Bolder action to “re-balance” PHL economy necessary under Covid—advocacy group

The advocacy group Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) called on the government to use the “historic opportunity” provided by the Covid-19 pandemic to take bolder steps to “re-balance” the economy to make it more resilient and sustainable.

“The country is facing an unprecedented economic crisis that is likely to persist and even deepen up to 2022. Government initiatives to organize and strengthen public health system in response to pandemic are laudable but not enough and weak in implementation. Efforts to support the vulnerable sectors are also laudable but the various social protection programs were limited, badly implemented, and many have been excluded. To put it simply, the response to address the pandemic crisis is not enough and not bold enough.,” Dr. Rene Ofreneo, FDC president said during a webinar with Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay’s 1st District.

Ofreneo warned that the present situation is comparable to what happened to the country in 1980-85 with a recession from 1980-82 followed by depression from 1983-85 except that now the recession-depression is happening so quickly, in a matter of months, not  years.

“Informal workers, their families and communities are badly hit.  “Isang kahig, isang tuka is now vividly described as “Kahig nang kahig, walang matuka”. Restrictive quarantine rules generally mean collapse of livelihoods and family well-being of the urban, rural, peri-urban, coastal and upland poor because of the congested nature of their communities, markets, transport systems, schools, and so on,” Ofreneo said.

“The situation of the poor, marginalized, informal workers and the “endos” and contractuals in an unequal pre–Covid economy was already bad.  But with the pandemic, the situation has become worse for them and has been deteriorating day by day. This is especially true for the elderly, working women, solo parents and the disabled,” Princess Nemenzo, former FDC president added.

“What the pandemic has done is to magnify the mal-developed character of the economy.  For example, the country cannot even produce simple protective health and safety materials and, as a result, it is unable to undertake comprehensive health response to the pandemic in a timely and efficient manner.  In the coming weeks, the economic problems of the country are bound to intensify with the weakening overseas labor market and the crumbling globalization,” Racquel Castillo, one of FDC’s current officers added.

With the FDCs proposals, Rep. Edcel Lagman took these initiatives to count and pointed out “FDC’s Forum on Bailing Out the Nation from Its COVID Quagmire with a Whole of Society Approach towards Rebalancing for Sustainable Economy is not just timely but imperative”. Reporting on what the House of Representatives has already put in place as Economic Stimulus Package, which pales in comparison with our economic Asian neighbors…but that needs to be enacted. He said, “Let’s enact now an Economic Stimulus Package with comprehensive whole of society approach, a package that should be immediately implemented, and that should not be delayed lest we suffer a more Herculian way in rescuing our citizens… but a stimulus package that is not based on “tambay fund” whose utilization is dependent on fund availability.”

Building community health as the foundation of people’s health by organizing and investing in communities, to complement the barangay health workers, contact tracers, sanitation workers, social workers, mental health workers, peace officers, and others. Thus, Community health will then provide decent jobs to people,” said Prof. Dulce Natividad, also one of FDC’s Women Committee member and a current volunteer of UP Public Health Covid Response Team.

“A sustainable economy requires a program of sustainable finance.  The government claims that the debt-to-GDP growth is low, between 40 to 42 per cent.  What it fails to say is that this low ratio came about through the sweat, tears and hard work of the working people.  From the 1980s to the 2010s, the Philippines implemented austerity measures imposed by the IMF-World Bank (via structural adjustment program or SAP) and paid the debt service that sometimes reached 80-90 per cent of the national budget. The country survived mainly due to rising remittances of OFWs, indeed the country’s heros and heroines.  Now this source of growth is disappearing.”

FDC called for re-building the economy by addressing its structural weaknesses.  “Re-building or re-balancing starts with the repudiation of the current obsession with neo-liberal policies government technocrats to simply open up the economy to the so-called free flow of capital and goods.  The so-called “structural adjustment program” (SAP) of the IMF-World Bank did not work for the Philippines because SAP is simply based on narrow neo-liberal assumption that trade/investment liberalization, economic deregulation and privatization automatically lead to growth,” Nemenzo said.