MANILA - Sen. Cynthia Villar has urged the national government to allow agriculture, manufacturing and construction sectors to resume operations during the ongoing enhanced community quarantine in parts of the country, saying the coronavirus lockdown "is already taking its toll" on poor workers.
Those employed in the construction and manufacturing sectors - which account for 20 percent of workers in the Philippines - are adversely affected, Villar said in a statement on Sunday.
"As we all know, workers in construction and manufacturing are daily wage earners who are compensated on a 'no work, no pay' basis... While the government and companies may have extended financial assistance and relief goods, those will not be enough," Villar said.
"Agricultural and construction workers work outdoors in open spaces and are exposed to sunlight, so the risks of them getting infected are much lower, as long as the people practice personal protection measures," she said.
The manufacturing sector -- usually confined in enclosed factories -- should be allowed to operate, provided that they wear face masks and enforce proper physical distancing in work areas, she said.
"We should remember that 70 percent of the gross domestic product of the Philippines is in the National Capital Region, Calabarzon and Central Luzon. And if we do not practice partial lockdown in these areas, we lose 70 percent of our gross domestic products," said Villar, whose family has stakes in real estate, water, and retail industries.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto agreed with Villar's suggestion, saying the Philippines "will have to open the economy little by little."
"Employers must protect their workers and consumers by adopting protocols on disinfecting work place, testing, social distancing and wearing masks," he said in a text message to reporters.
"Government must improve its health capability to improve consumer and investor confidence as well," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the proposal may be implemented after April 30.
"The social unrest that could result from 2 million workers unemployed for the past 6 weeks is a reality we face," Drilon said in a separate statement
"I am extremely concerned of the further damage to our economy by the continued lockdown of the agriculture, manufacturing and construction sectors. These are essential industries," the Senate Minority Leader said.
"Those companies in the agricultural plantations, in the manufacturing and construction sectors should have a rapid and mass testing of their workers to determine whether or not they are affected with the corona virus," he said.
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte extended the enhanced community quarantine in parts of the Philippines until May 15 as COVID-19 cases in the Philippines continue to increase.
Under the policy, most businesses in areas placed under a lockdown are mandated to impose a work stoppage to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Among businesses allowed to operate are banks, groceries, hospitals, pharmacies, and food-related establishments.
The Philippines is set to revise its economic targets after the coronavirus crisis affected several industries, acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua earlier said.
"Once we have an idea of the loss, the damage, the impact, then we will be able to craft a better stimulus plan," he said.
The government is counting on its Build, Build, Build infrastructure program to help restart the Philippine economy, he said.