We need to restart our ill-fated economy

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Bobit Avila (The Freeman) - June 18, 2020 - 12:00am

This Sunday, June 21, is Father’s Day -- a day when men from all over the world observe when they finally had children of their own and a family. So allow me to celebrate Father’s Day three days earlier as 43 years ago, my first child, Frances Angelique “Fara” Rosello Avila was born, making me a father and my wife Jessica a mother. Fara has since become a doctor and married successful lawyer, Atty. Jennoh Tequillo, and both of them have now given me five, yes five, grandchildren ranging from 19 years to 2 years of age. Best of all, they all live in Cebu but thanks to ECQ I can’t visit them for fear of the COVID-19. Happy birthday, Fara!

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Now that Cebu City has been returned to an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), as if we are trying to target a sharp reduction in infected cases even if there is still no visible cure against the COVID-19, whatever happened to our revised efforts to restore our biggest economic driver -- tourism, which has made Cebu a tourist magnet in the world. How many times have I said that if we only followed how Taiwan beat the coronavirus, we would not have been in this position today?

Last year, the Philippine tourism sector logged an earning of P180.52 billion, a remarkable economic growth. The Department of Tourism (DOT) also named Cebu as the second most preferred destination in the country by foreign visitors. In fact, the Philippine News quoted Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat saying that Cebu attracted 1.4 million foreign tourists in 2019. Also the DOT announced that their agency’s Statistics, Economic Analysis and Information Management Division (SEAIMD) recorded 7.4 million foreign arrivals during the first 11 months of 2019.

This week, I featured Cebu’s most prominent promoter, Mr. Andrew Harrison, on my TV show and the other week we featured DOT-7 Director Shalimar Hofer Tamano. Basically we learned that international arrivals from January toward April 2020 plunged by 54 percent to 1.3 million, from 2.8 million in the same period in 2019. I do not want to count the months of May and June because it would be devastating news.

Anyway a week ago, in a news report supposed to help the Philippine tourism restart anew, the DOT was intensifying its campaign to stir domestic tourism with more focused tour offers. DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr., in a recent webinar, said that the Philippines is joining the world in the campaign on “domestic first, long-haul later.” Bengzon said: “We shall focus on domestic travel to jumpstart tourism in the country and to bring livelihood in tourism back. We will pay attention to product development as we expect changes in consumer behavior and expectations.”

No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the supposedly booming tourism sector in the Philippines, and all over the world and this has grossly affected Philippine economy. In another economic news, British banking giant HSBC recently published its forecast for the Philippine economy and the outlook is bleak. After clocking in a 0.2% contraction in gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter, the bank forecasts a deep contraction of 7% in the second quarter, another contraction of 4.3% in the third quarter, and yet another shrinkage of 3.9% for the fourth quarter. This will bring the full year contraction rate to 3.85%. The last time the Philippines posted negative growth was during the Asian Financial crisis in 1998.

What is disturbing here is that the HSBC’s forecast coincides with the projections of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), which predicted an economic contraction of 4.3% to 4%. This is the very reason why I’ve been asking the IATF to focus now on our economic growth.

The 10 industries most affected by government’s quarantine measures are: the arts, entertainment and recreation industry whose revenue loss amounted to 82.3% of pre-COVID levels; the travel, hotel and restaurant industry that lost 81.9% of revenues; technical repair services plunged by 77%; educational services dropped by 76.8%; construction activities dove by 74.6%; servicing of motorized vehicles sank by 73.4; financial and insurance services fell by 71.2%; sports and fitness services dropped by 70.4%; real estate plummeted by 68.6%; and professional, scientific and technical services fell by 67.1%. So when will the IATF wake up?

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For email responses to this article, write to vsbobita@mozcom.com  or vsbobita@gmail.com . His columns can be accessed through www.philstar.com .

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