By Basilio Sepe and Jojo Rinoza
The jobless rate in the Philippines reached nearly 18 percent in April, setting a new all-time record, as ripple effects of the coronavirus pandemic dragged down the nation’s economy, the government said Friday.
As many as 7.3 million Filipinos were out of jobs during that month mainly due to the COVID-19 outbreak that forced the government to lockdown Luzon, the country’s main northern island and home to about 60 million people, since March, the Philippine Statistics Authority said.
“This is a record high in the unemployment rate reflecting the effects of Corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) economic shutdown on the Philippine labor market,” National Statistician Claire Dennis Mapa said in a statement.
While President Rodrigo Duterte has gradually reopened some businesses, many have remained shut. Meanwhile, many people who have lost their jobs and originally came from out of town are racing to leave the sprawling Metro Manila region because the employment well has dried up.
Companies began cutting jobs in mid-March in the midst of a severe downturn, she said. The arts, entertainment, and recreation sector saw the biggest drop, with the number of employed workers slashed by 54 percent as movie and television productions had to stop operations.
Jobs across all industries have also been cut, as the government restricted people’s movements to their homes while it struggled to contain the disease.
“The definition of unemployment is if you do not have work in the last week of April. What we will do in the next few months, once we have another survey, and if we will see improvement in the July round, then we can say that the impact is temporary,” Mapa told reporters in an online press briefing.
Duterte administration: Sad, but unsurprising
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said it was not surprising that so many people had lost their jobs, given the ripple effects brought about by the COVID-19 lockdown measures in the capital.
“We are saddened – albeit unsurprised – by the April 2020 unemployment rate released by the Philippine Statistics Authority which registered at 17.7 [percent]. This is an obvious effect of the economic shutdown when the entire Luzon area was in an enhanced community quarantine where most businesses were closed and many people were out of work and stayed at home,” Roque said.
According to Roque, priority policies and strategies for production sectors, including agriculture and fisheries, services and tourism were already under way “to enable the economy to recover and transition to the new normal.”
“A resiliency program, such as but not limited to active labor market programs, job matching and skills upgrading, is likewise being prepared to help insulate our people from future similar crises,” Roque said. “Our nation is composed of resilient and hardworking people and we will stand united to weather this health crisis, and together, we will heal and recover as one.”
Allan Tanjusay, spokesman for the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, said the government’s recent move to restart economic activity would unlikely make a dent in joblessness.
“Inadequate public transportation and poor anticipation of return-to-work scenario is causing a lot of job [losses], wage deductions and additional stress,” Tanjusay said.
“The main factor for the recent additional unemployment is the quarantine lockdown and shutdown of businesses,” he said.
On Friday, Philippine health authorities recorded 244 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths from the disease to bring the nationwide tally to 20,626 cases with a death toll of 987.
‘It’s hopeless here in Manila’
As the government announced the gloomy jobs scenario, laid off construction worker Jomar Olaybal, 44, was herding 10 members of his immediate and extended family into a church compound in Manila, where free bus rides were being offered back to their home province of Albay, in the eastern Bicol region.
“We have been here for the past four years and the children thought we would be able to stay here until they finish schooling,” he told BenarNews, as he cradled his 10-month-old baby, Mark Julius, while waiting for their rapid COVID-19 test results before boarding their bus.
“Life was hard even before, but now, it’s hopeless already here in Manila,” Olaybal said. “When we get home to the province, maybe I’ll go back to becoming a fishermen.”
His eldest son, 19-year-old Jar Mark, has had to forego his schooling at a Manila university, where he was studying criminology. He was sitting nearby, looking sullen while his mother, Marie Joy, tried to console him.
“This COVID-19 has robbed us of a decent life,” the mother said. “What the future brings, we don’t know.”