THE Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) urged the government to allow businesses to resume full operations, warning that many are facing the possibility of permanent closure if lockdowns continue.
The largest business organization in the country on Wednesday said 50% of the members in its local chambers in Luzon and Mindanao have closed down, while employment among those that continue to operate is down to 25-30%.
“The almost five months of lockdowns have put more firms at a greater risk of permanent closure,” PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said in a statement.
After GDP shrank by 0.2% in the first quarter, the Philippine economy’s contraction is expected to deepen in the second quarter — as Luzon was under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for most of the period.
“Obviously, we don’t need economists to tell us there could be a faster slide and steeper decline in GDP (gross domestic product) during the second quarter when economic activity was reduced to a minimum. Extending the lockdown further could already spell disaster for the country,” Mr. Yujuico said.
The PCCI said its members want lockdowns to be further eased and full economic activity to “resume soonest to allow them to recover.”
However, as the number of coronavirus infections continues to increase, Malacañang has said it will assess if there is a need to change quarantine conditions once again.
Since June, Metro Manila has been under a more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ), but many businesses are only allowed to operate on a limited capacity.
If it reverts back to an ECQ, only a select number of essential industries will be allowed to operate and restrictions on the movement of people will once again be imposed.
“Business closures mean a drop in taxes and budgetary income, putting at risk the sustainability of public finances and the ability to fund public services, including health and education,” Mr. Yujuico said.
PCCI said 800 member hotels and tourism businesses in Palawan have closed, while over 8,000 businesses, mostly in the garments industry, in Taytay, Rizal have shut down.
In Metro Manila, more establishments can now operate and at higher capacities. Dine-in at restaurants, barbershops, and salons can have up to 50% capacity in areas under GCQ.
However, Mr. Yujuico said the limited allowable operations translate into losses for companies that would rather close.
“Fifty percent is not enough to pay the rent, utilities and employees; you cannot tell a manufacturing company to operate at below capacity and still require it to provide accommodation and/or shuttle services for its workers; and, you cannot open businesses, even at phases, without allowing public transportation,” he said.
Mr. Yujuico said the Philippines could follow a model that relies on physical distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, widespread testing, and contact tracing.
A World Health Organization official is reported to have said that Philippine efforts to contain the pandemic, including contact tracing, is “a little weak” after confirmed COVID-19 cases surged to 57,000 on July 14. Confirmed cases exceeded 70,000 as of Tuesday.
“Generic” workplace health safety guidelines, if not refined for specific industries, can put employees at risk, St. Luke’s College of Medicine Head of Research of Preventive and Community Medicine Dr. Carolina L. Tapia said. — Jenina P. Ibañez