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Shocking crisis on the labor front

Isn’t it ironic that at the very point when the country’s human rights record has received failing marks from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, our Congress has passed, without discussion, an anti-terrorism bill that gives more power and discretion to the very agents who have committed these human rights violations?

The irony becomes even more obvious when we note that Congress has deemed it proper to spend five hearings (so far) on the ABS-CBN franchise, even as it had already given almost perfunctory approval for the franchise renewals of other media entities.

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And we all know what links these two activities of Congress: the presidential hand. President Duterte marked as urgent the anti-terrorism bill (we already have a law), and he swore that he would bring down the giant ABS-CBN.

And then we wonder why investors are not coming in, and blame the Constitution for it. As my husband Christian pointed out, Japanese firms leaving China are reported to choose Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia over the Philippines—even if the Philippines has no restrictions over foreign ownership of manufacturing firms. Let’s face it, folks, who would want to bring their money into a country where the rule of law is either ignored or weaponized to suit its leader’s whims?

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But that is not what I wanted to focus on today, so pardon the digression. What to me has not been given enough attention is the evidence yielded by the April 2020 Labor Force Survey (LFS), which gives us hard data on what is happening and what we should expect to happen from the ground up.

Everyone is giving Health Secretary Francisco Duque III a hard time (I think he is doing about as good a job as can be done under the circumstances). It’s time we took notice of what the other Cabinet members are doing (or not doing) to help the situation.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) makes no bones about the situation. The April LFS shows a “record high” unemployment rate of 17.7 percent. And the Palace reaction was that it was “saddened” but “not surprised.” Excuse me? Why not surprised, or better still, shocked? The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), in mid-April this year, estimated the number of displaced workers at 1.098 million, from which estimates Japan’s Nomura Securities projected second-quarter unemployment to be 8 percent. And it turned out to be 17.7 percent. DOLE missed the mark by over 100 percent, for heaven’s sake. The 8 percent unemployment projection turned out to be 17.7 percent. If the Palace is “not surprised” by this, it must expect very little of its “alter-egos.”

What do these percentages mean? The 17.7 percent signifies that 7.254 million Filipinos were unemployed in April. The 8 percent projection expected only 3.281 million unemployed. How far off can we get? BTW, the number of unemployed in April last year was 2.267 million.

And that isn’t the whole of it. The PSA also reported that the labor force participation rate (LFPR) among Filipinos 15 years and older is estimated at 55.6 percent in April 2020, the lowest in the history of the Philippine labor market. So, the highest unemployment rate, the lowest LFPR.

What exactly is the LFPR? It is the number of people in the labor force (employed and unemployed) divided by the number of the working age population (15 years and over) or WAP. In April 2019, 61 percent of the WAP were in the labor force. This year, only 55.6 percent of the WAP were in the labor force, either working or looking for work. This would tend to show that people were pessimistic about finding jobs, so they stopped looking (or were prevented from doing so).

But Reader, the worst is yet to come. That is, the unemployment rates for the youth labor force (15-24 years old). The youth LFPR decreased from 38.8 percent to 32.4 percent—a larger percentage point drop than for the Philippines as a whole. And the youth unemployment rates? Are you ready, Reader? It was 31.6 percent, as compared to 12.9 percent last year. Less people were in the labor force, and yet, almost one in three could not find jobs.

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In sum: there are 5 million people NOT participating in the labor force, who should be. And of those in the labor force, 7.2 million are unemployed, for a total of 12.2 million Filipinos either not looking for jobs, or not finding jobs. And we still haven’t looked at how the employed are doing.

It spells CRISIS. But the Palace is only saddened. It is not surprised. What will get them to act?

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TAGS: anti-terror bill, China, congress, crisis, Duterte, human rights, UN
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