Lopez says 90K businesses remain closed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 28) -- Some 90,000 businesses remain closed as of this month, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez revealed during his department’s budget hearing at the Senate on Monday.

Lopez said the figure represents 6 percent of the 1.5 million micro, small, and medium enterprises registered with the Department of Trade and Industry, adding that about 4.4 million Filipinos remain jobless, with half of the number, or about 2.2 million, losing their jobs during the pandemic.

Lopez said even with the reopening of some businesses, consumer confidence remains low.

"As we reopen, many are hoping na gagana kaagad ang economy but it turned out to be a slow recovery because even for example... nag-open ang stores pero ang consumers wala pa po. Napaka-in our vernacular, matumal ang negosyo," Lopez explained.

[Translation: As we reopen, many are hoping that the economy will immediately recover but it turned out to be a slow recovery because, for example, even if stores have opened, there are still no consumers. As they say, business is slow.]

"This affects also the number of workers businesses ask to report. Kung mahina ang benta pa, hindi muna pag-reportin pa ang iba (If sales are still slow, other workers are not yet asked to report). We need consumers to have that confidence and go back to commercial centers and the like," Lopez said.

Lopez believes opening up the economy more would address the problem.

He admitted proposing to the Inter-Agency Task Force a shift to Modified General Community Quarantine to allow more people to go back to work. But Lopez was quick to add that despite the loosening of quarantine protocols, the minimum health standards and granular lockdowns should still be strictly enforced -- together with testing, tracing, and treating.

"I understand that this is not a popular appeal especially with the health workers but really, what we are trying to guarantee is if the enforcement is still strict and the minimum health standard ng ating kababayan (of our countrymen), I believe we can safely reopen," Lopez explained.

Lopez said he also favors staying in GCQ but he proposes expanding the operating capacity of other industries from 50 percent to 100 percent. These include the legal and accounting firms, film sector, architectural firms, and recruitment agencies for overseas workers, among others.

"It's been six months and the virus will not go away. Ang ating real solution dito (Our real solution here) is to reopen more, allow more workers to come in, so we can bring back jobs," Lopez says.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto predicted that the country's economy would contract by 10 percent by the end of the year. This is almost double NEDA's predicted GDP of negative 5.5.

Recto noted that the second quarter contraction was about 16.5 percent, while the total first half contraction of the economy was about 9 percent.

"What worries me is that now we are at the end of the third quarter. We almost were not able to open up the economy in the third quarter, essentially. So I think that the contraction of the economy possibly all the way 'til the end of the year, third and fourth, will be negative 10," Recto said.

"That will be very bad for the Philippines compared to our neighbors. Their recovery will be better than ours," Recto added.