Transportation and reviving the economy

The present state of the Philippine economy presents a dire picture that has raised alarms among the business and financial sectors who are calling for new ways of thinking to escape the grip of the pandemic. A summary of the facts in the press indicate that the fears expressed by people in the know should also concern us all — the young and old alike, professionals or self-employed, fathers and mothers, government officials and rank and file. For effect, the coronavirus pandemic has plunged the Philippine economy to its worst contraction since World War II; with gross domestic product (GDP) falling by 9.5% in 2020 according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.  We had the sharpest dip on record since available data dating back to 1947 and the first GDP decline since 1998. GDP is the sum of all products and services created by a country and our GNP actually contracted by 8.3% in the 4th quarter of 2020. On an annual basis, industry posted the largest contraction of 13.1%, while services and agriculture slumped 9.1% and 0.2%, respectively. Worst hit are personal care services, such as salons, etc., with a -45.2% growth rate which answers the question why we are not seeing our manicurists and hair dressers in their shops at all. 

How do we break out of this economic morass brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic? One path according to a group of employers is for the government to allow more public transportation on the roads to boost the economy’s recovery from recession. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines or ECOP noted that limited transportation options right now cannot accommodate the country’s workforce. “A lot of people still can’t go to work because transportation is unavailable — mass transportation. That can do a lot,” ECOP President Sergio Ortiz-Luis mentioned in a press report. “When we eased out from ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) to GCQ (general community quarantine), we were saying they should bring back all the available transportation prior to COVID but that did not happen,” he added.

It is a sentiment echoed by Metro Manila mayors who have recommended that public transport capacity be increased once Metro Manila is placed under the least restrictive modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) by March, according to Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro.  “That’s the proposal of NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority] that we increase our public transportation from 50 to 75 percent [capacity]. We are one in that, we need to expand and have more higher frequency travels to provide safe and COVID free, and viable in terms of cost of public transport system,” said Teodoro referring to the proposal to shift Metro Manila to MGCQ. “Because, as we speak, people now are congesting in terminals and lining up for a longer period of the time so exposure to threats of Covid-19 is very high,” he added.         

However, Duterte has rejected NEDA’s proposal to place the entire country starting March under modified MGCQ — the most lenient community quarantine status. He wants further easing of restrictions to take place after the government has rolled out its vaccination drive against COVID-19, his spokesman Harry Roque said to the press. But for ECOP, the Philippines does not have to be under MGCQ, but “we have to improve the way we are implementing [public health standards] and we have to review the protocols we have so far,” Ortiz-Luiz said. Senator Nancy Binay in a related press statement also batted for taking a closer look at our public transportation situation and coming up with solutions that would benefit the public. According to her, “The call is to open up the transportation sector because at the moment, the majority of our jeepney drivers are still unable to serve their routes, so how do we expect the labor force to go to work if transportation is limited.” “I am asking the government to allow more public transportation on our roads because a lot of jeepney drivers are currently not making a living,” she stressed. 

One is reminded of how a few years back when netizens criticized the country’s deteriorating transport infrastructure and asked DOTr officials to ride the Metro trains themselves or to take public transport.  This way, they could experience the toil and hardships that ordinary commuters and the riding public are experiencing on our roads.  The situation applies here and it seems that the DOTr and the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the pandemic is tone deaf to the everyday complaints of the people who are forced out to earn a living but could not be adequately accommodated by the transport system available. The result is hours of waiting and lining up, late arrivals in offices and frayed nerves because the government announced that it is ok to go back to work and yet the commuters are left on their own when travelling to and from their work places. So, what gives? Perhaps transportation reform/ changes should now be on top of the government’s agenda as it tries to revive the economy now that we are at the cusp of emerging from this pandemic given that the first batch of vaccines has arrived.  We cannot afford another long wait to revive the economy.  Thus, the government must act now in order to avoid any further collapse. 

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