By Victoria “NIKE” De Dios
The Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), which is the umbrella organization of over 100 manufacturing companies, has backed the call of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III for relaxing quarantine measures in Metro Manila and other major urban centers while strictly observing health and safety protocols, as a way to accelerate the reopening of the economy following an over three-month standstill.
Represented by its chairman, Jesus Arranza, the FPI said the further easing of mobility restrictions in Metro Manila, the Cavite-Laguna Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) region and other urban hubs will help sustain economic recovery, as seen in the higher import volumes in June when the government started to ease quarantine measures imposed in March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Metro Manila and the provinces of Laguna, Cavite and Rizal remain under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) while Batangas and Quezon are under Modified GCQ until July 31.
“The Federation is supporting the call of Secretary Carlos Dominguez III that the country’s main economic centers like Metro Manila, Calabarzon and other urban areas should move to looser quarantine restrictions as soon as possible to reopen the economy, with the precaution that those factories and barangays with COVID-19 cases be dealt with more strictly,” the FPI said in a letter addressed to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
A copy of the letter was sent to Dominguez.
In last week’s pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum of the Economic Development and Infrastructure Clusters, Dominguez cited the need to strike a “reasonable balance between safeguarding public health and restarting the economy” on the back of a healthcare system better equipped to slow community transmission of COVID-19.
Dominguez said that while the people’s health and safety remain the government’s top priority, Filipinos cannot keep retreating from the virus at the cost of their livelihoods, especially in Metro Manila and Calabarzon, which collectively account for 67 percent of the domestic economy.
He stressed that the government will never take the threat posed by the pandemic lightly, as it must continue protecting lives in ways that do not prevent people from earning a living.
The FPI agreed with Dominguez’s call, pointing out that the pandemic had dealt the economy a strong blow that “halted (its) robust growth” when the national and local governments imposed strict quarantine measures in March to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Arranza said the lockdowns “affected 75 percent of the economy, shrank gross domestic product by 0.2 percent in the first quarter and its extension starting April resulted in a 15-year high unemployment rate.”
“FPI fully agrees with Secretary Dominguez that there are already signs of economic recovery when the quarantine restrictions were relaxed starting this June 2020 as import volumes improve, reflecting rising economic activity. Hence, there is a need now to further loosen the quarantine restrictions in all main economic centers,” the FPI said in its letter.
The FPI also recommended to the IATF-EID to start allowing the use of road-worthy public utility jeepneys (PUJs) as these are “much safer than airconditioned versions in reducing the viral load during transport, with a caveat that both the drivers and passengers wear masks, in addition to (following) other health safety measures.”
“This is very critical because the ordinary workers could not report for work since this (mode of) transportation is not available particularly in the economic centers,” the FPI said.
The organization also requested that the government ease movement restrictions in the countryside to reenergize the agriculture and forestry sectors, “which are hardly affected by COVID-19 due to the open space and low viral loads.”
“This will help to revive our agriculture and forestry enterprises in the countryside, which more often than not are supplying the companies in the main economic centers,” the FPI said.
It also urged the government to strictly implement Commonwealth Act 138 and Administrative Order (AO) No. 227 to promote the preferential use of Filipino labor, domestic materials and locally produced goods not only among consumers but also in the state’s procurement of supplies and materials as part of the country’s economic stimulus plan.
“The local manufacturers have regularly paid their taxes and duties to the government; thus, it is about right to give them also the necessary reciprocity by patronizing and procuring their products and materials with the money that they contributed in the first place to the State,” the FPI said.
“Verily, this is now the time not only for our citizens but, for the government as well to be patriotic—by patronizing locally made products and boost our economy,” it added.
The FPI, which includes the country’s leading manufacturing firms, counts as members the producers of various commodities such as agricultural and food products (rice, flour, sugar, ice cream, confectionery, beverages and wines, broilers, hogs, coconut and palm oil, oleochemicals, seeds, and feeds); petroleum and petrochemical products; steel, cement, and other construction materials; packaging and paper products, textiles and garments; firearms; cars, trucks, buses and other vehicles; rubber; spare parts; medicine; fertilizers; tobacco and cigarettes; and power and energy, among others.