DoLE to launch 3-month wage subsidy program for micro, small businesses


THE DEPARTMENT of Labor and Employment (DoLE) will soon be releasing a recovery plan that will include a three-month wage subsidy for workers in micro and small businesses affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. In a statement on Thursday, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said the DoLE is “deep into the details” of their proposed recovery plan, which aims to provide one million jobs outside Metro Manila as well as a wage subsidy for micro and small business employees, “gig” economy workers, and, media practitioners. “This much we can offer our Filipino workers in the interim as we trek the road to recovery,” Mr. Bello said.

Meanwhile, a monthly wage subsidy that will cover 75% of the total payroll cost of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) hit hardest by the ongoing crisis has been proposed in the Senate. Senator Imee R. Marcos, who chairs the economic affairs committee, said Senate Bill No, 1431, the Economic Recovery Act, is intended to minimize potential layoffs. In a virtual briefing Thursday, she said the proposal is projected to cost the government P63 billion per month, which may be sourced through loans or savings from the 2019 national budget. She did not specify over many months the proposed subsidy will be in effect, but said, “We have to be spending a lot of the money for the MSMEs. Ang dasal ko na lang sa kakulangan ng budget, sana wag na tumagal ito (I pray that given budget limitations, hopefully this will not last) beyond July.” President Rodrigo R. Duterte placed the entire Luzon under an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) since March 17, suspending work, classes and public transportation. Most local governments around the country have imposed similar restrictions. The strict quarantine measures have been extended to May 15 in several parts of the country, including the National Capital Region and major cities. DoLE has said more than two million employees have been displaced in the first five weeks of the lockdown. The government has launched two wage subsidy programs, the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP) under DoLE and the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program of the Department of Finance. — Gillian M. Cortez and Charmaine A. Tadalan

Senior citizens allowed to go out for work, buy essential goods

THE GOVERNMENT has eased the strict stay-at-home policy for all senior citizens in areas considered as low risk for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), allowing them to go out for work or purchase essential goods. Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez on Thursday said the government will implement an ID system that will serve as a pass for senior citizens who are working or running businesses to leave their homes. “Also allowing of course those needing Medical check ups, procedure. Buying food, Medicines. Government assistance,” he told reporters in a mobile message. The national task force handling the COVID-19 crisis announced earlier that identified low-risk areas can start easing quarantine measures by May 1, but the guidelines still prohibited individuals who are 20 years old and below and 60 years old and above from leaving their homes. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines on Wednesday said the rule could lead to job losses for those within these age brackets who are employed. Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr., in a briefing on Thursday, said the new guidelines now bans only those in the age groups with immunodeficiency, comorbidity, other illnesses, or are pregnant. Mr. Lopez stressed that the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases is not insisting on putting senior citizens on house arrest. “That is just an overall policy presented to us due to vulnerability of the age segment. Especially during the quarantine periods. The operating guidelines are to be issued.”— Gillian M. Cortez and Jenina P. Ibañez

