Poor Management of COVID and Disastrous Economic Results

Posted February 5, 2021

Ben Punongbayan, Chairman and Founder of Buklod, a national political party, brings into focus two reports that had become available in the media last week. One shows the Philippine performance in managing the COVID contagion as worse among most of the countries in the world, and the other relates to the contraction of the Philippine economy in 2020 by the staggering rate of 9.5%.

The report on COVID is a worldwide COVID Performance Index developed by the Lowy Institute (an independent, non-partisan international policy think tank based in Sydney, Australia) that shows a ranking of 98 countries in the world regarding these countries’ performance in managing the COVID contagion. The Index has been developed based on six factors relating to number of confirmed cases, confirmed deaths and COVID tests and the respective proportion of these factors to each country’s population. The study tracked the period of 36 weeks following the 100th confirmed case in each country. The Philippines is ranked 79 in the Index out of 98 countries. This rank is much below those of the major ASEAN countries, except Indonesia (Rank 85). The other major ASEAN countries are highly ranked in the world: Vietnam,  2; Thailand, 4; Singapore, 13 and Malaysia, 16.

The other report is a joint statement by the Duterte Administration’s economic managers that explains the contraction of the Philippine economy for the fourth quarter and for the full year 2020. Punongbayan pointed out that the decline of the economy for the full year 2020 of 9.5% is “the worst contraction that the country had ever experienced since it became an independent republic. This poor performance is the worst in ASEAN and one of the worst in the world (a comparison made based on expected growth rates for 2020 recently developed by the World Bank). Among ASEAN countries, Vietnam even shows  a healthy positive growth – at 4.5% (this rate is cited in the economic managers’ joint statement).?

According to Punongbayan what is really very disturbing is what can be deduced in this regard from the economic managers’ joint statement. Punongbayan said, “in effect, the economic managers are saying that the country made a trade off between sacrificing the economy and containing COVID. But the country’s performance in managing COVID, as portrayed by the Lowy Institute COVID Index, is also worse than most countries in the world. So, if there was in fact a trade off, it did not work. If the trade off had worked, the country’s management of COVID would show a better result in the Lowy Institute Index, which means there should have been lower number of confirmed cases and lower number of deaths than had otherwise occurred. But this is not the case. There must therefore be a better explanation.”

According to Punongbayan, “a plausible explanation is that the management of the COVID contagion in the Philippines was badly handled and which resulted in the exacerbation of the negative economic results. In effect, the poor management of the COVID contagion made the economic results worse.”

Punongbayan added, “this observation should be given due consideration. The government must urgently examine the effectiveness of its management of the COVID scourge. It may need to make substantial changes, especially with regard to managing the  program of vaccination of the population. We have already missed the boat for the early procurement of the vaccines, such that the Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that ‘widespread vaccination’ in the Philippines would occur only in the fourth quarter of 2023, later than the other major ASEAN countries: Singapore, fourth quarter of 2021; Vietnam/Thailand/Malaysia, 2022; and Indonesia, third quarter of 2023”.

Punongbayan concluded by saying that “the government must restructure its COVID containment organization to substantially quicken the widespread vaccination of the Philippine population. Otherwise, the rosy picture of Philippine economic recovery in the near term as painted  by the economic managers in their joint statement will never happen.”

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