After adult joblessness in PH hits record high, Roque says 'it could have been worse'

Malacañang on Monday, August 17, tried to downplay a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that revealed adult joblessness in the Philippines surged to 45.5% of the labor force in July 2020.

Reacting to the survey released on Sunday, August 16, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the figure could have been worse given that the country has been on lockdown for months.

Roque said it was no surprise many Filipinos lost their jobs after the months-long lockdown.

"Ako po ay nagagalak na hindi tayo 100% nawalan ng trabaho kasi sa tagal po na naka-lockdown tayo. Talagang I'm still surprised at our resilience at 45% pa lang po ang nawawalan ng trabaho," he said. 

"It could have been worse kasi nga po complete lockdown ang nangyayari sa atin," he added. 

(I'm glad that 100% haven’t lost their jobs after we've been under lockdown for so long. I'm still surprised at our resilience and [that] only 45% have lost their jobs. It could have been worse because we were on complete lockdown.)

The SWS said the 45.5% figure is equivalent to 27.3 million unemployed Filipinos in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has plunged the Philippines into recession.

Jobless in a pandemic

The jump in adult joblessness in July 2020 was a 28-point increase from 17.5% in December 2019, when 7.9 million Filipinos were unemployed. It is also a new record high since the 34.4% in March 2012, according to the SWS. 

Half of those who were unemployed at the time of the survey lost their job during the pandemic, while the other half lost their job before the crisis.

The SWS said adults who are jobless include those who voluntarily left their old jobs, are seeking jobs for the first time, or lost their jobs due to economic circumstances beyond their control.

Asked how the government would respond to these findings, Roque said the debate in the coronavirus task force and Duterte Cabinet has been "intense," with sides split between those who wished to reopen the economy and those who called for stricter quarantine measures until the virus threat subsides. 

Roque said he "personally [belongs] to the school of thought [that] we can live with COVID; we need to learn how to live our lives with COVID."

The presidential spokesperson added this was supposedly possible by implementing the government's "Ingat Buhay Para sa Hanapbuhay" campaign. 

Several critics believe the Duterte government wasted earlier lockdowns and failed to improve the country's testing, tracing, and treatment efforts in preparation for the easing of restrictions in June.

Quarantine debate

The decision to extend or lift prevailing quarantine restrictions is not as straightforward. Experts earlier flagged the surge in cases seen in the country as general community quarantine (GCQ) was implemented in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. 

The exponential rise in cases had also put a strain on hospitals in the capital region and prompted health workers to warn the country's health system was on the brink of collapse. 

While industries badly need to be revived, data on the critical care utilization rate in Metro Manila – the epicenter of the outbreak – showed hospitals above the 70% danger threshold set by the health department. 

Researchers from the Octa group of experts also warned nationwide cases could reach 230,000 if Metro Manila and nearby provinces prematurely revert to GCQ. 

Duterte is expected to decide on the next quarantine restrictions to be implemented in Mega Manila on Monday night or Tuesday morning, August 18. 

"In his infinite wisdom, we are confident that the President will make the right decision," Roque said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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