5 February 2021 via Zoom

Ladies and gentlemen, magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

Today’s ceremonial virtual signing will formally constitute the Inter-Agency Task Force on the National Employment Recovery Strategy (NERS). As Task Force Chairperson, we would like to thank the government agencies present here, which signals this administration’s whole-of-government approach in addressing the challenges that our country faces—not only today, but in the post-pandemic future.

While the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s economy and labor market has been devastating, we are already seeing signs of our economic recovery. Our GDP for 2020 was at -9.5%, but there has been continued improvement in the following quarters, from -16.5% in the second quarter of last year to -11.5% in the third quarter and -8.3% in the fourth quarter. Quarter on quarter, our GDP grew by 8% from second to third quarter, and 5.6% from third to fourth quarter.

However, the Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority(PSA) reported the country’s unemployment rate in October 2020 was estimated at 8.7%, from a record-high of 17.7% in April during the height of the community lockdown. This is far from our average of around 5% unemployment rate before the pandemic. This also means that there are around 3.8M Filipinos aged 15 years old and above who are still unemployed because of the pandemic. Although no industry of the economy was left unscathed, job losses were especially severe in sectors such as arts, entertainment, and recreation. These had the highest decline at 38.2%, followed by accommodation and food service activities at 33.2%.

While it is considered necessary for reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19, the confinement measures are putting unprecedented pressure on local labor markets and economies. Vital wide-ranging and integrated policy measures are needed. These should focus on: stimulating the economy and jobs; supporting enterprises, employment and incomes; and protecting workers in the workplace, including occupational safety and health.

For this reason, we are drafting NERS as an expanded medium-term Trabaho, Negosyo, Kabuhayan blueprint for decent employment and entrepreneurship in the “New Normal” so that we can achieve a “Better Normal” for our country. The objective of this employment strategy is to enhance the effectiveness of each of the policies and programs, and to more efficiently achieve the strategic national objectives.

This strategy brings together various measures, programs and institutions that influence the demand and supply of labor, as well as the functioning of labor markets. These, in turn, will restart economic activities, restore business confidence, upgrade and retool the workforce, and facilitate access to labor markets.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) also recognizes the vital role of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in building back better the Philippine economy. Our efforts are directed towards the swift recovery of affected businesses to spur job creation and livelihood opportunities for Filipinos.

That’s why the BAYANIHAN COVID Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) Program of the Small Business Corporation (SBCorp.) has a feature where medium enterprises may borrow up to P3M. Likewise, under this program, small enterprises may borrow up to P1.5M provided that they retain or rehire a significant number of workers. This strategy is notable as we are achieving two things in a single action. The first is that it helps enterprises sustain their business operations. Second is that it ensures that they avoid layoffs and hire a significant number of workers.

Digital upskilling of existing and would-be entrepreneurs is also a priority of DTI. Through our Reboot Package for MSMEs, continuous conduct of webinars and training on e-commerce, e-payment, and digital marketing is being done to encourage and assist MSMEs in embracing digitalization. This program will then help transform their businesses to better adapt to the new business environment in the wake of the pandemic.

DTI’s Diskwento Caravans will also be conducted widely to provide a market for MSME manufacturers of basic necessities. They will likewise provide consumers products priced in accordance with, or lower than the suggested retail prices.

Aside from our regular capacity building interventions, various labor force upskilling and reskilling initiatives are set to roll out this 2021. The DTI E-Commerce Group will be spearheading the launching of The Negosyo and Skills Pathway. This is composed of tracks on entrepreneurial skills for online enterprises and digital skills pathway for MSMEs, as well as tracks on Pivot and Embrace Technology (PET). The latter consists of a series of workshops that aim to cater to those who are seeking remote employment or wish to adopt alternative careers.

In closing, our goal to create employment opportunities and improving employability of Filipinos during the pandemic will also prepare us for the future rife with Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIRe) technologies. What’s more, this effort will complement the government’s existing recovery initiative under Recharge PH through the Task Group on Economic Recovery.

But more than this, we hope that this whole-of-government effort will become a whole-of-society movement to realize our dream of creating a modern, dynamic, and responsible Philippines. Let us build a nation where our people can live a more comfortable and higher quality of life as promised by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

Maraming salamat po at mabuhay tayong lahat.

Date of Release: 10 March 2021