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Half of workers jobless, small businesses down: what to do?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Nearly half of Filipino workers, 27.3 million, say they’re jobless. Pollster Social Weather Stations derived that scientifically. Government must factor that record-high unemployment self-rating in plotting economic revival from COVID-19.

Dismissing the July poll as subjective can mislead. Labor officials insist that only 3.3 million lost jobs since the pandemic struck, based on companies’ filing for layoffs. But that’s spotty since not all employers reported. In fact the Philippine Statistics Authority, as official records-keeper, counted 7.3 million unemployed as of April, double the labor officials’ claim. Economic Planning Sec. Karl Kendrick Chua, not known to fudge figures, uses PSA numbers for strategizing. Congress in turn relies on him.

Industry officials likewise have to reconcile stats. They note that 26 percent of nearly a million micro, small and medium enterprises closed shop. Bankers, firmly rooted on the ground, say it’s actually 45 percent. Again that’s nearly half of MSMEs, the backbone of the economy, broken.

Recovery policymaking must be data-driven. Otherwise all plans will flop. Funds will be misallocated and thus wasted; focus will be off.

Filipinos also must be inspired into action. Things are so bad. Savings depleted, people are selling meager belongings for food money. They are left to risk personal and family infection by the coronavirus in going out for odd jobs. Ideally the state must provide. But with coffers run dry too, the national and local governments have stopped doling cash aid. Loan sharks are circling to pounce on the desperate.

Care must be put in public words. The presidential spokesman invited ire for expressing delight that SWS found only 45.5 and not 100 percent jobless. “His toxic positivity is revolting,” remarked worker leader Luke Espiritu. “The SWS survey shows not Filipino resiliency in crisis but the admin’s inability to address it.”

Earlier it was MSMEs that were turned off. When asked about a shortage of public rides to and from work, the spox said businesses that can’t provide employee shuttles should just stay shut. And so they did. Families who lost kin to COVID were hurt too when he said all should be glad the country’s pandemic mortality is “within acceptable” two percent. Death is too sorrowful to be downplayed. Besides, countless probable COVID deaths remain unlisted because comorbid victims were untested for the virus. He worsened medical frontlines’ pain in being falsely accused by the President of “revolution,” justifying it by scolding them for publicizing their entreaties was poor spokesmanship. He puzzled hospital administrators in saying they simply have to add more beds for the surging number of serious and critical infectees. Adding just one ICU bed requires highly sanitized space, million-peso equipment and trained personnel – all in short supply.

Repeated claims of government having no more money also can antagonize when people see wasteful spending. Example: P700 million to replace the working baggage conveyor belt at Manila International Airport Terminal-1. Or P620-million continuing facelift of Terminal-2 despite punishable work delays. Or millions more for substandard metal benches. Or P350 billion for three subway stations in an 11-km triangle in Quezon City already served by jitneys and tricycles. (A press release alleges that the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases green-lighted it.) Or P10 billion being grabbed for purported tourism infrastructure away from intended tour business resuscitation. Or letting a private firm collect multibillion pesos in power charges, despite congressmen’s howls of irregularity. Most of all, of hundreds of billions lost in PhilHealth cash advances to favored hospitals, overpriced purchases, and doctored financials. Allied senators tell President Duterte of the stench, not just whiff, of corruption in the state health insurance. Swiftly firing the neglectful brass will avert destruction of evidence that a presidential task force is looking for.

High expectations accompany the P185-billion MSME stimulus under the Bayanihan-2 Act. As well, the $1.9-billion loan from the World Bank for microcredit. Without soft loans most MSMEs will be unable to reopen. College grads of 2019 and 2020, mostly still without jobs, need some capital to start up innovations. The labor department needs more funds to assist laid-off domestic and overseas workers. Some borrowers may mismanage the funds. Others might use it to help out needy relatives. Let them. That’s natural in a situation where everybody must help each other.

Government would do well to get off their backs. Avoid new exactions like bicycle registration fees, or tax on online barters of goods and services, or levies on home deliveries. Instead, help and protect enterprises and small folk – including fishing in the West Philippine Sea.

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Whenever you are in a position to help someone, just do it and be glad. Because God is answering someone’s prayers through you. So don’t think that anybody is using you, but remember that you’re useful.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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