Press Release
April 28, 2021

Hearing of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs
28 April 2021

As a foreword, may I simply say that the forecast coming from international financial institutions, such as the WTO, the IMF, the WB, the ADB and other think tanks are all in unison, pointing out that the Philippines will be the laggard in Asia in economic recovery.

This indictment has cited the missteps the Philippines has taken to address the surge of COVID-19 despite what is arguably the longest, the most stringent, and proportionately the most expensive lockdown in the world.

The COVID-19 situation appears to have worsened, and the economic wake and cost of this entire situation has really expanded to all our industries, from agriculture to manufacturing, as well as services.

So, the burning question is what should we do now? There are specific measures and concrete plans, apparently from different organizations and line agencies and other instrumentalities of government, to provide adequate financial assistance and technical support for the recovery of hardest-hit industries.

What are these programs and have they been adequate in responding to the problems that have overwhelmed so many of our MSMEs, including our major industry players.

This is also a monitoring and evaluation effort on the part of the Committee on Economic Affairs of what has been done so far? What has actually succeded? And what has been clearly less successful?

Less successful would have to be the pouring of much of Bayanihan 1 and 2 in the financial institutions. Among them, of course, is the CARES (COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises) program under the DTI to help the MSMEs, of which almost 70% of the P10 billion remains in balance. Only P3.3 billion has been lent out to micro, small and medium enterprises under the Bayanihan 2.

For the P6 billion earmarked for the tourism sector, the lack of tourist activities due to quarantine and other restrictions means the fund remains unutilized to this day.

So, therefore, we have questions about stimulus in the financial sector and would like to know if perhaps this is not better converted, instead of loans, to wage subsidies, such as those extended by the SSS for the hard-hit industries, or perhaps DOLE job programs - a "New Deal," as it were, mimicking perhaps what the US has done -, expanding the notion of infrastructure to include IT regeneration, as well as retraining or human infrastructure. These are all of interest to all of us.

Secondly, of course, there is the urgency of providing social protection, with every manner of "ayuda" met with so many complaints, bringing to life the call to DTI to finally establish a directory of informal labor - this database today is non-existent despite the efforts of DSWD, DOLE, DILG and its LGU counterparts. So, we are very, very keen to know what would really help jumpstart the economy, given that while the gov't has extended assistance, support and other taken many programs, they have had a mixed effect and success rate.

Today, there is a great cry for financing, for retrofitting, for all the efforts that industry needs to undertake, and we would like to hear from the private sector which should be the most important, from the changing consumer demands and behavior, from the financing necessary for bulk supply chains and storage, retrofitting and retooling our factories, our restaurants, and all the other areas of manufacturing and service, automation and digitization that is so costly and difficult in this very impoverished IT landscape, and the conversion to e-commerce and direct-to-customer marketing and selling.

Finally, of course, the great elephant in the room, the truth about employment and underemployment and what can be done by the government.

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