Infrastructure is certainly one of the major legacies of this administration. Despite the challenges of the health crisis, the government has built better and stronger roads to guide our way towards economic recovery.
Although business activities have yet to reach their pre-pandemic levels, more motorists and commuters are now back on the streets, thanks to the gradual reopening of establishments and essential services that serve the public. The recent completion of major infrastructure projects in Metro Manila and the provinces has resulted in less road congestion, although the dense traffic during rush hours may be unavoidable when the economy fully reopens.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Department of Public Works and Highways led by Secretary Mark Villar oversaw the completion of the BGC-Ortigas Road Link Project in Metro Manila, the Ciudad De Victoria Interchange and Overpass Bridge and Bypass Project in Bulacan province and the 19-kilometer Marawi Transcentral Road Phase 1 in Lanao Del Sur province.
We hope these projects will contribute to the convenience of motorists and passengers and lead to further development of these areas. Infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program generated nearly 1.5 million jobs despite the Covid-19 pandemic from March 2020 to August 2021, making construction a key driver of economic rebound.
Our path to recovery is being paved by these infrastructure projects. The government allowed construction activities to resume, even at different levels of quarantine restrictions, to make sure the projects will be finished. More projects are on their way to completion to facilitate connectivity, trade and progress once the pandemic dissipates.
This makes us more hopeful as we entered the fourth quarter of 2021. Economists share our optimism, as they cite the strong manufacturing output and export volume starting July. While the two-week enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila led to a temporary setback in August, there were signs that business activities still picked up in August and September.
We hope that with the declining Covid-19 transmission rates in recent days, the government would allow business establishments to operate at a higher capacity towards the Christmas period. It will also help the tourism sector if the government allows the fully vaccinated individuals to visit provincial destinations, subject to health protocols deemed necessary by local government units. But we need to avoid unnecessary and pointless measures, such as complete lockdown of communities, which only make families desperate and miserable.
Another reason to be hopeful is the government’s stable finances despite the hundreds of billions spent on Covid-19 response efforts. Even as the budget deficit widened in 2020 and 2021, international credit rating agencies are still keeping the investment-grade score of the Philippines. In fact, Japan Credit Rating Agency retained its “A” rating with a stable outlook for the country’s debt. This shows that our government is able to secure financial resources, by revenue collection or borrowing, to fund public services.
We have to work harder to shore up the economy, though. The total cost of Covid-19, lockdowns and mobility restrictions, per the estimate of the National Economic and Development Authority, would reach P41.4 trillion in the long term. This is particularly hard on the young generation of learners who were not able to attend physical classes for more than a year now. We have yet to quantify the real impact of the pandemic on our future productivity as a nation. The cost could continue to swell if we keep shackling business activities and keeping our students at home.
Vaccination, as I said here before, holds the key to lifting the economy from the doldrums created by the pandemic. To achieve our pre-pandemic performance, we need to double our efforts in inoculating our general population, as two-thirds of adult Filipinos have yet to receive their double doses of Covid-19 vaccines, particularly in the provinces. So far, Metro Manila has received the bulk of the vaccine doses under the Sinovac, Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Janssen brands.
The high vaccination rate in Metro Manila shows we can manage the health crisis and the economy at the same time. More than 75 percent of the target population in the National Capital Region, according to official data, has been immunized against Covid-19. Over 7.4 million adult residents in NCR have already received their second dose of the vaccine. If we could replicate this in other parts of the country, we will be in a better position to reopen the economy.
Let us hope that we can achieve herd immunity, or at least 70 percent of the adult population who are fully vaccinated, by December, so we can also begin inoculating minors, especially students, as we reopen schools and sports facilities.
Because of the rising vaccination rate in Metro Manila, we were able to contain the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant. The virus reproduction rate fell below 1.0 in recent weeks, which would help ease the critical hospital bed utilization rates.
The falling infection and rising vaccination rates are our ticket out of this pandemic.