SOCIOECONOMIC Planning Secretary Karl Chua believes that shifting the National Capital Region (NCR) to Alert Level 1 next month could add P11.2 billion to the economy.
“If we continue to work together and see Alert Level 1, hopefully by the next month, then we would have added P11.2 billion in gross value added per week in the NCR Plus area and reduce the number of unemployed by 191,000,” Chua said in a virtual forum organized by the Management Association of the Philippines.
Metro Manila is under Alert Level 2 along with Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Batanes, Biliran, Southern Leyte and Basilan.
Chua said the downgrade from Alert Level 3 will bring in P3 billion a week and cut the number of unemployed by 51,000.
He said ramping up vaccination, improving health care capacity and returning to face-to-face schooling will help the country recover faster from the coronavirus pandemic.
“I believe the stage is now set for us to grow and accelerate to 7 to 9 percent in 2022,” he said.
He highlighted the need to continue the reforms passed during the Duterte administration to enable the economy to grow in the next few years.
“My thinking is, we have a very strong track record of managing the economy well over three administrations, and that should continue, that should not be reversed. The prudent discipline, management of fiscal resources should continue,” he said.
“And number two, we also have a track record over six administrations to liberalize key industries whether in rice, in public utilities, telecoms, airlines and so on. Even if they are slow to happen, they did happen over time and that should not be reversed. Otherwise, you will have, I think, more challenging problems that will be faced,” he added.
Among the key measures passed during the Duterte administration are tax reforms, the Rice Tariffication Law and amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act.
A bill amending the Public Services Act, which is expected to attract more foreign investments, is also up for President Duterte’s signature.
World Bank Senior Economist Rong Qian agreed that these reforms should be continued by the next administration.
“I would just add that the Philippines has been experiencing fast growth for the last 15 to 20 years and a lot of that is productivity growth. As we know from the global experience, productivity growth tends to slow down if there are no new reforms. To go back to 6 percent [growth], we need to implement structural reforms…and continue those reforms that were started [by] this government,” Qian said.
Brain Trust Inc. Chairman and Ateneo de Manila University Professor Cielito Habito called on the government to widen and improve access to health services, strengthen food systems to attain food security, and mobilize a new and multisectoral education commission, Habito said.
“The next president will have to be fortified with good leadership qualities to overcome challenges,” he said.
With daily Covid-19 cases expected to drop to as low as 1,000 a day by the end of this month, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd said it may be time to do away with the alert level system.
In a statement on Thursday, Concepcion said that changing the public mindset from a constant state of fear to a state of readiness is important for the country’s transition.
“It’s the Philippines’ long play to live with Covid. I think Filipinos want to move on. Nobody wants to stay in a pandemic mindset and live in a perpetual state of fear and anxiety. We must make a clear transition from being afraid to being hopeful,” he said.
Concepcion said there are currently no new variants of concern and hospital admissions for Covid-19 are down.
“It is not too farfetched to believe that the public health emergency status can be lifted, and with it the alert level systems,” he said.
“This would be a great way for the administration to finish its term. Ending on a high note, with a protected population and a healthy economy is a legacy any sitting President would be happy to have,” he said.
Concepcion agreed with Chua that Metro Manila is ready to transition to Alert Level 1.
He cited a projection by the OCTA Research group that daily infections will drop to 1,000 to 2,000 by the end of February.
“We need to de-escalate from crisis mode to recovery mode,” said the Go Negosyo founder. “This is important if Filipinos are to help rebuild our country by engaging in economic activity like going to shops, dining out, traveling or going back to work.”
“OCTA Research sees smooth sailing ahead for the next six months, so we should sail while the sun is shining. Let’s get enough momentum to push for growth in the first half of the year,” Concepcion said.
On the advice of OCTA, the private sector proposed the two-week lockdown in August 2021.
The lockdown succeeded in heading off a surge and saved the crucial fourth quarter economic activity.
From 26,238 in cases in September, infections dropped to triple-digit numbers in December, enabling the country to record a better-than-expected 7.7 GDP growth in the fourth quarter.
Concepcion said a shift to Alert Level 1 will boost economic recovery, adding that areas with high vaccination rates can implement a no alert level status while maintaining minimum health protocols such as wearing face masks.
“Alert Level 1 should be now called the ‘new normal’. Areas with high vaccination rates of 70 to 90 percent should qualify under this classification,” Concepcion said.
“Instead of restrictions, impose agreed-upon minimum public health and safety protocols. This will give the country an opportunity to see how well it does with only these protocols in place,” he added.
Concepcion said vaccination cards should continue to be required at indoor business establishments to reduce the risk of exposing the unvaccinated, and encourage them to get their shot.
He said the government must set the timing for the administering of booster shots, since immunity will eventually wane and there are thousands of vaccines nearing expiry.
“Administer booster shots parallel with ongoing vaccinations, and on a staggered, first-jabbed, first-boostered basis to protect those with waning immunity,” he added.
Concepcion also pushed for the opening face-to-face classes by June, but limited to fully vaccinated students.
“This will have a multiplier effect on economic activity,” he said, adding that “a return of employees to workplaces will also help boost economic activity in transport, food and retail.”