Good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of the Task Group on Economic Recovery – National Employment Recovery Strategy, we welcome you today as we present our updates on our initiatives for economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, we wish to convey our progress from last year 2021, and our plans and goals for this year 2022.

But first, let me just highlight some economic indicators showing some positive developments for the country which are all aiding to generate more jobs for our recovery efforts. The country’s index, for instance, for manufacturing, known as the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), is now up to 51.8 as of December. This is a notable recovery from the drop to 32 in April 2020 at the height of the lockdowns. And to note, any number above 50 signifies growth. This manufacturing capacity has supported the growth in exports.

As our exports rebounded by 15% with cumulative export value for year-to-date as of November 2021 equivalent to USD 68.4 billion. This is even 5% higher than the 2019 pre-pandemic levels of USD 65.2 billion, indicating real recovery and not just because of a low base of the previous year, 2020.

Meanwhile, despite of the pandemic, confidence of the economy seems to abound as cumulative foreign direct investments (FDI) as of October reached USD 8.1 billion. As you know, investments create jobs. This is almost 48% higher than the USD 5.5 billion recorded from the same period of the previous year 2020, and even higher by 23% over the pre-pandemic 2019 FDI levels, once again signifying real growth.

In terms of employment, the National Employment Recovery Strategy Task Force, or the NERS, composed of the agencies here and co-chaired by DTI, DOLE, and TESDA, has taken steps to ensure that jobs are preserved and rampant unemployment is prevented in 2021.

Based on the November 2021 Labor Force Survey, the country’s employment rate reached its highest, so far, this pandemic period at 93.5% or equivalent to 45.5 million employed persons. An increase of 1.7 million employed persons was observed month-on-month, between October-November, which can be attributed to the easing of alert levels nationwide, particularly during the last quarter of 2021 where celebrations for the holiday season boosted economic activities that created jobs. This was complemented by the increase in capacity of commercial establishments that we allowed because of the lower alert levels, including the opening of resorts, restaurants up to 80%. This is a welcome development in bringing back the confidence of both the businesses and consumers which is one of the NERS outcomes.

As of the latest November 2021 data, the average unemployment rate for 2021 has gone down to 6.5%. Although this is still higher than the pre-pandemic levels of 5.0 to 5.5% but this is already a decline from the high of 17.6% unemployment that we witnessed in 2020. There is also a 768,000 difference between the number of unemployed in November of 2021 and the pre-pandemic number in January 2020. Moving forward, we shall continue pursuing the goal of pushing unemployment back to pre-pandemic levels of about 5.0 to 5.5%.

It is worth mentioning too that some of the sectors have managed to bounce back better to the pre-pandemic levels, that means January 2020 versus November 2021. This includes agriculture (up by 1.535M), the wholesale and retail trade (up by 1.398M), administrative and support service activities (up by 268,000), and construction (up by 197,000) to name a few. Overall, the number of employed has increased by 2.9M from January 2020 to November 2021.

We also saw that employment and job generation were sensitive to community quarantine restrictions. The first quarter of 2021, with three straight months of GCQ saw employment levels rise to 45 million. Unfortunately, this was disrupted by the re-imposition of stricter restrictions in April and May. The precarious situation of the Philippines, dependent on the effective control of the number of COVID-19 cases and the vaccination of the population, provides challenges on sustaining gains in job generation. Again, thankfully, we are able to maintain employment level at 45 million as of November 2021, with restrictions being lowered in the Alert Level system—we remember we were down to alert level two—but we hope to further expand this in 2022 despite Omicron or maybe with the expected taming of the Omicron maybe in a month or two.

In light of the goal of the pre-pandemic recovery of jobs, the NERS TF carried out its interventions, consisting of converged enrolled programs of member agencies. These stemmed rampant unemployment and is continuing to provide assistance to various beneficiaries. Much of the enrolled programs helped workers through trainings that improved their employability or provided relief and facilitation to businesses so that they could sustain operations throughout the pandemic.

Of the enrolled programs, there were those that directly provided jobs for the youth, as well as displaced or disadvantaged workers. These programs generated over 913 thousand jobs in total in 2021, mostly in the Construction and Public Administration, plus entrepreneurs that are self-employed through the DTI livelihood kits distributed. Aside from these programs, the NERS TF have also enrolled programs to assist businesses and individual workers through training, cash subsidies, and employment or business facilitation. While they do not directly provide jobs, they improve the employability of individuals and ensure that businesses stay afloat and therefore in a position to keep up current jobs and even hire more.

Some program description—I’ll make it quick—like the Government Internship Program that directly provides jobs, it provides high school, technical vocational or college graduates government internship experience that runs for a period of three to six months. It also serves as a recruitment mechanism for potential public employees.

There is the Special Program for Employment of Students, the special program provides short-term job opportunities during summer or Christmas vacation to poor but deserving students, or out-of-school youth (OSY), and dependents of displaced/would-be displaced workers so as to augment their ­financial capacity and continue their education.

The famous DOLE’s program Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Displaced/ Disadvantaged Workers Program (TUPAD) is a safety net program that provides temporary wage employment to the displaced workers, underemployed, and seasonal workers for a minimum period of 10 days, but not to exceed a maximum of 30 days, depending on the nature of work to be performed. Of course, depending on the budget, DOLE’s Secretary, our partner Sec. Bello can extend this program.

Contact Tracers under TUPAD Program, again, DOLE is famous for this assistance. Let’s say to the MMDA, this is a special project under the TUPAD Program, where contact tracers are hired for a period of three (3) months, for a duration of eight (8) hours a day. They are deployed to the LGUs to perform primary functions basically related to contact tracing.

