PH 2nd fastest ASEAN growth but worst unemployment — IBON

February 4, 2022

by IBON Foundation

The Philippines is among the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia but this does not mean that Filipinos are better off, research group IBON said.

The country’s 7.7% gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the fourth quarter of 2021 resulted in 5.6% growth for the whole year. In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this is next only to Singapore whose growth is projected to reach 7.2% in 2021.

But this fast economic growth is meaningless because it is not translating to enough jobs and incomes for ordinary Filipinos who are suffering unprecedentedly under the Duterte administration and especially since the pandemic, IBON said.

There were 3.2 million Filipinos officially reported as unemployed as of November 2021. IBON however estimates that the real number of unemployed may be as much as 5.7 million or more if discouraged and unavailable workers that stopped being counted by the official methodology are also included.

The quality of work created by the rebounding economy is also suspect. While employment increased by 2.9 million between January 2020 and November 2021, the number of full-time workers is actually 389,000 smaller.

Net employment creation was mainly because of a huge 3.1 million increase in part-time workers and 203,000 increase in those with a job but not at work. Temporary, low-paying and benefit-less work in the informal sector is bloating as Filipinos struggle to make a living in whatever way they can.

As it is, by hours worked, some 17.1 million or 37.6% of those employed are just in part-time work or with a job but not at work. By class of worker, the number of those self-employed or in a family farm or business grew to 17.5 million or 38.5% of total employment.

The Philippines has the worst unemployment in ASEAN, even by understated official unemployment figures. The country’s 6.5% unemployment rate unemployment rate is marginally higher than in Indonesia (6.49% in August 2021) and much higher than in Malaysia (4.3% in November), Vietnam (4% in 3rd quarter), Singapore (3.2% in November), and Thailand (2.3% in 3rd quarter).

The Duterte administration’s over-reliance on lockdowns caused this. When the economy collapsed in 2020, the Philippines saw the biggest unemployment rate increase in the region. This grew by 5.3 percentage points distantly followed by Indonesia whose unemployment rate only increased by 1.9 percentage points.

However the country’s jobless also suffer the worst inflation at 4.5% in 2021. Prices are increasing much more slowly in Malaysia (3.2% in December), Singapore (2.3%), Indonesia (1.9%), Vietnam (1.8%), Brunei (1.8% in October), and Thailand (1.2%).

The poor employment performance may have something to do with the weaker manufacturing sector. The sector’s 0.8 percentage point decline in 2020 was the worst manufacturing performance in the region.

Meanwhile, IBON remarked that the wealth of the Philippine’s super-rich increased the most in the region. The net worth of the 50 richest Filipinos ballooned by a huge 30.5% in 2021 compared to those in Singapore (24.6% growth) and Indonesia (21.8%).

While the economy and people’s livelihoods took a downturn, the wealth especially of oligarchs associated with the administration only increased further. The net worth of Manny Villar, Enrique Razon, and Dennis Uy grew from Php85.5 billion to Php330 billion, Php166.2 billion to Php285.7 billion, and Php10.7 billion to Php35 billion, respectively.

IBON said that the economy and majority of Filipinos have hit rock bottom under Duterte, and that it is more urgent than ever for the 2022 elections to herald new economics and governance. The group looked at the presidential candidates’ economic platforms to see if any of them can steer the country away from decades-old backwardness and underdevelopment.