Assessing the economic impact of the failure to control the pandemic

Screengrab from Rappler.com.

LAST MARCH 15, the Philippines made international headlines with the first anniversary of the world’s longest and most militarized lockdown. Most reports in Philippine media called attention to the spike in the numbers of cases in the past weeks which led to localized lockdowns.

Cheers to news.abs-cbn.com and Rappler for observing the date by focusing on the dire impact of the “longest lockdown in the world” on the Philippine economy.

The two reports published on March 15 stood out for their analysis and the effective use of graphs. Both noted how the pandemic plunged the Philippine economy into the worst economic recession since World War II. Notably, a broadcast version of the news.abs-cbn.com report aired on ANC’s Dissecting Data on the same day made the discussion of a highly technical issue easily understood through its use of visuals.

News.ABS-CBN.com reported how the government “crippled” the Philippine economy and “squandered” the lockdown through charts showing the upward trend in the number of COVID cases, the significant drop in the economic growth rate, the rate of participation of the country’s labor force in the economy, the  rising inflation rate and the rise in unemployment.

Business reporter Warren Guido and Edson Guido of the network’s data analytics team showed how in April 2020, the labor force participation rate dropped to 55.7 percent, the lowest recorded in Philippine labor market history. It noted high unemployment and underemployment rates in January 2021, with four million Filipinos still unemployed, observing that millions have given up on finding work during the pandemic. This sector will suffer even more with inflation now at a two-year high, led by surging food and transport prices.

Rappler’s charts for GDP growth spanned four decades, from 1982 to 2020 showing the sharp and steep drop last year. The report of Ralf Rivas mapped out which areas were hit hardest by unemployment. He followed up with more graphs on the price hikes of food and transportation. Finally, he presented data on the government’s ballooning debt, noting that the government is expected to borrow PHP 58.2 billion for vaccines this year.

Both news sites painted a grim picture of what the country faces. News.ABS-CBN.com expanded the range of its assessment by showing the success of other countries which implemented more strategic pandemic responses and whose economies have withstood the crippling effects of the health crisis, adding that the national vaccine program is “still in its early stages.”

The two reports provide enough information for the public to understand the dismal failure of government to  meet the complex challenge. The miserable state of the economy at this point is rooted in the failure of the government to control the spread of the disease, unlike  other countries which acted more quickly and more comprehensively to confront the two-pronged health and economic  challenge. In contrast the Duterte administration was complacent on either line of defense. The administration  failure has further burdened the long suffering poor.