Saying the Philippine economy is near breaking point, the head of the country’s top employers’ organization asked the Duterte administration to reopen the economy further to avoid a catastrophe.

The economy “can no longer bear” an extended lockdown, Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) President Sergio Ortiz-Luis said in a radio interview.

He added, “Before, our worry was the micro and small industries. Now, our worry is the big ones are beginning to really downsize or close.”

While the 10,000 odd fatalities suffered by the country as a result of the pandemic thus far was tragic, Ortiz-Luis said the number could be considered “small” in comparison to the much larger number who die from hunger, even as the crime rate surges due to the high number of jobs lost.

The Philippine unemployment rate fell to an all-time high of 17.6 percent in April, last year, dropping to 10 percent in July, then to 8.7 percent by end-2020.

In early 2021, however, a number of big employers announced retrenchments and closures of some operations, including the likes of Philippine Airlines, Coca Cola, Nissan Philippines, and Makati Shangri-la Hotel.

To help reopen the economy further, the ECOP head said there should be enough mass transportation for the public as many companies cannot afford to provide shuttle services for their workers.

Cutting down the high unemployment rate with increased hiring can only happen if there is sufficient support by the government to the private sector, he said. But this does not mean ignoring the necessary safety protocols to prevent a resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the government should “reopen and implement the minimum public health protocols. Catch protocol offenders but let all reopen.”

Ortiz-Luis said the country can learn from its neighbors which were able to reopen their economies even during the pandemic.

The ECOP head, who also serves concurrently as president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, cited the results of the group’s survey on the state of companies in 2021. The survey showed that the majority of the respondents – at 57.6 percent — reported no lay-off, while 42.4 percent said they laid off workers, either temporarily or permanently. Some 70 percent cited difficulties in coordinating with supply value chains as the main factor why they experienced slowdowns or shutdowns last year.