Here we go again — the infamous “sick man of Asia” label. A throwback to the Marcos era is all “economist” Winnie Monsod could come up with in her Inquirer piece “Why we are again the sick man of Asia”. You would think that the Opposition would be creative enough to come up with a new one but that is not the case.
Mareng Winnie argues that pandemic response is to blame for the state of our economy and that the government is remiss in a unified contact-tracing system and the 3T protocol of testing, tracing and treatment.
Lockdowns and mobility restrictions, our favorite tool, is found to be associated with a lives vs. livelihoods trade-off. But testing (which we have never really used) is found to save both lives and livelihoods…
This is true. But again, this is not isolated to the Philippines. The pandemic has exposed the soft underbelly of the economy and that is the underdevelopment of the regions. The economic activity is focused in the National Capital Region and its outskirts (NCR+). Most of everything has to go through Manila, its seaport and airport. Government is now addressing the issue with the pending bills in Congress, all of which are designed to increase foreign direct investment in the country.
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This infographic from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that imports and exports have rebounded compared to last year when the sudden lockdown froze economic activity to a standstill for three months. Four if you count the transition in June from the “enhanced community quarantine” (ECQ) to the “general community quarantine” (GCQ).
This was why this economic contraction was the worst in Philippine history; it beat even the lowest level during the crisis years 1981-1986.
After one and a half years of the pandemic, we now know more about COVID-19. It is airborne. The vaccines don’t prevent infection. It only mitigates the possibility that an individual will suffer severe illness resulting in death. The longer it takes to vaccinate the whole of humankind, the more variants may appear. Indeed, the surges in different countries throughout the world are being caused by variants and not the original wild strain. Vietnam’s response which was cited as a model at first is now not so ideal given the country is contending with its first wave. The UK which was set to fully reopen this month is now on the verge of a third wave due to the Indian variant. Throughout the world, countries are faced with a lack of vaccine supply. Rich countries cornered the initial production and bought more than what they needed. The tremendous humanitarian tragedy in India bears this out as a deadly second wave has left its vaccine production capability impaired.
We can argue back and forth about pandemic response but, the truth is, it is only the US and China which are on the verge of economic recovery at the moment. It is not a full recovery because it is only the US which has the highest vaccination rate globally for obvious reasons. The problem with Mareng Winnie and her ilk is they continue to state the obvious problem but don’t provide solutions. Up to this point, no one from the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics has presented an integrated economic recovery plan. All they did was nitpick the modified strategy presented by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Karl Chua. How do you trade with other countries when they’re almost in the same boat as us?
UP has excelled in activism but has done nothing to help the government in crafting a better economic recovery plan. Instead, it is busy criticizing government officials and leading and being the venue for continuing protests. If you think about it, the best university in the country should also function as the government’s think-tank. This has not been the case with UP since the pandemic began. If I were in their shoes, I would step forward with a plan if they can actually do better. If not, I’d rather shut up and mind my own business which is to ride out the pandemic by surviving it.
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