Service Contracting Program – Ultimately, this is aimed at providing temporary livelihood to affected public utility drivers while ensuring efficient and reliable public transportation services amid the pandemic. The program was later expanded to provide transportation assistance to Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APOR) and Health Care Workers nationwide.

And of course, the much-known Build, Build, Build Program to encourage economic growth, to create impressive infrastructure that will reduce travel time and provide more jobs.

The DOST has the Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading (SETUP) – It is a nationwide strategy to address the needs and requirements of enterprises through technology and equipment upgrading, strengthening of innovation capability, increasing productivity, and so on and so forth.

For the DTI we have the Livelihood Seeding Program-Negosyo Serbisyo sa Barangay (LSP-NSB) this is essentially to expand the Negosyo Center services to MSME beneficiaries in identified barangays including those in the Local Communist Armed Conflict (LCAC) affected areas, indigenous people communities, persons with concerns or refugees, and to MSMEs affected by natural and human-induced calamities including health disasters arising from epidemics, pandemics, and what have you.

And a similar program called Pangkabuhayan sa Pagbangon at Ginhawa (PPG), which is essentially a livelihood support program. We basically provide some funds or equipment and tools of the trade that will enable them to start a decent livelihood.

Furthermore, the NERS TF also partnered with the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) in raising 1 million jobs in 2021 through the private sector.

This project, which aims to immediately source Filipino talents for deployment in the construction, manufacturing (particularly semiconductors and electronics), tourism, the hospitality industry, and export industries, they have already created an estimated or over 600,000 jobs. This figure already accounts for the contribution of employment generation in the IT-BPM, and although it did not reach the targeted jobs created for 2021, the partnership will still continue this year and will be recalibrated to focus on assisting businesses that will create, or save, or transform jobs for 2022.

On the vaccination of workers which is part of the Project, the NERS Task Force was able to facilitate the vaccination of thousands of workers in several areas in the country. With the success of the National Vaccination Days, majority of the workers under the A4 category has already been inoculated—about 16 million are fully vaccinated and 18 million received their first dose. This makes workplaces safer and ready for greater capacity that will help the economy and the labor market sustain its recovery.

With the economy not fully re-opened yet, and with Typhoon Odette exacerbating the work status of many tourism-related workers and employees, keeping them either on floating status or totally out of the workforce in tourist destination areas, the NERS Task Force works closely with the private sector through a job transition initiative. 

The Project, through the assistance of the DOT and TESDA, is mapping out the skills of the affected workers and looking into retraining them so that they may be employed by the other industries such as construction and electronics. Through the 1M jobs, ECOP and its partners are proactively coordinating with the government to communicate their skills and demands as a way to facilitate accurate jobs-skills matching.

The current rising cases of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant are also challenges for us. However, we are responding to the possible economic hardships that would bring by sustaining the programs that have been deployed since the pandemic under the REBUILD PH strategy, that is aimed at saving and generating more jobs by reviving businesses, investments, livelihood, and domestic demand. The Make It Happen campaign on investment promotion has led to more investment projects that shall translate to over 46,000 jobs. The CARES or the COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises Program for preferential financing, the aforementioned PPG, the programs I mentioned before on livelihood have likewise saved jobs in sectors affected by the pandemic.

The Safety Seal Certification that ensures consumer safety and confidence with our establishments allowing them a higher operating capacity has definitely reserved many of the jobs previously furloughed at the height of the lockdowns. Meanwhile, digital transformation efforts for MSMEs, a lot of trainings we provided here has pivoted and allowed many MSMEs not just to survive but thrive during this difficult time.

Our goal in 2022 is to further increase our job generation efforts to close down unemployment rate nearer to pre-pandemic levels. Let us continue making sure to build back better in 2022 and we foresee that this would not be an easy undertaking. There would be bumps in the road – natural calamities like the Typhoon Odette, and probably new mutations, new variants of concern, like the Omicron, that would increase active cases of COVID-19 among the population – but, when we take an objective look at the bigger picture, we see that there is definite progress. The Typhoon Odette and the current rising cases/Omicron variant are temporary blips. Let us not forget that we are already making strides with our existing programs, initiatives, and strategies.

As such, when it comes to employment recovery, the NERS Task Force shall:

  • Continue its implementation and strengthen monitoring of the 8-Point Employment Recovery Agenda;
  • Forge collaborations and maintain dialogue with relevant stakeholders towards sustained recovery of the labor market;
  • Assist workers and employers in addressing bottlenecks and challenges in recruiting and hiring; and
  • Include recovery interventions for victims of Typhoon Odette as it greatly impacted the income and livelihood of workers and business alike, even in the midst of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are just some of the key indications of brighter prospects for employment generation in 2022. While the pandemic remains to be very challenging, we are already seeing signs of recovery, with some of our economic indicators even already exceeding pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

For the policy aspect, there is a need for targeted health protocols rather than a blanket approach and you’ve seen how we changed the protocols and managing the COVID virus better. This means being more geographically focused, in fact, moving from a wide area lockdown to not only granular lockdown but home lockdown or home isolation type of approach; and again, empowering also or giving privileges to the vaccinated, less privileges to the unvaccinated for their own protection.

As we all stay healthy and continue to observe health and safety protocols, we can be assured of increased mobility and greater business confidence in the New and Better Normal.

Maraming salamat. ♦

Date of Release: 19 January 2022