By Gillian M. Cortez, Reporter

THE number of unemployed Filipinos could be closer to 10 million rather than the official estimate of 7.3 million in April, a University of the Philippines professor said.

In an interview Sunday, Labor Professor Rene E. Ofreneo of the UP School of Labor and Industrial Relations (SOLAIR) said the Philippine Statistics Authority’s (PSA) 17.7% unemployment rate for April “could be conservative” as it may have not taken in the impact of the lockdown imposed to contain the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) outbreak.

Kapag tinignan mo ang pagbagsak ng (If you look at the decline in the) Labor Force Participation (LFP) rate, I think the realistic number is 10 million unemployed,” he said.

Mr. Ofreneo added: “Unemployment will remain very, very high. I really think the total number of unemployed is roughly around 10 million…To have unemployment remaining at 10 million in the coming months will be a terrible problem.”

The 17.7% unemployment rate is a PSA record. The LFP, or the number of people working or actively seeking work as of April was at an all-time low of 55.6%.

Mr. Ofreneo said the number of unemployed will only increase within the next few months, adding: “The unemployment rate will remain high and the possibility of worsening unemployment will be defined by the deteriorating global environment.”

A global recession due to the pandemic will lead to reduced employment, possibly worse than the job losses caused by the 2007-2009 mortgage finance crisis. Disruptions in trade and the global supply chain have also weighed heavily on employment globally.

In the Philippines, the government’s economic managers said the economy will contract between 2% and 3.4% this 2020. The first quarter of 2020 saw a contraction of 0.2%, according to the PSA.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte imposed a Luzon-wide lockdown on March 17, which was extended twice and was followed by other lockdowns in other regions. On June 1, Metro Manila entered a more relaxed form of lockdown as the economy gradually reopened.

Another employment issue that needs to be addressed during the pandemic is the large number of displaced Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Mr. Ofreneo said: “We are in a situation for the first time that OFWs are losing their jobs around the world, not just in one country.”

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) said last week that more than one million OFWs could lose their jobs by 2021 because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr. Ofreneo recommends that the government focus on programs that promote livelihood to generate large numbers of jobs. He added the government’s push for infrastructure will help employment but should be expanded to other communities and not concentrate solely on large-scale projects in highly urbanized areas.

“They have to focus on small but job-creating public works. They should focus on communities, on small roads, and barangay roads. They should focus on repairing small communities,” he said.

He added the focus should be on jobs, saying, “I don’t understand why they should focus on foreign investment and opening up the economy. What investment will come in during this situation?”

Mr. Ofreneo said as long as there is still no vaccine for COVID-19, the economy will be a long way from recovery to pre-crisis levels.

“This is the time for serious development studies. Returning to pre-COVID conditions is a dream right now,” he said.