Billions in gov't loans, millions go jobless: COVID-19's disastrous impact on the Philippines
Apart from the staggering number of infections and deaths, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) perpetually changed the Philippines, which now holds the record for the world's longest lockdown.
Millions have gone jobless since March 15, 2020, the first day of the government-imposed lockdown on the National Capital Region to curb the spread of the dreaded respiratory disease. Now, the pandemic is expected to reverse gains on poverty reduction, with thousands of families forced to embrace the uncertain, "new normal" future.
Here are some details how Philippines was heavily hit by the pandemic and the subsequent government-imposed lockdown.
1. Philippines forced to take out more loans
- As of July 2, the Department of Finance said the Philippines has secured at least $7.73 billion (approximately P385.3 billion) in loans from different lenders to finance the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Data as of July 1 show that nearly all of the amount secured by DOF for COVID-19 response (USD7.73 billion or 99.66%) will come from loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD), and through the issuance of bonds.
Grants meanwhile amount to USD26.36 million (0.34%), and will come from grant assistance from the following: USD18.36 million from the Government of Japan for the provision of medical equipment to the Department of Health, and USD8 million from ADB for the COVID-19 Emergency Response Project and for food
baskets for up to 55,000 vulnerable families in Metro Manila for at least two weeks.
Of the USD7.63 billion for budgetary support financing, more than half (67% or USD5.11 billion) has already been disbursed to the government, according to the finance department.
These loans will be paid from 2023–2049, with an average repayment period of 15 years for each loan, based on the amortization schedules indicated in the loan agreement documents available on
the DOF website as of July 1.
- Some P355 billion has been spent as of June 24 to address the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Department of Budget and Management. Of the said amount, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said P247.52 billion came from pooled savings while P96.7 billion came from unprogrammed appropriations.
2. Businesses shut down, millions lose jobs
Businesses, especially small firms, suffered from significant loss of income due to the lockdown. The Department of Labor and Employment earlier said some 2,000 companies declared permanent closure, redundancy or retrenchment.
- Unemployment in the country ballooned to 7.3 million, as the jobless rate rose to 17.7 percent in April, or during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Source: Philippine Statistics Authority
INDUSTRIES FORCED TO GO DIGITAL
- Delivery service providers such as motorcycle couriers prevailed as millions stayed at home to prevent potential exposure to the virus.
- Almost all e-commerce platforms, including those focused on fashion and second-hand goods, delved into essential goods and grocery delivery to cater to Filipinos during the lockdowns.
- Zalora, Grab, Carousell, and Lazada all offered essentials and groceries that are delivered directly to the homes of consumers who ordered via mobile or computer, while PureGold expanded its online shopping offering.
- The retail industry, also affected by lockdowns, has shifted to "hybrid" models to cater to the growing demand for e-commerce. SM malls launched click-and-collect, curbside pick-up, smartphone messaging communities for deliveries and concierge style personal shopping via social media during the pandemic while the Gokongwei group strengthened its delivery services for Robinsons Supermarket and Southstar Drugstore.
- In-person classes in basic education schools, colleges and universities, and technical and vocational education and training centers were banned. The education department also revised the basic education curriculum following a review, reducing learning competencies for the upcoming school year.
In-person classes would remain postponed in most areas until a vaccine against COVID-19 was made available in the country, in compliance with President Rodrigo Duterte's directive.
- Abrupt stop in all school activities that need physical presence. Some K-12 schools no longer administered the 4th quarterly examination and were instead given a grading formula to compute the final grades for the quarter. Colleges and universities, meanwhile, pushed through with classes, mostly online.
- Schools and universities were told postpone graduation ceremonies or conduct them through online.
- DepEd has since moved formal start of School Year 2020 to 2021 from June to August 24, following consultation with experts and stakeholders.
- Private school administrators have appealed to the DepEd for help as some of its members are at risk of closing down due to dwindling resources because of the pandemic.
4. Eerily empty cinemas and concert halls; weddings turn minimalist
- Since the lockdown, entertainment hubs such as movie houses, comedy bars, and concert halls were shuttered from the public as the government prohibited mass gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus. Staff and talents of such establishments, particularly comedy bars have appealed for government aid.
- Live shows for local and international acts slated for Philippine stops were also suspended, prompting some talents to use online platforms, some being fundraisers to support COVID-19 frontliner cause, and movie and TV acts also tried to bring their shows online. Pageants have also been indefinitely postponed.
- TV and film production were also halted due to the pandemic, prompting show cancellations.
- Weddings became online or intimate, leaving thousands of wedding suppliers jobless during the pandemic.
5. Tourists stay home; planes grounded
With people forced to stay at home to curb the spread of COVID-19, foot traffic in recreational centers, tourist spots, and hotels plummeted, leading to business closures and massive lay-offs.
- AirAsia Philippines had to let go of 12 percent of its workforce, or 264 employees while Cebu Pacific revealed it would cut jobs in the next 2 to 3 months after the pandemic significantly restricted and reduced travel demand.
- Restaurants in hotels and other accommodation businesses in areas under general community quarantine operated only at 30 percent of their dine-in capacity, triggering income losses.
- Casino operator Okada Manila laid off some 1,000 workers after the government suspended all gaming operations until the end of Metro Manila’s community quarantine against COVID-19. Budget hotel and motel chain Victoria Court meanwhile closed some branches due to "severe losses" during the lockdowns.
- The tourism department is now eyeing the adoption of travel bubbles that will allow international tourists from COVID-free countries to visit select tourist spots in the country that have only a few cases of the virus.
