Seemingly straight out of an episode of The Twilight Zone, the current reality does not feel real.
The Asian Development Bank estimated earlier this year that 87,000 to 252,000 jobs would be lost in the Philippines due to COVID-191; this was an understatement, to say the least. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported in its April 2020 Labor Force Survey2 that the unemployment rate rose to 17.7% accounting to 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos — a 15- year-high.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) further projects that around 10 million workers may lose their jobs by the end of the year. Moreover, the DoLE has tallied about 200 permanent business closures while over 3,000 businesses closed temporarily.3 It was also reported that the DoLE-NCR has already registered 30,157 requests for Certificate of Involuntary Separation (CIS) as of July 1, 2020 — twice the number of CIS applicants from the month before.4
In an interview, Maybank Kim Eng Economist Lee Ju Ye projected the Philippines’ unemployment rate would hit 18.5% this year — the highest in the ASEAN region. The Philippines was named (along with Indonesia) as the most likely country to lag in jobs recovery, due to its longer lockdowns, its struggle to flatten the pandemic curve, and its relatively small fiscal support.5
This is not to say that the Philippine government has done nothing, heartlessly leaving the people to fend for themselves. Aside from government projects such as the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), labor specific COVID-19 mitigating measures have been put in place such as the following:
• Implementation of Flexible Work Arrangements (DoLE Labor Advisory No. 09-20 and 17-20)
• Partial Closure of Establishments to Mitigate Losses (DoLE Labor Advisory No. 17-20)
• Adjustment of Wage and Wage-Related Benefits (DoLE Labor Advisory No. 09-20 and 17-20)
• Suspension of the Probationary Period (DoLE Labor Advisory No. 14-20 and 14-A-20)
• COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program “Camp” (DoLE Department Order No. 209-20)
• Small Business Wage Subsidy “SBWS” Program (SSS-DoF-BIR Joint Memorandum Circular No. 001-20)
• Temporary Employment — “Tupad” Program (DoLE Department Order No. 210-20)
• Financial Assistance for Displaced Landbased and Seabased Filipino Workers — “DoLE-AKAP” (DoLE Department Order No. 212-20)
The foregoing notwithstanding, after more than four months of varying levels of community quarantine — and reports that the government considered implementing a “Hybrid” GCQ in NCR, an entirely new animal — the pandemic still has not ended; consequently, its effects are still felt.
During the months of quarantine, the government has expanded its testing capability and treatment facilities; however, for Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization representative in the country, the Philippines’ contact tracing and suppression capacities, unfortunately, are “a little weak.”6
Recent data indicate that the positivity rate of those tested for the virus has increased, from 6.5% in June to 7.7% on July 13.7
As if beating a dead horse wasn’t enough, the Department of Health (DoH) also reported that the utilization rates of ward and isolation beds for cases of COVID-19 in Metro Manila are now over 70% and have breached into what it called the “danger zone.”
Amidst continuous statements that the current dilemma is the people’s fault, and confusion on the government’s concrete action plan, the onus to find a solution was then seemingly outsourced to the LGUs, the employers, and even worse, the common citizens. On the other hand, the ILO is of the opinion that the main responsibility falls on public authorities. Accordingly, crisis management cannot be subcontracted but it can be shared.
That being said, the private sector has done its part; the DoLE has reported that over 80% (4,062 out of 5,049) of business establishments in Metro Manila have complied with the interim guidelines on workplace prevention and control of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).8 Reports of company generosity in the form of monetary donations, free or discounted services, and exhaustion of alternatives to termination, have also littered the news.
During times when some matters are more bent than they are flattened and battling projection numbers are of utmost importance, not all is lost.
It has been reported that Australia is currently interested in hiring Filipino welders and workers in livestock agriculture.9 The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) has approved the registration of 50 projects, bringing in P22.5 billion worth of investments.10 The Build, Build, Build (BBB) Program will result in about 400,000 jobs for construction workers. Jobs are also available in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector.11 The pending P1.5-trillion COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) Act of 2020 is also something to look forward to.12 Most importantly, there are reports of great progress by Oxford and Moderna in the search for the illusive COVID-19 vaccine.
Notwithstanding everything that has happened over the past four months, it is always the present that is the most important. They say that, “yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present.” The actions and decisions made today will ultimately dictate what happens to the future generations.
Easier said than done, but if we could only find the perfectly balanced — as all things should be — interests of the government, the employers, and the employees, the burden won’t be as heavy as it is now; one can’t exist without the others anyway.
1 Ernie Cecilia, DPM, “Share in the sacrifice, or lose more jobs” available at https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/05/21/campus-press/share-in-the-sacrifice-or-lose-more-jobs/726043 (last accessed July 16).
2 Employment Situation in April 2020 available at https://psa.gov.ph/statistics/survey/labor-and-employment/labor-force-survey/title/Employment%20 Situation%20in%20April%202020 (last accessed July 16).
3 “Permanent business closures estimated at 200, Labor dep’t says” available at https://www.bworldonline.com/permanent-business-closures-estimated-at-200-labor-dept-says (last accessed July 16).
4 Samuel P. Medenilla, “Jobless benefit applications jump twofold in July to 30,000” available at https://businessmirror.com.ph/2020/07/15/jobless-benefit-applications-jump-twofold-in-july-to-30000 (last accessed July 16).
5 Ben O. de Vera, “Study: 8M Filipinos to lose jobs as virus overwhelms economy” available at https://business.inquirer.net/302441/study-8m-filipinos-to-lose-jobs-as-virus-overwhelms-economy (last accessed July 16).
6 Christine O. Avendaño, “WHO finds PH virus suppression, contact tracing ‘a little weak’” available at https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1306902/who-finds-ph-virus-suppression-contact-tracing-a-little-weak (last accessed July 16).
7 Sheila Crisostomo, “WHO to Philippines: Shorten COVID testing time” available at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/07/15/2028109/who-philippines-shorten-covid-testing-time (last accessed July 16).
8 Ferdinand Patinio, “Over 4K firms in NCR compliant with workplace rules vs. COVID-19” available at https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1108923 (last accessed July 16).
9 Pia Lee-Brago, “Australia to hire Pinoy welders, agriculture workers” available at https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/07/10/2026909/australia-hire-pinoy-welders-agriculture-workers (last accessed July 16).
10 Louella Desiderio, “PEZA approves 50 projects worth P22.5 billion” available at https://www.philstar.com/business/2020/07/16/2028228/peza-approves-50-projects-worth-p225-billion (last accessed July 16).
11 Ferdinand Patinio, “Gov’t programs available for OFWs displaced by pandemic” available at https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1109074 (last accessed July 16).
12 “As quarantine eases, worker layoffs start” available at https://businessmirror.com.ph/2020/06/02/as-quarantine-eases-worker-layoffs-start (last accessed July 16).
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes, and not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice or legal opinion.
Antonio Karlo A. Noguera is an Associate of the Labor and Employment Department of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW).