We Must Restore the Jobs and Fight the Virus
The Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay unless scientists across the globe quickly discover a vaccine. In the meantime, we must fight the virus with surgical precision and at the same time restore as many jobs as possible to get the economy going.
The working class has suffered enough during the harsh lockdown period through no fault of their own. They must now be allowed to get their jobs back through wider deployment of mass transportation, including buses and road-worthy jeepneys.
Our unemployment record could deteriorate further if the transportation problem is not timely fixed. Labor statistics paint a grim picture of the employment outlook toward the end of the year. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III himself conceded that as many as 5 million more workers could lose their jobs before the end of the year, bringing the number of workers displaced by the Covid-19 pandemic to 9 million.
These workers are mostly in the service sector, tourism and allied businesses like hotels and restaurants, food service, entertainment, and transportation. Also affected by the pandemic are those from the professional and business services sector, which include lawyers, accountants and engineers. The unemployed also include temporary workers, such as laborers, office clerks and packagers.
We don’t have to go over the labor data to prove the extent of the nation’s unemployment problem. Malls are barely occupied in Metro Manila, with many of their tenants, mostly small enterprises, still shut down and unable to sell their wares or operate their restaurants. Most offices in Metro Manila run on a skeletal staff due to the lack of mass transportation.
I just hope we soon find a lasting solution in the transportation sector to bring back to the working place the core of laborers in Metro Manila and the rest of the nation.
Restarting the Philippine economy is not that easy, however, given the new spikes in Covid-19 cases in the Philippines and in other parts of the world. Reopening the economy does not mean we should lower our guard against the virus. We should follow the same health protocols—wearing of face mask, washing of hands, avoiding a crowd and social distancing—to avoid the virus. Again, we should learn from the experience of other countries to prevent a second wave of virus outbreak during the reopening stage.
Several states in the US, especially Texas, Florida and California, have reported a surge in Covid-19 cases. The World Health Organization has raised concerns over a new spike in Europe, where lockdown easing led to some flights between countries and the reopening of bars, restaurants and cinemas.
We do not want this to happen in the Philippines. There are certain social activities that should not resume soon as we have seen in the US and Europe. Many residents in London, for example, created a party atmosphere to celebrate an end to their long confinement without face masks and ignoring social distancing rules. Others took the easing too far when thousands crowded the beach in the English town of Bournemouth to enjoy the sun. Some Americans did the same—they went to the beach to bask in the warmth of the sun, again without social distancing and face masks.
Salute to the BSP
I welcome the latest move of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to cut the benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points to an all-time low of 2.25 percent. The business community will need all the help it can get from the Central Bank to pave the road to economic recovery.
The 50-basis point cut is an assurance that the country’s inflation rate will not be a problem at least in the medium-term. The lower rate will be a big boost to companies that want to fund their way out of the current economic malaise.
I also share the cautious optimism of the Bangko Sentral on the global recovery. “The Monetary Board noted that even as economies begin to reopen, the global recovery would likely be protracted and uneven. Hence, there remains a critical need for continuing measures to bolster economic activity and support financial conditions, especially the effective implementation of interventions to protect human health, boost agricultural productivity and build infrastructure,” it said.
The economic recovery will not be handed to us on a silver platter. We must work hard for it as we battle the pandemic.