90% of PH labor force
displaced by Covid-19

CenPEG calls for IATF overhaul, lead role for medical experts and scientists
JUly 26, 2020

Ateneo economist Joseph Anthony Lim says that, using the Philippine Statistical Authority’s (PSA) April 2020 Labor Force Survey, up to 90% of the Philippines’ labor force have been fully or partially displaced by the March–May lockdown the government enforced to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Temario C. Rivera, CenPEG board chair, also said Mr. Duterte’s leadership style during the pandemic, has been consistent with his “strongman” persona using “a militarized response to a primarily public health issue.” Not surprisingly, he asserted, Duterte has put in command top-ranking generals to run the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) against Covid-19 and marginalized the country’s best medical and scientific minds who would have addressed the critical public health issue more effectively.

Lim and Rivera spoke during CenPEG’s pre-SONA first webinar forum with livestreaming hosted by the independent think tank, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), on July 25. The webinar, “Governance failures during Covid-19 and alternative responses,” was the first in a series of forums of CenPEG’s 12th State of the Presidency (SOP). The second will be held on July 29.

Rivera, and Lim and two other speakers gave a failing grade to the Duterte administration’s responses to the pandemic on key governance issues including political leadership, mobilization of state resources, handling of the economy, social participation, and controlling the contagion,.

Economist Joseph Anthony Lim said that the PSA identified 17.7% of the labor force, or 7.25 million workers as unemployed. He added the “discouraged workers” - 3 million who were unemployed but did not look for work during the lockdown, and therefore were counted out from the labor force by PSA. This brings the unemployment rate to around 22.5%.

Those who had a job but did not work at all in April 2020 increased by around 12.5 million workers compared to April 2019, comprising around 28% of the labor force. Adding this to the 22.5% above, around 50% had NO WORK in April.

Out of those employed who actually worked, the number of full-time workers - working 40 or more hours a week - fell from 28.4 million workers to just 9.9 million. This means, that “more than 18 million workers went from full-time to part-time workers” making up around 40% of the labor force in April, Lim said.

Thus, in all nearly 90% of the working force was affected by the lockdown in April, Lim said.

The Philippines has “the longest lockdown in the world” but has nothing to show any game-changing gains, Lim said. Unemployment and underemployment increased in all regions of the country and it’s unclear whether those who found themselves jobless were being paid.

Lim, PhD, took his master's at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Pennsylvania / Wharton School. A poverty adviser for the UNDP’s Bureau of Development Policy, Lim also used to teach at UP’s School of Economics.

Rivera, on the other hand, said while many Filipinos found themselves on survival mode, Duterte has shown “unfocused, confusing, and divisive leadership” with the pandemic response sidetracked by press freedom issues, the shutdown of ABS-CBN, the anti-terror law, and charter change project, he added.

At a time when social participation is most needed in combatting the pandemic, Rivera lamented government’s inability to activate people’s participation while giving full play to military-police leadership using coercive measures in the campaign against Covid-19.

He also said that while the “nanlaban” ploy was used to justify rampant killings and human rights abuses in the war on illegal drugs the administration has been using the “pasaway” narrative to clamp down on legitimate dissent during the pandemic.

Rivera, however, said there is still time to remedy pressing governance failures by pushing some doable short- and mid-term reforms. These include, among others, giving credible medical professionals and scientists a leading role in the IATF along with legitimate people’s representatives in LGU governing bodies. He also called for a long-term, radical shift of government resources for universally available services including health, education, housing, social protection for workers, and effective disaster management.

A retired U.P. professor and former chair of the U.P. Department of Political Science, Rivera also served as a professor of international relations at the International Christian University of Tokyo. He has been awarded for best social science publication from the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST); Distinguished Leadership and Scholarship awards from the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA) and the Philippine International Studies Organization (PHISO). Last year, he was a recipient of the U.P. Distinguished Alumni Award in Democratization and Governance.

In a separate paper, UP Diliman Prof. Maragtas SV Amante and Ateneo Math Prof. Felix Muga III said addressing the pandemic would have incurred less social and economic costs had the Duterte administration focused on crushing the initial local COVID19 clusters detected in the first week of March 2020, and enabled the empowerment of affected communities with public education and harmonizing grassroots efforts with government. In the true Bayanihan spirit, people in the local communities know better in caring for their communities in fighting the coronavirus, Amante said. Some local communities and governments succeeded in containing the COVID19 clusters.  

They also called attention to the need to integrate into the national action plan some of the lessons to be gained from the better performance of LGUs – cities, provinces, and regions – in controlling the contagion.

A former UP vice president for administration, Maragtas was former Dean and currently a professor at UP’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations (UP SOLAIR). Muga III holds an M.S. in Mathematics at the Ateneo and Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He serves as chair of the Mathematics Division of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) and is a member of the Outstanding Young Scientists, Inc. (OYSI).

The July 25 webinar can be viewed on the CenPEG Facebook.

CenPEG is a think tank institution with policy studies and advocacies covering electoral and political party reform, governance, foreign policy, and other public issues.


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