6. Jeepney, bus drivers starve as commuters forced to walk for hours
All mass public transport facilities, including jeepneys, in Luzon were suspended by the government in mid-March to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
To help public utility drivers weather the COVID-19 crisis, the government distributed emergency subsidy ranging between P5,000 to P8,000 for 2 months under the Department of Social Welfare and Development's Social Amelioration Program. But as of June 4, only 36,000 jeepney drivers have received financial assistance.
- Nonprofit think tank Ibon Foundation said the government ban on jeepney operations in Metro Manila for the past 4 months had pushed drivers deeper into poverty.
Some jeepney drivers were forced to beg on the streets, asking for alms from passing motorists, as lockdown rules forced them out of work.
- Established bus company Victory Liner was forced to lay off 300 workers, mostly drivers, conductors, ticketing booth tellers.
7. Sports leagues, athletes and tournaments knocked out by pandemic
Here’s a rundown of how the Philippine sports landscape was altered in the wake of a debilitating health crisis.
Based on their previous performance and the quality of their training, pole-vaulter EJ Obiena, boxer Eumir Marcial and gymnast Caloy Yulo appeared to have a solid chance at medaling if the Olympics were held this year; if proper conditions are met, they’re even in the conversation for gold.
Now, though, they have to recalibrate their preparations so that they’re ready in 12 months’ time.
The coronavirus killed every domestic competition this year.
The men’s and women’s tournaments in UAAP Season 82 volleyball never got off the ground, while the rest calendared in the second semester were shut down either midway or from the get go. The NCAA also abruptly called it a season.
The PBA played one game in the Philippine Cup and even handed out its annual individual awards from last season, before ceasing operations albeit temporarily. The MPBL was down to its final-four stage when it pulled the plug on the Lakan Cup.
The Premier Volleyball League and the Philippine Superliga also decided against holding competition until further notice.
The past weeks have opened a ray of hope for the professional leagues, though, after the national task force on COVID-19 containment approved the return to practice of basketball and football teams.
- International competitions
World-title bouts featuring Jerwin Ancajas and John Riel Casimero were postponed while Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who wants to maximize his twilight years, may not be able return to the ring this year, a scenario the 42-year-old world champion couldn’t afford as he tries to fight off Father Time.
The 2021 FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers were put on the back burner, too, without any word yet on when the tournament will resume.
Because public events have been banned, virtual competitions have been encouraged in sports such as taekwondo, chess and esports.
The pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for sports tutorials, normally offered around March when students are done with school.
Instructors acknowledged that the hard lockdown early on jeopardized their livelihood, although eventually they resorted to online courses, a setup embraced for instance by taekwondo jins, other martial artists and bowlers.
Gyms and fitness studios were prevented from opening, because those facilities posed a high infection risk.
As the quarantine protocols were relaxed, outdoor exercises became the norm while public activities in enclosed spaces were discouraged.
8. Healthcare system embraces new normal
Forced to decongest hospitals, health professionals, facilities and the rest of the sector adjusted to the “new normal."
- Teleconsultations: Because of the higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in hospitals, people with mild COVID-like symptoms and other illnesses were advised to consult doctors online and through phone calls. Such services were offered by medical groups, hospitals and volunteers to help decongest health facilities.
- E-prescriptions: The Food and Drug Administration has allowed drugstores to dispense medication based on e-prescriptions, or those sent by doctors online.
- Mental health hotlines: The pandemic also saw a rise in mental health concerns, resulting in institutions such as the National Center for Mental Health and the University of the Philippines ramping up their existing hotlines. Both hotlines reported a substantial increase in calls about suicide and anxiety.
- Dental practice: Since the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through droplets, dental procedures became among the most risky in the sector, especially since dentists’ equipment can create aerosols. At the height of the outbreak, only emergency dental procedures were allowed. Patients are also required to be screened by phone first before an appointment.
- Clinical trials: Philippine hospitals begin clinical trials on top of the World Health Organization’s solidarity trial. The Philippine General Hospital is trying out convalescent plasma therapy and virgin coconut oil as supplement while the Manila Doctors Hospital is also looking into melatonin. These clinical trials require the informed consent of patients and are randomized, which means the patients do not know if they are taking the medicine or a placebo. In other cases, the FDA has also allowed experimental drugs to be given to severely ill patients for compassionate use.
- Emergency use: Because everyone is rushing against time, the FDA has expedited the approval of various medical devices such as test kits to address the shortage in the Philippines. For example, a “certificate of exemption” was issued for the UP-developed test kit back in March.
- Philhealth and HMO coverage: Being severely ill from COVID-19 can be expensive, especially with the use of intensive care facilities and ventilators, so Philhealth and other insurance companies have allotted coverage for such expenses. Some health maintenance organizations (HMO) have also offered limited slots for free rapid antibody testing.
- Medical graduates: With many health workers falling ill because of COVID-19 and the number of patients rising, there is a continuing need for more health professionals. The high demand for doctors has prompted the Department of Health to allow medical graduates who are not yet registered with the Professional Regulation Commission to serve as “deputized physicians.” There are also ongoing campaigns for volunteers and emergency hiring of health workers.
- Health workers are most at risk for COVID-19 because of their profession. In recognition of this, the government has given public health workers a special risk allowance, on top of their hazard pay. Those who died or become severely ill from the disease are also entitled to cash benefits of up to P1 million.
Live update: Number of COVID-19 infections in the Philippines
(Infographics and data by ABS-CBN Investigative & Research Group, Jayvery Lorenzana and Pam Ramos. Text by Arianne Merez, Jessica Fenol, Kristine Sabillo, Jauhn Villaruel, Davinci Maru, Angela Coloma, Jaehwa Bernardo. Edited by Thea Alberto-Masakayan and Dominic Menor, ABS-CBN News)