MANILA - Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday called for the implementation of an unemployment insurance system to help workers and businesses severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a recorded public address, Robredo outlined several measures which she said the government needs to do to revive the economy.
Among her recommendations is the creation of an unemployment insurance system, as was similarly proposed by Rep. Stella Quimbo in her Unemployment Insurance Bill.
"Siguruhing hindi malulugmok sa kahirapan ang mga nawawalan ng trabaho; kabilang sa puwedeng gawin ukol dito ang pagbuo ng sistema para sa unemployment insurance," she said.
"Maaaring makita ang balangkas nito sa batas tulad ng Unemployment Insurance Bill ni Congresswoman Stella Quimbo: Magbigay ng kahit bahagi lang ng pasahod sa mga newly unemployed, at magsagawa ng counseling, retraining, at job matching para sa kanila."
(We must ensure that those who lost their livelihoods do not fall into poverty. One of the things that can be done to prevent this is the creation of an unemployment insurance system. Cong. Stella Quimbo’s Unemployment Insurance Bill gives a sketch of such a system: Provide even partial income for the newly unemployed, and extend counseling, re-training and job matching for them.)
Robredo also recommended empowering local businesses so they could shift their products and services to address the pandemic.
One of the examples she mentioned is to support the local garment industry by making them more equipped in making personal protective equipment.
"Kailangang i-empower ang mga negosyo na mag-shift ng mga produkto, serbisyo, o business model na nakatuon sa pagtugon sa pandemya. Halimbawa ang garment industry, na nagtatangka ngayong ibaling ang operasyon sa paggawa ng mga PPE," she said.
(Empower businesses to shift their products, services, or business models towards addressing needs brought about by the pandemic. Take the garment industry for example, which has been shifting its operations towards the production of PPEs.)
"Dumadaing na sila dahil sa mga hirit ng pamahalaan na hindi up to standard ang mga produkto nila. Sa halip na bawalan at pulisin lang sila, bakit hindi sila i-empower para maabot ang mga standard na ito?"
(They have been asking for help because of criticisms from the government itself that their products do not meet medical standards. Instead of merely restricting and policing them, why not empower them so that their products reach these standards?)
Robredo said step-by-step guidelines can be provided, and then, link them up with testing services so they know the requirements their products are supposed to meet.
It would be good, she said, if government sets up the facilities where trained individuals can do the testing themselves, rather than rely on medical grade testing abroad.
Capital can also be made available to provide wages for more workers, and for the purchase of more raw materials, suppliers of which may be introduced to recipient firms.
Robredo said there are many small, local tailors who, if given a chance to participate, can contribute to the nationwide production of PPEs.
The vice president, likewise, called for government support for micro, small and medium enterprises, as well as continued aid for the country's poorest families.
"Walang ibang kayang mag-abot ng salbabida sa ekonomiya ngayon kundi ang gobyerno; gobyerno lang ang may pondo at makinarya para magparating ng sapat at ibayong saklolo," she said.
(Only the government can extend a lifeline to the economy; only government has the resources and machinery to do things at a significant enough scale.)
"Hindi sapat ang mga probisyong nakatala at perang inilaan sa Bayanihan 2. Government must spend more, spend efficiently, and spend quickly, with the utmost sense of urgency, as if our economic survival depends on it—because it does. And yet, heto tayo, nakasandal pa rin sa isang pre-COVID budget," she said.
(The provisions indicated and the funds allocated under Bayanihan 2 are not enough... And yet, here we are, still dependent on a pre-COVID budget.)
In her address last month, Robredo specifically mentioned the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE) bill, which had already been approved by the House of Representatives on final reading last June.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, however, has thumbed down ARISE, saying the government does not have funds for it and that it could only spare P140 billion.
Lawmakers instead passed the Bayanihan to Recover as One bill (Bayanihan 2) which lets President Rodrigo Duterte realign funds for the COVID-19 crisis.
Duterte is expected to sign the Bayanihan 2 into law soon.
The Philippines has incurred over P9 trillion in debt as it grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the economy to contract and left at least 7.3 million jobless with lockdowns shuttering businesses and suspending public transport.