Economic team wants more PUVs on the road

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua

THE country’s economic team has proposed the increase in available transportation in line with the gradual reopening of the Philippine economy, which continues to take a beating from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua told BusinessMirror that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) is currently crafting the guidelines for increasing the number of buses, jeepneys, and other modes of public transport that will be allowed to ply Philippine roads.

During the budget hearing at the Senate on Wednesday, Chua said the Economic Development Cluster (EDC) has proposed to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to increase public transport.

“The Economic Development Cluster of [the] cabinet have signed a joint position, presented to the IATF and the IATF accepted it last Monday to further open up safely and sufficiently the public transport system. With that, I think this would complement our rebalancing and open up more of the economy,” Chua said in the hearing.

“They [EDC proposals] are on minimizing social distancing in public transport when wearing face shield and mask, service contracting, shuttle services, among others,” he told BusinessMirror.

Chua noted that currently, around 40 percent of the country’s public transportation is open. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has gradually opened jeepney routes, the most popular mode of transport, in Metro Manila.

Reports stated that a total of 227 traditional and modern jeepney routes have been opened allowing 16,000 public utility jeepneys (PUJs) to resume operations.

U-Turn

Chua said any “u-turn” in the policy of the government, particularly on quarantine levels, will derail any economic recovery.

The acting Neda chief said GDP is projected to contract between 4.5 percent and 6.6 percent. With this, the midpoint is an average contraction of 5.5 percent.

Chua said the range is the government’s “buffer” that will allow them to adjust their expectations based on the developments linked to the pandemic.

If the government continues to track the path toward MGCQ, growth could reach 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent next year and in 2022.

“When we made the projections, we were doing so in very uncertain times. That is why as we get more data, and as we look at international developments, particularly on the vaccine, we will have to be upfront with you and make the recommendations to update them. But so far, we have made a number of assumptions that ground our GDP projections,” Chua said.

Apart from the quarantine status, Chua said the economic team is optimistic that a Covid-19 vaccine will be made available by the second semester of next year.

Chua said, however, that the robust growth of the economy, particularly next year, will also be due to base effects.

With GDP contracting this year, any improvement in the country’s economic indicators would translate to better GDP growth next year.

“The downside risk mainly is around the health outcomes. If they do not improve or get worse, then we would have to do more quarantines. So our recommendation is not to do big area quarantines but more localized [ones] so that we can just focus the quarantines on areas that have rising cases so that the rest of the economy can continue,” Chua said.

Not satisfied

Chua said the government has come a long way in terms of addressing Covid-19. He said when the Philippines was thrust into the throes of the pandemic, it had no capacity to test and accommodate those who would become critically ill.

He said this prompted the government to choose between saving lives and the economy. The government chose to save lives at the expense of the economy, he added.

With this, economic growth plummeted and posted a contraction of 9 percent in the first semester of the year. The first quarter saw GDP contract 0.7 percent and the second quarter, 16.5 percent.

Millions of jobs were also lost, with the April data showing 5 million Filipinos becoming jobless during the lockdown and the jobless rate reaching 17.7 percent.

However, Chua said, the government improved its response and was able to cut the number of unemployed Filipinos to around 4 million by July. The third quarter is also expected to show better numbers.    

“I don’t think we can ever be satisfied because this is really a pandemic that has affected so many people with deaths almost 4,000. But what we have observed is that our progress in the health sector has led to a significant decline, for instance, of the ratio of deaths. Out of the 241,000 cases, deaths, although very sad that we have them, have been limited to less than 1.6 percent,” Chua said.

Currently, Chua said the country’s testing capacity has improved to 85,000, the highest in Southeast Asia. He said the country already used 41,000 of this testing capacity and allowed the country to detect 2,000 to 3,000 cases per day on average.

Based on the latest IATF data on Wednesday, the utilization of the country’s critical care capacity is still adequate and had a buffer of 50 percent.

“We can never be happy or satisfied. We will work for better outcomes and, as I mentioned, we are working to rebalance instead of just doing full risk aversion or avoidance, we have to manage the risk,” Chua said.

Image credits: Neda



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