Jeepneys and GDP

"Thousands of commuters were prevented from contributing to the national product by government’s failure to let them commute to and from work."

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, the government agency that runs public transportation, may move at a glacially slow pace, but at least there is—such as it is—motion.

Effective yesterday, on top of the 38 Metro Manila routes that were opened earlier for the new type of minibuses, another 30 were added for traditional jeepneys. At the same time, 47 routes were opened between the capital region and other parts of the country for use by point-to-point UV Express vehicles.

This is good news for the 55,000-odd jeepney drivers who lost their livelihoods during the lockdown. Many of them were reduced to begging on the streets. It is also good news for our GDP—not just from all those drivers, but also from the thousands of commuters who’ve been prevented from contributing to the national product by government’s failure to let them commute to and from work.

What LTFRB is silent about, though, is what physical modifications they’ll be requiring—if any—to those liberated jeepneys. An Inquirer story interviewed Edwin Quilaton, an out-of-work jeepney driver who’s found a new livelihood installing plastic partitions between the two rows of jeepney seats and every one meter along the seats.

He says the whole fix-up costs only one thousand pesos. If true, there’s no reason why those cheap partitions shouldn’t be made mandatory, thereby easing public fears about resuming their jeepney rides.

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Unforced errors like delays in meeting public transport needs have been a factor behind what BSP Governor Diokno recently admitted was “the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis [that was] harsher than originally thought.”

From a first-quarter contraction of 0.2 percent, GDP is expected to contract further in the 2nd quarter by a much higher 5.7 to 6.7 percent. At this pace, the whole-year contraction for 2020 may range from 2 to 3.4 percent, the first such contraction in over two decades. This places us squarely between Vietnam and Indonesia who’re expected to post positive—albeit very slow—GDP growth this year of 1.2 and 0.7 percent, respectively, and Singapore and Thailand who’ll be contracting even more deeply, by 5 percent.

The BSP is already doing a yeoman’s job after coming up most recently with a surprise 50 b.p. cut in the overnight rate. But we may already be caught in a liquidity trap, since the banks, instead of hiking their lending, are choosing instead to park their liquidity in safe instruments like excess reserve deposits with the BSP itself. No matter how cheap their loanable funds may be, they’re still fearful of lending--and rightly so.

At this point, it’s fear that will hold back our recovery. For this reason, it’s even more important for our officials to start using their coconuts and, in a very public and reassuring way, put all the by-now familiar public hygiene safeguards in place while they move even more aggressively to open up public transport, workplaces, and—yes—churches. Common sense and urgency of action—these aren’t too much to ask from our leaders.

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Last week, former President Gloria Arroyo was guest of honor at an online session of the House Committee on Economic Affairs. The nominal topic was the economic recovery bill jointly sponsored by Congressmen Salceda, Quimbo and Garin. Predictably, though, it became another lovefest between the former Speaker and her former colleagues. Among her key takeaways:

PGMA fielded no less than three epidemics (SARS, avian flu, and swine flu) and one global recession (financial crisis of 2008) on her watch. She attributed her success to early preparation, decisiveness, and a whole-of-government approach. She didn’t say it, but I would also add her zero tolerance for slackers on the job. This encourages the public to comply with restrictions for their own good that would otherwise be called unreasonable.

• Amid her expected unconditional support for the way President Duterte has been handling this pandemic, she mentioned that one reason we can now afford to be more aggressive about relaxing the lockdown towards economic recovery is because—in case mistakes are made—Duterte will have no qualms about reimposing lockdown. This ought to relieve us of the fear of failure, a very potent reason for failure to act.

• With social distancing and permanently lower economic capacity among the consequences of the pandemic, the digital economy is now coming into its own. Widespread teleconferencing, distance learning, cashless transactions, contactless contact tracing—these are among the new inventions being borne out of necessity.

• Mrs. Arroyo sees the silver lining in the pandemic as the forcible acceleration of the “fourth industrial revolution.” It’s a game-changer in which we Filipinos, by dint of our creativeness and gregariousness—but provided that DICT enables the necessary connectivity and digital infrastructure—ought to be able to excel.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: Gary Olivar , Jeepneys , GDP , Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board ,
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