Robredo urges more aid for businesses, laid-off workers in pandemic response
Franco Luna ( - August 24, 2020 - 7:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo urged the Duterte administration on Monday to ramp up government spending to help cushion the coronavirus pandemic's impact on Filipinos, who are still under the world's longest quarantine. 

She also called for assistance to businesses so more Filipinos can stay employed.

Speaking in a taped video address, the vice president outlined what she said were the recommendations of academics, economists, and other experts whose sentiments the national government may have overlooked over the past 160 days of community quarantines. 

RELATED: Former DICT undersecretary slams alleged 'gatekeeping' in IATF coronavirus response

She said that the budget provisions outlined in the Bayanihan 2 bill are not enough. 

"The longer it goes on, the worse the situation gets...nobody can give our economy a life jacket now besides the government. Government must spend more, spend efficiently, and spend quickly, and with the utmost sense of urgency, as if our economic survival depends on it—because it does," Robredo said in Filipino. 

The vice president also reiterated that waiting for a vaccine will do little to halt the spread of the coronavirus, which has claimed over 3,000 lives and 194,252 cases as of the health department's latest update earlier that day

In his public addresses, President Rodrigo Duterte often says that the government is out of cash and all that is left is to wait for a vaccine from other countries. 

As in her earlier addresses, Robredo emphasized the importance of proper data collection and of making decisions based on that data.

Among the data she said is important is information that will help with contact tracing. Citing figures from Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong — named the government's contact tracing czar — Robredo said that for every infected person, there are on average 37 people who need to be traced to find out if they too transmitted the pathogen. 

Empowering businesses

In the face of what she said was 2.6 million Filipinos left jobless amid the pandemic, Robredo recommended setting up wage subsidies for businesses who commit not to lay off workers, expediting the aid for small businesses, and securing ease in opening bank accounts.

"We also need a system to support online and community-based businesses...if we're able to do this, we can keep the economy above water," she said. 

Robredo also broached the option of forming a system for unemployment insurance, such as that outlined in the proposed unemployment insurance bill of Rep. Stella Quimbo (Marikina, 2nd District). 

"Everyone is trying to save money now. We avoid going out to eat, shop or take a walk because we do not know how long the situation will be like this. Tomorrow, someone could get removed from their job or laid off," she added. 

"Even if we force businesses to open, even if employees are at risk, the economic energy will not flow properly because we are all, afraid of getting sick, fearing getting into debt, or losing income...Address the pandemic, and we set in motion the gears of the economy."

Cash-for-work programs, financial aid

She also called on the social welfare department to align cash-for-work programs with potential needs for COVID such as the production of personal protective equipment, saying: "With over 15 million on the DSWD list, many of them can be hired through LGUs to help with contact tracing."

Saying that the biggest concern after sickness is hunger, Robredo urged the government to consider extending the distribution of social amelioration aid to P5,000 per month for the 10 million poorest families along with setting up reintegration and livelihood programs for returning overseas Filipino workers who also lost their jobs abroad. 

For online businesses and students taking online classes, the vice president also suggested boosting the country's digital infrastructure, such as putting up shared cell sites in places with a weak signal. 

"How can we be confident in our economy with allegations of corruption and overpriced PPEs? If we're not even sure where our money goes? It's not hard to understand the sentiments of many, that we don't know where we're going against this pandemic, that there is no horizon to look forward to," she said

"We don't know how long the situation will last, [and] we're even blamed for the deaths, for being pasaway...this is our reality. It's our right to expect and demand more from our leaders. But in the past months, we've been left to understand and fend for ourselves."

READ: Government banks on 'discipline' as likely shift to GCQ nears | Gov't said Filipinos are 'pasaway' and violate quarantine, but data show otherwise

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