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Factories back looser quarantine, more jeepneys in NCR, 'other urban areas'

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Factories back looser quarantine, more jeepneys in NCR, 'other urban areas'
A barber (R) cuts the hair of a customer at a barbershop as it reopened after closing due to the COVID-19 coronavirus in Quezon City, Manila on June 7, 2020.
AFP / Maria Tan

MANILA, Philippines — Manufacturers are backing calls within government ranks to ease quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and key areas, while allowing more jeepneys to carry passengers in a bid to revive an economy struggling to overcome pandemic disruptions.

In a statement on Thursday, the finance department said the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), an umbrella group of merchandise manufacturers, “fully” agreed with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III’s suggestion to put Metro Manila, Calabarzon and “other urban hubs” under looser movement prohibitions.

“FPI fully agrees with Secretary Dominguez that there are already signs of economic recovery when the quarantine restriction were relaxed starting this June 2020 as imports volume improve, reflecting rising economic activity,” FPI said in the letter, a portion of which was quoted in the finance agency’s statement.

“Hence, there is a need now to further loosen the quarantine restriction in all main economic centers,” he added.

On the face of a renewed surge of coronavirus cases, Dominguez, together with the rest of economic managers, have warned against a return to stringent lockdowns in Metro Manila and Calabarzon, areas which Dominguez had said accounted for around 70% of economic output.

The National Capital Region (NCR) has been under a general community quarantine (GCQ) since June 1 which under government metrics, is one step away from the loosest quarantine regime devised to control the spread of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19). Laguna, Cavite and Rizal in Calabarzon are also under GCQ, while Batangas and Quezon province are under modified GCQ.

New quarantine regimes are being released every 15 days and Malacanang has warned that with COVID-19 cases rising in the NCR anew, a return to stricter versions of enhanced community quarantine is not being ruled out.

With the economy likely to have entered a recession last June, the finance chief batted instead for localized lockdowns in areas where there appears to be a surge in COVID-19 infections, a method already being observed in several cities such as Navotas, Taguig and Pasig.

FPI, in its letter, said the thrust toward more targeted containment measures is ideal and will be followed by their members, especially since the three-month lockdowns from mid-March to June “halted robust growth” in the economy. Gross domestic product contracted 0.2% in the first quarter, a first in two decades.

According to Philippine Statistics Authority, 28,968 manufacturing firms employed 1.26 million people in 2018, the latest period on which data is available. Many of them are believed to be based in NCR and neighboring areas.

Allow more jeepneys, go local

That said, relaxing quarantines will be of no use without sufficient public transport, prompting FPI to also call for the use of more roadworthy jeepneys “as these are much safer than air-conditioned versions in reducing the viral load during transport.”

While the transportation department has started allowing some jeepneys to ply their routes, transport groups have said the number of vehicles allowed barely meet the demand for transport options.

“This is very critical because the ordinary workers could not report for work since this (mode of) transportation is not available particularly in the economic centers,” FPI said.

In addition, manufacturers are also asking firms to prioritize the use of local labor in business, while calling on the government to use local materials on public projects undertaken to revive the economy.

“The local manufacturers have regularly paid their taxes and duties to the government, thus, it is about right to give them also the necessary reciprocity by patronizing and procuring their products and materials with the money that they contributed in the first place to the state,” FPI said.

CARLOS DOMINGUEZ III FEDERATION OF PHILIPPINE INDUSTRIES NOVEL CORONAVIRUS
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