Further lowering alert level in NCR to boost economy, says Chua

The government has yet to decide on the alert level for the National Capital Region for November. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Jenina P. Ibanez, Reporter

DOWNGRADING Metro Manila’s lockdown restrictions to Alert Level 2 could add P3.6 billion to the national economy each week, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) whose top official is pushing for the further easing of restrictions to spur more business activity.

Employment in the capital region could go up by 16,000 each week under the looser lockdown restrictions, NEDA said in a statement on Thursday.

If moved further to Alert Level 1, another P10.3 billion would be added to the economy every week, along with 43,000 jobs.

The National Capital Region (NCR) is under the stricter Alert Level 3 until Oct. 31. The government has yet to announce the alert level for November.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua at a forum on Thursday said continued strict lockdowns would provide little opportunity for spending.

“My position has always been to safely reopen the economy,” he said.

“That will create an effect to create more sales turnover, hire more people, provide more taxes to the government, and use that virtuously to provide more targeted support to the sectors that really need it.”

The NEDA chief prefers this strategy to a closed economy that does not allow the bulk of the population to go to work.

Mr. Chua declined to share his estimated third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP), but noted how more sectors were able to operate during the strict two-week lockdown in August compared with the more stringent community quarantines in 2020.

“I think there will be strong potential for growth because mobility data from Google, trade data, production data, labor force data all show very different positive change compared to last year,” he said.

The Philippine economy exited recession in the second quarter as it grew by 11.8% after five straight quarters of decline, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed. For the first half, GDP rose by 3.7%, still below the government’s downgraded full-year growth target of 4-5%.

Third-quarter GDP data will be released on Nov. 9.

Philippine economic growth projections have been slashed amid a Delta-variant outbreak that further dampened consumer and business confidence.

The International Monetary Fund lowered its 2021 Philippine GDP forecast to 3.2%, from the 5.4% projection set in June.

Fitch Ratings downgraded its projection to 4.4% from 5%, while the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office cut its forecast to 4.3% from 6.4%.

Mr. Chua is also supporting the gradual reopening of schools, noting that the school closures’ cost to the Philippine economy — which now stands at P11 trillion over the next four decades — could be doubled.

The NEDA estimate is based on potential wage losses due to the one year lost in face-to-face classes.

“I think we should treat this virus now as part of our lives, move from pandemic to endemic mentality and manage,” he said.

The Education department is set to begin the pilot test of face-to-face classes in areas with low number of COVID-19 cases next month.

The Philippines is now considered at low risk from the coronavirus amid a drop in daily infections, the Health department said earlier this week.

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