The country’s record joblessness demands extraordinary measures from the Duterte administration to help tens of millions of families losing incomes, research group IBON said. Unfortunately, the response so far has been stingy and the supposed recovery program does not appear to give much more. The group said that unemployment is likely much worse with official figures underestimating the real number of jobless Filipinos.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported 7.3 million unemployed and 6.4 million underemployed in April 2020, during the height of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). This is the worst recorded unemployment (7.3 million) and combined unemployment and underemployment (13.7 million) in the country’s history.
IBON said that these labor force survey figures confirm how inadequate emergency subsidies during the lockdown have been. The social welfare, labor and agriculture departments each had their own cash subsidy programs.
Some 19.3 million beneficiaries have been reached, according to the president’s latest 10th report to Congress. But the group noted that the majority were not given assistance until the 8th week of the lockdown. IBON also said that the Php108.1 billion distributed seems huge, but beneficiaries received only Php5,606 on average for some 80 days of interrupted livelihoods and lost incomes. This is equivalent to just Php77 per beneficiary family per day, which is far from enough to ensure even a basic minimum standard of living.
IBON said that the government’s supposed recovery plans are even worse in being more concerned about supporting business profits than helping the mass of unemployed Filipinos. The finance department’s Philippine Program for Recovery with Equity and Solidarity (PH-PROGRESO) and stimulus bills in Congress give considerable support to businesses while millions of affected families get token support at best.
PH-PROGRESO does not give any cash support to poor and low-income families most in need, including the mass of unemployed, noted IBON. This is while the proposal wants to give Php667 billion worth of corporate tax breaks, the biggest in the country’s history. The Php133.7 billion in loans and guarantees, Php142.8 billion in other tax cuts and foregone revenue, and Php233.3 billion in additional liquidity will also benefit mainly enterprises.
Worse, the Duterte administration even wants to burden unemployed Filipinos with higher consumption taxes, said IBON. The finance department and its allies in Congress are already planning higher taxes on sweetened drinks, junk food, on-line shopping and viewing, and motor vehicles. Higher prices for Filipinos facing joblessness and income losses is unconscionable, said the group.
Government recovery plans need to give much greater direct income support to poor and low-income households, IBON stressed. This means both direct support for families’ welfare as well as a meaningful stimulus that increases effective demand in the economy.