Tycoon urges restart of Philippines economy


MANILA • The Philippines should gradually reopen the economy and allow businesses to operate at 50% capacity to save jobs, according to Teresita Sy-Coson (picture) who helps run an empire ranging from banking to retail under SM Investments Corp.

More than one million workers were affected by temporary closures, prompting 98% of almost 42,000 establishments to seek assistance for their employees, the Labour Department said in a statement on Sunday. About a quarter of those displaced are in the capital region, it said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has placed the main island of Luzon, home to 60 million people, which accounts for 70% of the economy, on lockdown from mid-March, shuttering thousands of businesses.

Provinces outside Luzon have also imposed quarantine measures. GDP could shrink by as much as 1%, its first contraction in more than two decades, according to a government estimate.

“If all the industries can start operating 50%, including the transport, with all the medical precautions — like making test kits more available and disinfecting measures and sanitation safeguards — then we can gradually increase the employment,” Sy-Coson said.

Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello asked big businesses yesterday to continue paying their employees amid the lockdown. The majority of affected workers were in manufacturing, hospitality, restaurants and tourism-related sectors.

The breakdown of those affected were:

• 719,649 workers in 31,612 establishments that halted operations.

• 366,404 workers in 10,224 enterprises that had to go into flexible work arrangements.

Enabling establishments to reopen is important to help absorb Filipino workers returning from abroad, Sy-Coson said. More than 11,000 Filipinos working overseas have returned home since February, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a Facebook post.