Philippine economy's twin engines reboot, seek state support

Cathy Yang and Joel Guinto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 23 2020 03:49 PM | Updated as of Apr 27 2020 12:01 PM

Maintenance personnel check the MRT line along EDSA in Quezon City on March 31, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News​

MANILA -- Outsourcing and construction, two of the Philippines' economic drivers, are seeking a gradual easing into the new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as they sought state support for a restart.

Business process outsourcing or BPOs, which employs 1.3 million people and delivers dollar inflows, hopes the government can be "more aggressive" in selling the Philippines to investors, said Rey Untal, president of the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines.

The government should allow builders to charge as tax deductions, the cost of adapting to physical distancing such as bigger bunks for workers, said Barry Paulino, executive director of the Philippine Constructors Association.

"This is the right time to re-plan, re-calibrate, re-estimate and come up with policy reform," Paulino said in a video conference with ANC's The Boss.

IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines president Rey Untal and Philippine Constructors Association executive director Barry Paulino speak to Cathy Yang for ANC's The Boss

Lawmakers crafting stimulus measures should help BPOs get "back on the map," Untal said. "This will be a real opportunity for us to even increase demand."

"I think the way that we have dealt with the situation and the resilience we have shown will mean a lot in terms of how the demand market sees us as a premium location for outsourcing work," he said.

LOCKDOWN EASING

The Philippines is poised for a recession this year, with half the population on lockdown since March 17 to arrest the spread of the virus.

President Rodrigo Duterte will decide this week whether to end, extend or modify the so-called enhanced community quarantine that is scheduled to end on April 30.

"Our position is really not be fixated with a date-driven exit. What we are espousing for is that it is based on a clear set of criteria that will allow us to slowly exit from the ECQ," Untal said.

Those currently on work from home arrangements will be allowed to continue doing so, especially if they are "efficient" while those who will be required in the office will be provided shuttle service. Rapid tests for employees was also discussed, he said.

Since the lockdown, BPOs have been operating at 66.5 percent capacity, he said.

Paulino said construction could resume in phases, starting with public works such as road repairs and the upkeep of train systems.

The government should set safety protocols before the rest of the industry resumes, this includes whether or not workers from nearby provinces should be required to go on 14-day quarantine before resuming work in Metro Manila, he said.

Construction firms are also looking at digitizing as many processes as possible, including deploying drones in place of physical inspections, he said.

Catch the full interview on ANC at 8 p.m. on April 30, as The Boss looks ahead to the new normal for the economy with the COVID-19 pandemic.