"The Filipino labor force must now exert heroic fortitude to cope with the risks and difficulties of this deep recession."
Uncertainty, the specter of financial catastrophe and death spawned by this new surge of COVID 19 mutations is a daily worry for all bread-winners. Staying gainfully employed is a blessing. Losing one’s source of active income is a dreaded probability.
The everyday burdens that Filipino workers must now endure is a manifestation of the systemic flaws in the country’s bureaucracy, infrastructure, health system, and governance. The early excuse of global unpreparedness was patiently tolerated by the people, but after over a year of lockdowns, record-breaking infection rates and over a million documented cases, the growing sense of desperation and frustration may overshadow the Filipino’s ever patient nature and spark the rise of destabilizing social unrest.
Government’s February 2021 data reported a shocking 4.5 million jobless Filipinos, 600,000 more compared to the previous month. NEDA Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua estimated the income losses from work wages from the last days of March to end April at P83.3 billion.
The revert to ECQ (Enhanced Community Quarantine) restrictions drastically limited the people’s mobility and forced business to scale down or suspend operations. Recent news reports quoting the Labor Department said that some 118,000 were lost from January to March this year.
Secretary Chua further explained that for every week of ECQ in Metro Manila and outlying provinces, there is P19.6 billion in lost income because of the absence or limited operations of business establishments. MECQ which is still in effect, is causing a weekly loss of P14.7 billion. With the recent announcement of further extending to May 14, 2021, about two weeks in ECQ and about over 4 weeks in MECQ would add up to an estimated total of about P98 billion in workers’ income lost in NCR Plus by mid-May. The way new infections are still hovering under 10,000 a day, and hospital congestion still at critical levels, it’s hard to be optimistic.
Such is the magnitude of the lockdowns in the NCR because of the economic output of the region to the national economy. These disruptions have caused a crisis in food and accommodation services, education, construction, storage, transportation, retail, and manufacturing industries.
It’s not just our workers in Metro Manila getting hit, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, 646,827 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are now jobless because of the economic slump in Europe and the Middle East.
Findings from the Social Weather Stations November 2020 survey showed even higher figures with 12.7 million Filipinos unemployed. Furthermore, 4 million families said they experienced involuntary hunger. Sixty-two percent of the respondents said that their quality of life had deteriorated compared to the previous year.
Even more burden is the rising inflation which according to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno might reach the 4.2 percent to 5 percent level in April and likely to surpass the last high of 5.1 percent recorded in December 2018.
Asian Development Bank country director Kelly Bird, during a recent online briefing, sees that Philippine recovery will not be as fast considering the uncertain environment and dependencies on global and domestic developments in controlling COVID 19. How fast vaccines are deployed and return of consumer confidence will be closely connected. This will be key in opening up the economy.
Commenting on recent government pronouncements on the increase in the number of jobs in recent months, Bird points out that this is actually a labor shift from formal to informal sector which are low quality jobs where earning is not stable, not covered by the social system, and may create some long term scarring effects.
More voices are becoming very critical of the government’s pandemic response. Political spin doctoring, and useless theatrics will soon lose their entertainment value as people start losing patience and demand results. It made me cringe listening to some cabinet members parry the embarrassing comparison to Vietnam’s pandemic response, which many analysts have seen as a great example of how swift response to three outbreaks using science and the familiar methods of Testing, Tracking, Isolating, and Treating to successfully stop the virus. Recent reports count only 2,910 cases and 35 deaths. It has reopened beaches to citizens.
Another interesting factor is their great mistrust of their bordering neighbor China, When the Vietnam government detected the first cases of the Wuhan virus, they did not hesitate to close their borders, something our government delayed doing -- and you know why.
Let me end by recognizing our Filipino labor force, our most important national asset who must now exert heroic fortitude to cope with the risks and difficulties of this deep recession. I also appeal to the private sector to continue supporting your workers by using your dynamism and innovativeness to sustain continuity while learning to live with this virus.