Philippines Update: April 19, 2020

Philippines Update | April 19, 2020
Authors: Marc Mealy, Kim Yaeger, Lilibeth Almonte-Arbez, and Julianne Alberto
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
 

April 22: 2020 Food & Agriculture Committee Quarterly Call. The Council would like to invite members to our upcoming Food & Agriculture Committee Quarterly Call. Please register before COB Monday, April 20 SGT. If you have questions or would like to submit topics for the call, please contact Thao Nguyen (tnguyen@usasean.org) and Hai Pham (hpham@usasean.org).

April 24: 2020 Health & Life Sciences Committee Quarterly Call. The Council would like to invite members to our upcoming Health & Life Sciences Committee Quarterly Call. Please register before COB Monday, April 22 SGT. If you have questions or would like to submit topics for the call, please contact Thao Nguyen (tnguyen@usasean.org) and Hai Pham (hpham@usasean.org).

 
THE COUNCIL'S TAKE
 
 

Chief economist leaves post as NEDA Secretary

Ernesto Pernia, who was appointed as the Secretary of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) at the start of President Rodrigo Duterte's term in 2016, resigned from his post on April 17. In his statement, he cites personal reasons and differences in development philosophy with a few of his fellow Cabinet members. President Duterte accepted the resignation and appointed Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua as acting Secretary of NEDA.

Mr. Pernia thanked his NEDA family for their trust and confidence in his leadership of the agency in crafting and pursuing the goals of the Philippines Development Plan 2017-2022 towards our country’s Ambisyon Natin (Our Ambition) 2040.

Shortly before these developments, the NEDA became chair of the Inter-agency Task Force Technical Working Group for Anticipatory and Forward Planning (IATF-TWG-AFP) which was created to provide recommendations to rebuild confidence and adjust to the new normal in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Pernia served as the Lead Economist at the Asian Development Bank. He was also Regional Adviser for Asia and the Pacific with the International Labour Organization. He holds the title Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of the Philippines.

During his stint as undersecretary, Mr. Chua was tasked with the challenge of overhauling the Philippine tax system with two of his five pet tax reform bills being passed into law. Before his appointment, he served as a Senior Country Economist at the World Bank. There is still no word on who will be his replacement at the Department of Finance.

Philippine President’s third report on COVID-19 highlights progress, areas for development

President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his weekly report regarding the implementation of Republic Act 11469 or Bayanihan Act to address the spread of COVID-19. The Council highlights some of the efforts being made by the Philippine government in its pandemic response.

  • Protection of consumers and ensuring supply chains

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) conducts price monitoring activities to prevent hoarding of and profiteering from essential supplies. The Philippine National Police is strictly enforcing prevailing price cap measures and has arrested over 635 individuals for acts of price manipulation between March 17 to April 3.

To ensure movement of goods during the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) of the island of Luzon, the government issued food passes for legitimate agri-fishery entities and personnel. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Department of Information Communication and Technology (DICT) are also implementing RapidPass.ph which will allow qualified vehicles and personnel such as medical frontliners and supply vehicles to use a QR code for more seamless passage through checkpoints in Metro Manila. There are also markets-on-wheels being deployed to bring goods near to communities which are within the ECQ.

All ports remain open during the ECQ and 126 ports nationwide are operational. The Philippine Ports Authority prohibited the imposition of additional port charges and fees in the provision of port services to prevent any additional economic costs. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority and various international airports continue to facilitate cargo flights.

  • Assistance to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and productive sectors

In addition to the moratorium on payment of loans of small business corporations, economic managers are evaluating the viability of providing subsidies for two months to 3.4 million workers affected by the ECQ. Likewise, the Finance Department is looking into granting credit guarantee to provide small MSMEs access to bank financing. The Treasury and the Social Security System are studying a Php45 billion (USD882 million) wage subsidy assistance to employees of eligible businesses.

The Department of Agriculture rolled out a zero-interest loan facility program to small farmers, fishers, and enterprises.

  • Public health measures

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation has approved direct reimbursement of patients previously confined for COVID-19 who were unable to avail the benefit for full cost of treatment with retroactive application to February 1, 2020.

The Department of Health (DOH) continues to procure and distribute personal protective equipment, ventilators, and supplies to hospitals. The Food and Drug Authority (FDA) also approved applications to manufacture, distribute, and import supplies for local market entry.

Simultaneously, the DOH is recruiting contractors who will be deployed in COVID-19 referral hospitals. With the help of other agencies, it has approved use of several quarantine facilities including modified sports complexes, hotels, schools, vessels and evacuation centers.

