2021 is a Year of Hope and the Time to Persevere
The current year is about to end and we all should look forward to 2021 as a year of hope, healing, and quick recovery.
We should welcome the New Year with plenty of aspirations. There is no sense in ruing about the events that transpired in 2020. We cannot undo the many bad things that befell the Philippines and the rest of the world. Every nation suffered the same pandemic fate that led to the loss of millions of lives, jobs, and livelihoods.
We can only reflect on the year that was, and perhaps learn from the lessons that Covid-19 imparted to us. People will live in a new normal and discard some of the ways of doing things as the virus has taught us.
The New Year will be equally challenging, as we are not out of the woods yet despite forthcoming vaccines. We should persevere, though, knowing that the virus can be defeated.
President Duterte, in his Christmas message to the nation, conceded that 2020 was a trying time for all Filipinos. Many lives, he said, were lost and forever changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and several natural calamities. But through it all, Duterte said the Philippines will continue to survive and rise because of our unity, strength, and the Filipinos’ indomitable spirit.
I share President Duterte’s optimism despite the nation’s misfortunes. The economy and the Filipinos, in general, bore the brunt of the pandemic. Our gross domestic product is contracting for the first time in 30 years. The economy shrank nearly 10 percent in the first three quarters of 2020, with household consumption falling 9.3 percent and investment declining 41.1 percent in the third quarter.
The Philippine economy paid the price for trying to contain the virus. Months of lockdowns, especially in the latter part of the first quarter and in the whole of the second quarter, led to thousands of business closures and millions of job losses.
Consumer spending slumped 9.3 percent in the third quarter, with many Filipinos—wary of catching the virus that has infected over 400,000 in the Philippines—avoiding shopping malls and restaurants. Sales and consumption in Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of the country’s output, dropped amid limited public transportation.
Filipinos, in general, observed the health protocols espoused by authorities. Workers and consumers alike imbibed the discipline required in avoiding the virus. I’d like to believe that the Philippines has long flattened the Covid-19 infection curve. The Philippines just ranked 28th among countries with the most virus infections in the world, at 467,601 as of December 25. In contrast, our neighbor Indonesia was in 20th place with total cases of 700,097.
Having said that, the Philippines should strive further to reopen the economy more. As I have written in this column before, restoring jobs to millions of Filipinos, along with the widespread distribution of vaccines, should be the country’s priority in the coming year given the discipline and health protocols being seriously observed by our population.
The latest “improving” labor report reminded us of what an economic reopening can do in terms of employment. The unemployment rate in the country improved to 8.7 percent in October from 10 percent in July and 17.6 percent in April, after the Philippines allowed more economic activities to resume.
The National Economic and Development Authority has admitted that the unemployment rate could have been reduced if the economy were opened further and sufficient public transportation allowed.
The Philippine economy has kept its potential to robustly expand. The contraction in the economy and the job losses along the way, as I’ve said before, are no long-term problems. The Philippines has maintained its solid macro-economic fundamentals—a manageable inflation rate, stable currency, high foreign exchange reserves and a skilled labor force, and a young population. The political climate is also very stable, with President Duterte keeping his high approval rating despite the pandemic woes.
The year 2021 is the time to stage the economic rebound. But first things first: Job generation should be the country’s priority in the coming year and authorities can greatly achieve the task if transport restrictions are eased to improve mobility. Our workers are a disciplined lot. They are aware of the health protocols and seriously implement them. 2021 should be their year and we owe it to them.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!