Roque on 27M Filipinos reported jobless: 'It could've been worse'

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Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 17) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there's more reason to be happy than shocked that a recent poll showed 45.5 percent or about 27.3 million were jobless in July.

"Ako po ay nagagalak na hindi tayo 100 percent nawalan ng trabaho kasi sa tagal po na naka-lockdown tayo, talagang I'm still surprised at our resilience at 45 percent pa lang po ang nawawalan ng trabaho," Roque said in a Monday press briefing. "It could have been worse, kasi nga po complete lockdown ang nangyayari sa atin."

[Translation: I am glad to hear that we didn't hit 100 percent in terms of unemployment because we've been under lockdown for so long. I'm still surprised at our resilience that only 45 percent lost their jobs. It could have been worse since we're experiencing complete lockdowns.]

The Social Weather Stations published Sunday survey results which showed that an all-time high number of Filipino adults had no jobs as of July, more than double the number of unemployed individuals in December which was at 17.7 percent.

The entire Luzon was under the strictest form of quarantine for roughly two and a half months before restrictions were gradually eased. This August, Metro Manila and nearby provinces Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, and Cavite returned to strict stay-at-home rules to prevent further infections for two weeks.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said the spike in joblessness is "no surprise," but said that there's a difference between the SWS and official government data. He pointed out that SWS counts the type of work a person does, while the state tracks the number of persons with a job.

Labor Assistant Secretary Nikki Tutay earlier told CNN Philippines' Balitaan that the survey trend of a "super high" joblessness rate was in line with expectations.

"We hope that a vaccine can be made available soonest so that we can bring back the confidence of our people," Bello said in a statement, adding that the surge in the number of jobless "seriously concerns" the agency.

In a statement, Kilusang Mayo Uno slammed the spike in unemployment, saying the Duterte administration was inutile and lacked a sense of urgency in addressing the economic crisis and its impact to the lives of laborers. The labor group has been demanding an outright ₱10,000 financial aid for all who lost their jobs due during the pandemic.

Former Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry President George Barcelon slammed Roque for his insensitive remark on jobless Filipinos, saying the figures should be taken seriously because of its implications in the country’s economy.

“It is very uncaring, it is not very appropriate to have such sentiment this time. The people on the streets are hurting to survive,” Barcelon told CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon.

Barcelon instead called for more funds from the national government in supporting displaced workers and micro and small businesses, who are one of the most affected sectors during the pandemic.

Adults who are jobless consist of those who voluntarily left their old jobs, are seeking jobs for the first time, or lost their jobs due to economic circumstances beyond their control. Half of those who lost their jobs said it was due to the COVID-19 crisis.

"I personally belong to the school of thought na we need to learn how to live our lives with COVID-19," Roque added, citing "intense" discussions within the Cabinet whether to maintain the lockdowns to slow down virus transmissions or reopen businesses so people can earn money.

"Ang solusyon, kinakailangang buksan ang ekonomiya dahil talaga naman pong wala pa ring trabaho ang karamihan kung mananatili ang mga lockdowns [The solution is we really need to reopen the economy since most Filipinos will still have no jobs if we maintain the lockdowns]," he added.

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Official labor statistics for July will be released by the Philippine Statistics Authority on September 4. Latest data showed a record-high 7.3 million adults, equivalent to 17.7 percent, were rendered jobless as of April — the first month of lockdowns meant to contain infections.

An urban poor group called Roque's enthusiasm towards the survey figures insensitive.

“Iyong dating nagugutom, nabubutas na ang tiyan. Iyong dating kulang ang kinikita, walang nang inuuwi sa pamilya. Dapat bang maging magaan ang sitwasyong ito? Bakit hindi nagkukumahog ang pamahalaan para resolbahin ang usaping ito?," Kadamay spokesperson Mimi Doringo said in a statement.

[Translation: Those who were hungry before now have holes in their stomach. Those who had little to earn before could no longer bring home any money. Should we still take the situation lightly? Why isn't government scrambling to resolve these issues?]

Doringo said the supposedly lopsided government priorities towards bills reviving death penalty and the controversial Anti-Terrorism law, instead of focusing on worsening poverty and hunger.

The Malacañang official earlier said that the country can no longer afford to extend strict lockdowns as it had no funds for a third round of cash aid for the poorest families who are left without a source of livelihood.

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For now, Roque said the government is offering cash-for-work programs under the Labor Department to provide short-term employment for displaced workers. The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act pending before Congress will also extend loans and credit guarantees to small-scale firms and fishermen to help them reopen and resume their livelihood.