By Beting Laygo Dolor, Contributing Editor
With reports that more Filipino families are going hungry as a consequence of the pandemic on the economy, the Duterte administration may have to completely reopen the economy even before the eradication of the coronavirus.
During his presentation to the President and his Cabinet last week, Karl Kendrick Chua, acting secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA,) said the government needed to intensify measures to reopen the economy, notwithstanding the pandemic.
Chua’s report cited the increase in the number of hungry families and malnourishment among Filipino children.
In absolute numbers, the number of Filipinos who experienced involuntary hunger in September increased to 30.7 percent of the total population, or some 7.6 million households.
The September figure was 9.8 percent higher than the 20.9 percent recorded in July.
Because of this, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Chua urged the entire government to open up the economy ASAP. Chua also addressed the need to provide public transportation to workers, added Roque.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to call for a full Cabinet meeting this week to address the issue. The President usually meets with his Cabinet on Mondays, and holds a press briefing after. His taped and edited briefings are usually aired late in the evening of the same day.
Roque said the administration was anticipating the trend as a result of the lockdowns nationwide. The situation should improve once more and more businesses are able to resume operations, he said.
This week’s Cabinet meeting will likely discuss the options to reopen the economy and address the public transportation concerns, especially in Metro Manila.
Late last month, the World Bank (WB) reported that some two million Filipinos would be forced back to poverty as a result of the pandemic.
The WB said the Philippines’ poverty rate could rise to 2.5 percent this year and 22.4 percent next year.
The country’s poverty rate was pegged at 16.7 percent in 2018 and was expected to decrease further following five years of strong economic gains.
The “new poor” are employable Filipinos but unable to find gainful employment due to the pandemic, WB senior economist Rong Qian told local media during a press briefing.
To ease the hunger concerns of millions of Filipinos, the Duterte administration passed two laws that provided cash assistance to the poorest sectors of society, with cash gifts ranging from PHP5,000 (about US$100) to PHP8,000 (US$160).
Countless families, however, complained that they failed to receive the cash assistance on both instances, especially Filipinos living in far-flung provinces.
Another complaint was that the two dole-outs, spread out over a six month period, was not sufficient to meet the daily needs of the average family.
On the plus side, the Duterte administration said it was pleased that the country’s inflation rate had slowed down to 2.3 percent last month, from the 2.4 percent in August.
Roque said, “the Palace is happy that the price of our goods did not increase much. We’re thankful for that.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that the downward trend in inflation was due to the lower demand for vegetables, meat, milk, cheese, eggs, cigarettes, and domestic services.
The lower inflation is considered a strong indication that the rate will remain controlled in the short to mid-term.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said it had been providing sufficient liquidity support to the economy, which has been facing sharp contractions in the first two quarters of the year.
The official inflation report for the third quarter of the year is expected to be released later this month and should show whether the country is still in recession or has moved back to the steady growth the country had been experiencing before the Covid-19 pandemic.