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‘The worst is over for the Philippines’

DWELLING on the negative and being pessimistic about everything will not help us overcome the psychological effects of the pandemic.

One way to get past the health crisis is look at the other side of the coin. Many positives in the economy are actually emerging simply because we are already over the hump.

Much has to be done, of course, to fully overturn the economic recession. But to say that the economy will fare worse in the succeeding quarters, to me, is unthinkable. The gross domestic product contracted 16.5 percent in the second quarter following a 0.7-percent drop in the first quarter, or 9 percent in the first half of 2020.

Are we to believe the economy will sink deeper in the succeeding quarters and a year from now? I don’t think so.

The severe lockdown episodes that started in mid-March and lasted through May are over. The economy started reopening in June and workers have slowly trooped back to their jobs as the restrictions eased.

I can understand the recent sentiment of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno after reading about the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey. The poll showed 40 percent of Filipinos believed the economy would worsen in the next 12 months.

I can only agree with Mr. Diokno after the SWS released the result of its survey based on the perception of 2,000 adults. He himself cannot imagine how the economy will be worse off 12 months from now, coming from a record contraction in the second quarter of 2020 when virtually the whole nation was locked down in March, April and May.

The administration of President Duterte gradually reopened the economy in the third quarter, allowing certain business activities to resume and more public transportation to operate. The way I see it, the government is now being aggressive in opening the economy further as the months wear on.

Mr. Diokno correctly observed that the worst is over for the Philippines, with the infection rate starting to flatten, the virus reproduction now below one and the government shifting from a general lockdown to granular or localized containment.

One of the positives in the economy, meanwhile, is the revitalization of the hard-hit tourism sector. President Duterte’s government is now allowing “staycation” guests in hotels in areas placed under general community quarantine.

The arrangement, defined as a “minimum overnight stay for leisure purposes” in an accredited Department of Tourism accommodation establishment near one’s residence, is a significant step in reducing the country’s unemployed.

Many hotel workers, from waiters and waitresses to chambermaids and janitors, lost their jobs at the height of the lockdown. The economy needs these workers back to spur consumption.

Tourism workers, along with mall employees, were one of the first to suffer the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic as airline operations grounded to a halt. I am glad to learn that our displaced tourism workers could soon find alternative jobs while domestic and foreign travels remain in limbo.

Over 10,000 jobs in the business process outsourcing industry, according to the Department of Tourism, are being offered to displaced workers in the tourism sector in a job fair this month. Our tour guides and frontline service providers are certainly qualified to work in some BPOs because of their proficiency in the English language.

I am confident that our skilled tourism workers can blend easily in the BPO sector as customer service representatives, supervisors, trainers, managers and employees in the human resources and recruitment, finance, IT and marketing departments.

As Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat remarked, both the tourism and the BPO industries are people-oriented. Tourism employees have the talent and skills that can make them rise above the health crisis through a new and equally challenging job. For one, our tourism workers, because of their experience in the sector and their customer service orientation, have developed an ability to interact with foreign nationals.

The economy as I see it is slowly finding its way to the recovery path. The government pretty soon will move to ease further the operations of restaurants and malls, and reopen amusement parks, bars and even clubs subject to social distancing rules.

We need the small entrepreneurs and their workers to revitalize the economy. They serve as the positives that will cancel out the negativity that pervaded during the lockdown periods.



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