Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez seeks further reopening of economy
MANILA - The Philippines needs to ease more restrictions and further reopen its economy, its trade chief said Tuesday, emphasizing the country's poor recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the main reasons to do so.
Among all economies, the Philippines is placing last in terms of resurgence from the deadly outbreak, Trade Sec. Ramon Lopez said, citing the country's negative growth rate of its gross domestic product (GDP).
"Medyo kulelat tayo ngayon, nahuhuli tayo pagdating sa recovery. In other words, tayo nagre-recover naman. Nakita natin 'yung GDP [natin] na bumagsak … maliit na lang 'yung negatives. From -16.5 naging -11.5, naging -8.7 o -8.3. So unti-unti na 'yung minus. Pero 'yung minus na 'yun, minus pa rin. E dati, +plus 6 tayo, +6.5. So, bagsak pa din," he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(We're near the bottom, we're trailing in terms of recovery. In other words, we're also recovering. We saw our GDP fall … although the negatives are small. From -16.5, to -11.5, to -8.7 or -8.3. So they're decreasing slowly. But they're still minuses. Before the pandemic, we were at +6, +6.5. So, we're still at the bottom.)
"'Pag kinumpara mo sa ibang bansa, tayo pinakahuli, lalo na 'yung mga neighboring countries natin. Eh 'yung neighboring countries natin, maliit din 'yung COVID cases. Pero bakit naggo-grow sila o kaya mas maliit 'yung bagsak ng economy nila? Tayo yung huli."
(If you compare us with other countries, we're last, especially with our neighboring countries. They also have small number of COVID cases. But why are they growing or why did their economies fall slightly. We are last.)
"E dati, pre-pandemic, tayo 'yung second fastest. Tayo 'yung isa sa pinakamabilis. So, anlaki ng nawawala. Anong ibig sabihin po niyan? Less economic activity. Siyempre, 'pag may isang sektor ang nakasara, 'yung kabit-kabit na sektor na nagsu-supply doon, yung nakapaligid doon, sarado rin. 'Yung nagtatrabaho dun sa mga sarado na 'yon, walang trabaho hindi nakabalik," Lopez said.
(Before, pre-pandemic, we were the second-fastest growing economy. We were one of the fastest economies. So, we're losing a lot. What does that mean? Less economic activity. For sure, if a sector shuts down, other sectors surrounding it or supplying it will also close. Those who were working there, they lost their jobs and were not able to return.)
The unemployment rate in the Philippines was at 4.5 percent or 5 percent before COVID-19 struck the country, according to Lopez. When the pandemic hit in March last year, the jobless rate ballooned to 17.7 percent (7.3 million unemployed Filipinos) in April, before it went down at 10 percent (4.6 million) in July, and eventually to 8.7 (3.8 million) in October.
"Malayo pa rin sa 5 [percent]. Ang difference niyang 3 percentage points, mga 1.6 million na walang trabaho pa rin. 'Di nakabalik," he said.
(That's still far from 5 percent. That 3 percentage difference means 1.6 million still don't have jobs.)
Lopez said the country's daily number of COVID-19 cases declined even when Filipino officials eased restrictions from transportation to commercial centers in June and October last year, months after the Philippines went under strict lockdown in March.
"Kasi nga ginagawa nga natin dahan-dahan, 'tsaka 'yung protection nung ating mga kababayan tuluy-tuloy," he said.
(That's because we're easing them gradually, and the protection of our countrymen is consistent.)
"Because of that, naniniwala po kami na ituloy po natin 'yung momentum na ito. 'Wag tayo huminto," Lopez added.
(We believe we have to continue this momentum. We shouldn't stop.)
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Karl Chua earlier said he's hoping President Rodrigo Duterte will approve putting the whole country under modified general community quarantine.
Under the new classification, the capacity of public transportation will increase from 50 percent to 75 percent and children between the ages of 5 to 7 years old will be allowed to go outside.
Chua said the Philippines' total income lost since the start of the lockdown in March 2020 has reached P1.04 trillion, or an average of P2.8 billion every day.
"We further open the economy to MGCQ for the entire Philippines, especially NCR, starting March 21. Gusto na po nating ma-mitigate or mabawasan 'yung sickness, hunger, job and income loss that are arising from non-COVID cases," he said.
(We further open the economy to MGCQ for the entire Philippines, especially NCR, starting March 21. We want to mitigate sickness, hunger, job and income loss that are arising from non-COVID cases.)
A group of scientists and researchers however urged the national government to fast-track its vaccination drive before easing quarantine restrictions nationwide, saying "there's a risk cases will increase as we have not yet completed biosurveillance."
OCTA Research Group fellow Guido David said Chua's proposal to expand the capacity of public transportation and to gradually allow people between the ages of 5 to 7 years old outside is "surprising and concerning."
"Nakakagulat talaga yan. Mahirap pang ipasunod sila sa health protocols. Sana naka-rollout na tayo ng bakuna, i-fastrack natin ang bakuna natin, yun ang priority," he said.
(It's surprising. They can't even follow health protocols yet. We hope we roll out the vaccine, that it would be fast-tracked. That's the priority.)
David added those below 16 years old are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, which might make them carriers or superspreaders.
As of posting, the Philippines has registered 552,246 COVID-19 cases, of which 11,524 have led to fatalities while 511,796 others recovered. Active cases stand at 28,926.