudent, and timely policies as well as adaptive programs to help restore income opportunities and jobs, according to the economic managers.
“We assure the Filipino people that we will turn this crisis into an opportunity to regain our pre-pandemic growth momentum for a strong and sustainable recovery, collectively build a better normal, and foster a more inclusive society for many years ahead,” they said. (MNS)