"Mr. President, lift the lockdowns. They make no sense."
President Duterte has extended the state of calamity for one year until Sept, 21, 2021. Please note: That is up to eight months just before the May 2022 presidential elections when we choose Duterte’s successor.
Another year of state of calamity means continuing restrictions and regulations. Prices of prime commodities, especially rice, corn, and fish, will be controlled. In fact, under current laws, the price of anything, and its supply, can be controlled by the government during a state of calamity. In a major election, the price and supply of bellwether goods like rice, corn, fish, fuel, even school supplies, medicines, and PPEs, are crucial, especially in battleground regions, and most especially, when the highest post of the land is at stake.
What is not controlled during a state of calamity is how the government dispenses money. The incumbent President can get all the money he wants to have his hands on and deploy it to whoever and wherever he wants to send it.
Combine those powers—control of the price and supply of any commodity or consumer goods, redirecting taxpayers money to anyone or anywhere, and the restrictions on flow of goods and people under a lockdown of whatever form or acronym—and Duterte can pick his successor—without regard as to whether that guy is a genius, a technocrat, a nincompoop, or even a dog. So today, the people must already decide—do they want more of Duterte, or less, or none at all?
Duterte has imposed the longest and most strict lockdown in the world—for more than six months now from March 15, 2020. And what do we get after giving up most of our basic liberties? Well, nothing—but misery and poverty.
The Philippines today is the epicenter of COVID pandemic in the whole of Asia, outside of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. With over 3,000 cases daily, we are reaching 300,000 cases and will be No. 20 in number of total COVID cases in the world among 220 countries. In fact, we will be in Top 15, dislodging even Bangladesh.
The economy collapsed by 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2020, by 16.5 percent in the second quarter, and by 9 percent in the first half. We are having the worst recession in our history.
About 75 percent of the economy was shut down. Household consumption, providing three-fourths of GDP, fell by 15.5 percent in Q2 for a 7.8-percent decline in H1 2020, according to Manila-based Asian Development Bank.
Unemployment more than tripled, from 5.1 percent in April 2019 to 17.7 percent in April 2020 “when lockdowns were widespread and at their most strict,” says ADB. Exports declined by 21.4 percent in the first half.
Hardest hit was Luzon island which produces 70 percent of total economic production and is home to 50 percent of the population.
Investments contracted by 53.5 percent in the second quarter and by 36.6 percent in the first half. “Private investment slumped in Q2 with outlays for industrial machinery and transport equipment 62.1 percent lower and for private construction 46.8 percent lower,” says ADB. Public construction slipped by a marginal 0.9 percent in Q2.
Duterte may not know it but he achieved almost full employment during his presidency, an unprecedented achievement. Economists say that when unemployment hits 5 percent, practically everyone needing a job has a job. It’s like having a factory running at 95 percent capacity.
But in April 2020, more than 7.3 million people lost their jobs—“largely in services—mainly trade, transport, accommodation, restaurants, and entertainment—but also in industry, especially manufacturing. Lower- income and semi-skilled workers, most of them employed only informally, were hit hard because few had the option to work from home,” notes ADB.
Ironically, Duterte had rescued six million from poverty—defined as an income of $2 a day. He was going to bring down poverty to an unheard of 12 percent by 2022, from 30s in the 2000s. Now, the lockdowns will make half of the people poor.
Remittances—a mainstay of the economy because that is the one that fuels consumption—fell by 4.2 percent in the first half. That 4.2 percent is equivalent to losing $1.4 billion of your dollar income.
Is there hope in that bleak scenario?
Well, yes. Lift the lockdowns which have proved senseless and produced the opposite effect. The lockdowns were supposed to save 4,000 people from dying, people who would die anyway, lockdown or no lockdown, because most of them already had fatal diseases other than COVID. But several thousands more people are dying or will die because of hunger, malnutrition, and diseases spawned by the lockdowns.
Said acting Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua:
“No one anticipated that the COVID pandemic will [strike] the global economy. In the first three months of the quarantine, we prioritized saving lives against COVID. We used this time to improve our health system capacity.”
“By the models of UP and Ateneo, we averted some 59,000 to 171,000 deaths. Our death rates reduced from a high of 17 percent to just 1.6 percent or around 4,000 deaths. We averted some 1.3 to 3.5 million cases, of which 68,000 would be severe and critical cases on the peak day, which will overwhelm our healthcare sector.”
“What we find in the last six months, is that the lower quarantine restriction has actually opened more sectors of the economy and helped bring back jobs.”
Mr. President, lift the lockdowns. They make no sense. I think even without the lockdowns, you can win an election.