SONA 2020

Senators want ‘comprehensive plan’ for economy in Duterte’s SONA 2020

JC Gotinga
‘How much do we need to stimulate the economy? Which side of the equation do we stimulate? Where do we source the funds?’ asks Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon

Not just any plan, but a “comprehensive plan” on how the economy can bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic is what senators Franklin Drilon and Richard Gordon want to hear from President Rodrigo Duterte when he delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 27.

Clear-cut measures to revive the economy should be a priority, the two senators said in separate statements on Wednesday, July 22.

Drilon, the Senate minority leader, said the executive branch’s Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on top of the government’s pandemic response has “failed” to address the crisis.

“Let’s call a spade a spade…. I would like personally to hear comprehensive plans on the part of the administration, how we address this,” Drilon said in an ABS-CBN News Channel interview.

Because of the pandemic, some 5 million Filipinos are unemployed, 40% of micro, small, and medium enterprises are closed, and 5.2 million Filipinos went hungry in the last 3 months, the senator said, citing studies reported in the media.

The economy shrank for the first time in 22 years during the 1st quarter of 2020 because of the pandemic. In April, unemployment soared to an all-time high of 17.7%.

In May, the labor department predicted that as many as 10 million Filipinos could lose their jobs due to the crisis.

If the government thought putting large swathes of the country on lockdown for months would end the problem, then it was mistaken, Drilon said.

“If it’s an end by itself, you kill the economy and you kill people because of hunger,” he added.

With different proposed laws on immediate and long-term economic recovery plans pending at the Senate and the House of Representatives, the opposition senator said the administration should at least specify the amount the country needs to bounce back.

“How much do we need to stimulate the economy? Which side of the equation do we stimulate? Where do we source the funds? Do we source it from taxes or borrowings? To my mind, all these policy issues should be addressed by the President, because the IATF failed to address them,” Drilon said.

The Bayanihan to Recover as One bill proposes a “standby fund” for the government’s pandemic response. The Senate’s version proposes P140 billion, while the House puts it at P162 billion. Both chambers of Congress have yet to pass the measure.

Meanwhile, the House has approved the proposed Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE Philippines). The bill allots P1.3 trillion for job-generating infrastructure projects, financial assistance to businesses from 2020 to 2023, wage subsidies and cash-for-work programs for displaced workers, and zero-interest loans for companies.

However, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the government does not have the revenue to fund ARISE Philippines. In any case, the country is on the brink of recession, Drilon pointed out, and the President must set the direction of economic recovery.

“Do we increase taxes or do we borrow some more? We would like a guidance from the President, and the people would like to see where we stand and where the government wants us to go,” Drilon said.

“What stimulus are we going to use? It’s not clear to me yet,” Gordon told reporters in a virtual briefing, after discussing the pending economic recovery bills.

Gordon is worried the Philippines is losing to its neighbors in attracting foreign investors moving out of China, which some governments have accused of covering up the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Of some 30 Japanese firms looking to relocate, only 3 have considered the Philippines, while more than half are keen on Vietnam.

“Lowering corporate income taxes does not necessarily mean foreign investments will start coming,” Gordon said. Companies look at a country’s economic and political stability, and moves such as shutting down media giant ABS-CBN do not help the country’s image.

The bottomline, he said, is the government “needs to be more aggressive in getting more jobs.”

Duterte does plan to talk about a recovery plan in his upcoming SONA, his spokesperson Harry Roque told CNN Philippines on Wednesday. The President will discuss the pandemic “in much detail,” and present a “road map for recovery,” Roque added. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.