MANILA - The Philippine economy cannot remain on shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the country's finance chief said Wednesday, as he called for a "reasonable balance" between protecting public health and livelihood.
Increasing economic activity is a matter of "national survival," Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said as he stressed that the country can respond to the pandemic while protecting the jobs and businesses of Filipinos.
"While health measures are absolutely necessary for us in fighting this pandemic, increasing economic activity in a responsible manner is a matter of national survival and priority," he said during an economic forum ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's penultimate State of the Nation Address this month.
"Health and livelihood is not a binary choice. We must protect lives in ways that do not prevent us from earning a living. This is a tough decision to make but we need to do this," he added.
Since the country began largely easing lockdowns in June, the government has geared its coronavirus response to resuscitating the economy which shrank for the first time in 22 years. Recent weeks, meanwhile, have seen a soaring number of cases, with confirmed cases now over 47,000.
Unemployment also soared to a record 17.7 percent in April which translates to some 7.3 million jobless Filipinos.
Economic experts have said that more Filipinos are expected to lose their jobs in the coming months as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend business activity.
"While the people's health and safety remain a priority, we cannot keep on retreating from the virus at the cost of our livelihoods," Dominguez said.
METRO MANILA, CALABARZON NEED TO STAY OPEN
Business activity in Metro Manila and the Southern Tagalog region (Calabarzon) needs to keep going as these two regions account for 67 percent of the country's economy, Dominguez stressed.
"It is vital that these regions reopen. The reality is that this virus will not go away until a vaccine is found. In the meantime, we must get back to work while staying safe," he said.
"We need to strike a reasonable balance between safeguarding public health and restarting our economy," he added.
Metro Manila, home to roughly a tenth of the Philippines' 100 million population, accounts for a third of the country's gross domestic product while neighboring Southern Tagalog region serves as home to several economic zones and industrial plants.
Metro Manila and Calabarzon, with the rest of Luzon, were placed under strict quarantine after cases of COVID-19 rapidly rose in March.
Economic managers have recommended the further easing of virus restrictions in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Southern Tagalog to restore consumer and investor confidence with wider business activity.