DA sees enough fish supply despite lockdown extension in parts of the country

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said there is ample supply of fresh fish in the country and the extension of the lockdown policy in parts of the country will not affect availability in the markets. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said supply of fresh fish in the market will be augmented by the lifting of the closed fishing season in major fishing areas and the peak of fishing activities during the second quarter of the year. According to estimates from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the country will have an 11-day surplus supply of fish, equivalent to 101,792 metric tons (MT), by the end of June. Total fish supply including the surplus stocks is pegged at 934,920 MT, 12.2% higher from the country’s consumption demand at 833,128 MT. “The outlook for the entire year or till December 31, 2020, is also bright, with supply (3,349,424 MT) slightly exceeding demand (3,332,510 MT), on top of the total fish supply for January 2021,” the BFAR said. In a report to the DA, Philippine Fisheries Development Authority (PFDA) General Manager Glen A. Pangapalan said they have facilitated the unloading of 2,088 MT of fish daily, with a total of 71,025 MT since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). “Since the implementation of the ECQ, we have been adopting the ‘not business-as-usual’ as a policy in all DA field offices and attached agencies, including the PFDA that manages major fish ports nationwide. So rest assured that there is enough fish unloaded in our fish ports to meet our national demand,” Mr. Dar said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dar urged local government units (LGUs) to continue purchasing basic food commodities directly from farmers and fishers and to include these in their distribution of relief packs. “As the enhanced community quarantine initially posed difficulty on the movement of food cargoes and other agri-fishery commodities, we deemed it necessary to encourage our provincial governors, and city and municipal mayors to buy the harvests of farmers to prevent wastage,” Mr. Dar said. Several LGUs have already responded to the DA’s request and included basic agricultural commodities in the relief packs distributed to their constituents. Among these are the Iloilo provincial government, municipal government of Cabuyao, and the Davao City government. “We enjoin other local chief executives to do the same so we can ensure food security for all and extend much-needed support to our farmers and fishers by providing them a ready market for their produce,” Mr. Dar said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

CHED says private universities should be part of stimulus program

COMMISSION on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Prospero E. De Vera III said private higher education institutions (HEIs) should also be considered in the government’s stimulus program in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. “Any delay in the opening, including the proposals of some to move the opening to October and even later will affect the cash flow of these universities and potential revenue loss because they will not be able to collect any tuition,” he said during the virtual hearing of the House committee on higher and technical education on Thursday. He said that if HEIs reduce their workforce or are forced to shut down, access to higher education will be “severely limited.” “The universities are sort of a second thought. In fact, in the program of DoLE (Department of Labor and Employment) for employees who will get the P5,000 assistance, the employees in private universities are not included, the premise being you pay the salaries of faculty members even during summer. Medyo nakalimutan (They have been forgotten),” Mr. De Vera said. Meanwhile, Mr. De Vera said that private education institutions responded “positively” when asked to be compassionate in collecting tuition fees. Baguio Rep. Mark O. Go, chair of the House committee on higher and technical education, said they will file a separate bill which will address the concerns of the education sector. The latest draft of the economic stimulus bill in the House of Representatives proposes to inject about P1.3 trillion to P1.4 trillion in the first year of the intervention period of 2020–2022 to help workers and businesses cope with the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. — Genshen L. Espedido

DoST sets up specimen collection booths in hospitals for COVID-19 testing

THE Department of Science and Technology (DoST) is setting up 132 specimen collection booths in hospitals around the country for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) tests, Secretary Fortunato T. De la Peña announced Thursday. “Out of these 132, 38 are for what we call ‘Level 2’ and ‘Level 3’ hospitals, ito po iyong mga mas malalaking ospital, at iyong 94 naman po ay (these are for the bigger hospitals and the 94 is) for the regions,” he said in a briefing. As of April 30, a total of 53 booths have been delivered within the National Capital Region, Cagayan Valley Region, and Central Luzon. Mr. De la Peña said appropriately-designed specimen collection booths are critical in ensuring the safety of health workers. A private sector start-up manufacturer provided the booth design.Gillian M. Cortez

Less than 10% of LGUs have completed cash aid distribution

ONLY 104 local government units (LGUs) out of 1,632 have completed the distribution of the national government’s cash aid program for low-income households affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. In a briefing on Thursday, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Rolando D. Bautista said so far, only 104 LGUs have reported 100% payout. Several LGUs around the country have expressed difficulties in meeting the distribution deadline given manpower and logistical limitations. Out of the 18 million target beneficiaries under the Social Amelioration Program, which has a P50-billion budget, only 9.4 million have received the P5,000 to P8,000 per month for two months assistance. The second tranche is supposed to be ready for release by the start of May. Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año said LGUs must first liquidate the first month funds and prepare validation requirements for DSWD before the second tranche could be released. — Gillian M. Cortez