LEGAZPI CITY (PIA) -- Bicol Region is seeking to reverse the damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic on its economy by invigorating the agriculture, education and health sectors and pushing its key infrastructure projects through its modified economic stimulus measures," a state economist said.
Assistant Regional Director Edna Cynthia S. Berces of the state planning agency National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said the Updated Bicol Regional Development Plan (RDP), which serves as the region's blueprint to enhance Bicolanos' lives, would prioritize the completion of the Bicol International Airport, construction of farm-to-market roads and key infrastructures in innovation centers, implementation of the Universal Health Care Act, settlement programs, social protection, and improving the quality of instruction in education.
"Maganda ang programang nailatag ng gobyerno na patuloy pang ipinatutupad (The government has laid down good programs and its continuity measures are already in place)," Berces said at Ugnayan sa Bicol radio interview after NEDA unveiled the updated RDP via a virtual information caravan last April 13 and 15.
The disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have set back the region's economy, whose solid growth topped all regions in the country before the health crisis.
"Bicol economy expanded the fastest from 8.9 percent in 2018 to 7.4 percent in 2019," said Berces.
All economic sectors including agriculture and fishery rebounded by 4.7 percent in 2019 from -1.9 percent in 2018. The services sector expanded by 10 percent from 5.8 percent positive growth rate while the industry sector grew slower by 13.2 percent from 5.2 percent.
The Build Build Build (BBB) Program of the government, and the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program of the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Tourism started 37 projects in 2018 with P2.39 B investments.
From 2.7 million or 39.8 percent of Bicolanos in 2018, Berces said the poverty incidence lowered to 27 percent or just about 1.6 million of the population in 2019.
But as the global health crisis wrought havoc on the economy, the annual employment rate in Bicol significantly dropped from 94.8 percent or 2.4 million working Bicolanos in 2019 to 90.4 percent or 2.1 million in 2020. There are now 223, 182 unemployed populations in the region, almost double of the 131, 833 in 2019.
The virtual caravan also highlighted the reports on the country's strong economic performance from 2016-2019, low and stable inflation at 3 percent as enabled by the Rice Tariffication Law.
The Philippines had highest revenue of 16.1 percent and lowest debt of 39.6 percent as shares of gross domestic product in 2019, Berces said. She added that tax reforms made by President Rodrigo Duterte enabled this solid performance.
The BBB infrastructure program in 2019 also doubled as a share of GDP compared to the past five decades of 4.5 percent or P882 billion.
The country also received its highest ever credit rating of BBB+, two notches higher than the minimum investment grade of BBB. This meant that the economy had stable growth, solid fiscal accounts and strong position in macroeconomic fundamentals.
Berces said the significant credit rating granted access to more funding and sources of priority programs at concessional rates in favorable agreements. This has become the leverage to address the pandemic.
COVID-19 advent versus development trajectory
The Philippines entered 2020 with "outstanding economic standing." Berces said the country was two years ahead of its target.
"The COVID-19 disrupted the momentum and the development trajectory - while moving forward in achieving Ambisyon Natin 2040," Berces said, referring to the 25-year long-term vision for the Philippines to reduce poverty and become a middle-class society by 2040.
Forced to impose quarantine and lockdown last year, the country made a gradual reopening of the economy but the same contracted by 9.6 percent, the worst performance since 1937.
"Millions of jobs were lost while the number of Filipinos who experienced hunger increased," said Berces.
The expected increase in labor force due to the graduates from K-12 by 2020 fell due to the pandemic. Nationwide unemployment in the country is expected to rise from 14.5 percent to 16.5 percent this year and up to 22.5 percent in 2022.
The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act or RA 11469, which was enacted into law in March last year, allowed President Duterte to allocate P140 billion to finance the country's COVID-19 pandemic rapid response.
In January 2021, Duterte signed another law extending Bayanihan 2 for all COVID-related interventions.
"We can rise above this COVID-19 pandemic through good governance if every stakeholder - government, private and civil society - in the community will help each other," Berces said . (PIA5)