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Opinion

End of pandemic fatigue

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

On year-on-year basis, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released its latest data that showed the country’s economic output as having increased by 7.14% in the third quarter of this year. This was in terms of the annualized growth rate of the gross domestic product (GDP) for the period under review.

The Department of Finance (DoF), headed by Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez, interpreted the latest GDP growth rate as having partially recovered lost output as compared to the same quarter of last year when the economy dived by nearly minus 11.6%. For the first three quarters, the GDP increased modestly by 4.88% compared to the 10.06% decline in the same period last year. This growth is higher than the median private sector outlook of 4.7% for the quarter. On the quarter-on-quarter basis, our economy grew by 3.8%. Thus, it reversed the 1.4% decline in the previous quarter.

The Finance Secretary echoed the general optimism of the Cabinet economic team of President Rodrigo Duterte that the country is now on the way to full recovery stage from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Like a patient stricken with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 infection, our economy has hurdled the hump over the pandemic. Given the sustained GDP growth for the past three quarters amid the pandemic, it seems there is no expected regression even with the latest emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

From the expenditure side, the PSA reported household final consumption increased by 7.13% while government grew by 13.62%; capital formation rose 22.03% and exports by 9.04%. These key growth indicators simply point to “we’re back in business” attitude of the Filipinos, notably following the government’s gradual easing of quarantine restrictions and shift away from hard lockdowns.

Of the 7.14% GDP growth, general government construction expenditures contributed 1.59 basis points. Construction activities remained robust in the third quarter, with general government construction expenditure increasing by nearly 55.33% while the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration continued its course.

In fact, President Duterte took the occasion last week to highlight the administration’s accomplishments under this infrastructure program in particular by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) headed by Secretary Arthur Tugade. Joining the President in the ceremonial unveiling of markers in Zamboanga City last Thursday, Tugade claimed that the total of 143 completed port projects have managed to generate 4,000 jobs, and benefitted over 8,000 fisherfolks nationwide.

Even after pandemic reached our shores in January last year, Tugade stressed, the construction of these projects of new and modernized social and tourism seaports, as well as the rehabilitation and expansion of existing ports went on to provide better accessibility to fishers, tourists, and coastal communities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

So what do these official economic growth data suggest?

The Finance Department expressed the “view” that the arrival of more vaccine supplies and the ramping up of the vaccination program and other anti-COVID measures by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) provided the sense of protection of the general population to cut down the spread of virus.

A member of the IATF, Dominguez spearheaded the Cabinet economic team in ensuring the much needed revenues to fund the pandemic responses of the government, most especially the procurement of anti-COVID vaccines, are provided. As the chief fiscal manager of the government, the Finance Department sees to it the internally generated revenues of the government must keep up with its expenditures even while resorting to foreign borrowing to meet the unexpected public health emergency spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is important that the risks posed by the epidemic be effectively managed to minimize the collateral damage on the economy and, consequently, people’s incomes,” the DoF stressed.

As the country’s chief monetary policy architect, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno could not agree more with the DoF view on the upbeat outlook on the country’s sustained economic growth trajectory. “The ramped up vaccine rollout and ‘learning-by-doing’ – based on our experiences and those of other jurisdictions – spelled the difference,” Diokno pointed out. Based on the relevant metrics – R-naught, cases per capital, and deaths per 100,000 people – “the Philippines is doing well,” he added.

“Think we found the winning formula: Vaccinate to the max, observe health protocol, learn to live with the virus,” the BSP Governor enthused. He exhorted everyone to “forget about total lockdowns, and keep cool.”

For now, the IATF has decided to take the side of precaution in the temporary suspension of re-opening of our country’s international gateways to foreign tourists. Amid the confirmation of the World Health Organization (WHO) that the Omicron variant is a highly infectious mutation of COVID-19, we can live for now relying on our own domestic tourism as a major growth-driver of the Philippine economy. After all, this economic sector contributed 12.8% to the GDP, 10.8% of that was accounted for by domestic tourism.

Thus, it would be unfair to say we’re getting complacent when the greater number of people now doing more of their usual weekend trips and travels around the country, going to the malls, shopping, dining out, and getting used to the so-called “new normal” while living with the pandemic. The observance to health protocols include but not limited to wearing face masks, constantly using disinfectants, social distancing, etc. just to avoid getting infected with COVID-19. And most important protection of all, being fully vaccinated and getting a free booster shot to boot.

After being in the state of being worn out on these precautionary measures amid the mutating COVID-19 variants and the anxiety from the threat of losing economic security, there are now these good signs Filipinos have overcome the pandemic fatigue.

PSA

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