There are currently 15 laboratories for testing and it is expected that the government will accredit more than 60 health facilities to serve as testing areas. The FDA approved 33 COVID-19 kits for commercial use. Around 70 testing applications are pending approval. The government is also exploring options for adopting a digital contact tracing solution to augment data gathering, disease surveillance and response.

The Philippines also manifested its intention to take part in large-scale clinical trials with the World Health Organization's Solidarity Trial.

  • Assistance to the public through the Social Amelioration Program

As of April 8, 2020, the Department of Budget Management has released Php101.5 billion (USD1.9 billion) for the implementation of the Social Amelioration Program. This will target 18 million families who shall be given a monthly subsidy for two months. Multiple agencies are working together to list down the beneficiaries of this program. This effort has highlighted the importance of having a national ID system, which has already been incorporated in law but has yet to be implemented.

In support of the agricultural sector, the Department of Agriculture has released unconditional cash transfers under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program (for farmers tilling 0.5 to 2 hectares) and the Financial Subsidy for Rice Farmers Program (for farmers tilling smaller lots). For the labor sector, the Department of Labor released more than Php1 billion (USD 19.5 million) to support target beneficiaries, including those coming from the informal sector.

The weekly report shall be delivered by the Philippine President during the implementation of Republic Act 11469, which will last 3 months from effectivity. Congress can extend the duration of this law.

Joint Administrative Order issued to decongest ports and accelerate customs processing

To prevent port congestion which may cause supply chain disruption during the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine, several agencies of the Philippine government issued on April 2nd Joint Administrative Order (JAO) 20-01. The JAO applies to the following categories of reefer containers and dry vans: a) Chilled category that are time sensitive; b) Frozen category; c) Dry goods like out of guage (OOG) cargoes.

To effect the immediate withdrawal of the reefers and dry vans at ports, the Bureau of Animal Industry, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Bureau of Plant Industry, National Meat Inspection Service, and Food and Drug Administration were directed to facilitate the processing and approval of necessary permits and licenses for the release of containers immediately. Meanwhile, importers are directed to pull out reefers from terminals or face abandoment proceedings and potential penalties. Reefer containers set to arrive after the issuance of the Order must be withdrawn within ten days from discharge, otherwise they shall be declared abandoned.

To expedite clearance with Bureau of Customs (BOC), lodgment of and online filing of goods declaration by importers shall be done two days from discharge. For refrigerated containers, this may be done prior to arrival of the vessel. The BOC shall issue a final assessment on the goods declared within 24 hours from the date of online filing and the payment of duties, taxes, and charges shall be made 24 hours from the issuance of said final assessment. Importers shall have three days to claim the goods from payment or the goods shall be deemed abandoned. For refrigerated containers, this period to claim is reduced to 24 hours. Shipping lines are likewise ordered to release all delivery orders within 24 hours from payment of the importer/consignee.

The BOC is directed to prioritize essential goods and to relax the selectivity process for food, medicine, medical supplies, and basic necessities. Through Customs Administrative Order 07-2020 issued March 30, it waived the requirement to present a certificate of product registration (CPR) from the Food and Drugs Administration prior to the clearance of regulated products. In effect, shipments and importations of donations for treatment of COVID-19 will be cleared by the BOC without a CPR.

POEA temporary deployment ban of healthcare workers elicits opposition

On April 2, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) issued Governing Board Resolution No. 09 Series of 2020 listed 14 occupations in mission critical skills (MCS) and ordered the temporary suspension of the deployment of the following healthcare workers:

a. Medical Doctor / Physician

b. Nurse

c. Microbiologist

d. Molecular biologist

e. Medical technologist

f. Clinical analyst

g. Respiratory therapist

h. Pharmacist

i. Laboratory technician

j. X-ray / Radiologic technician

k. Nursing assistant / nursing aid

l. Operator of medical equipment

m. Supervisor of health services and personal care

n. Repairman of medical-hospital equipment

The temporary suspension will last until the national state of emergency [NSE] is lifted and until COVID-19 related travel restrictions are lifted at the destination countries. The order cited a shortage of about 290,000 health workers in the country and the average annual migration of 13,000 health care professionals as aggravating this shortage.

Nurses and their associations have questioned the order pointing out there is akin to involuntary servitude and there are 200,000 unemployed nurses in the country. In September 2019, the Department of Health (DOH) announced a budget to hire around 26,000 health workers this year. The number represents unfilled positions in the DOH Human Resource for Health Deployment Program (HRHDP), including for 744 doctors and 19,700 nurses. In response to COVID-19, it has a volunteer program which was criticized for uncompetitive pay it was offering. According to the Philippine President's third weekly report under Republic Act 11469, there are more than 800 contractual workers positions, including nurses, for COVID-19 referral hospitals. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. stated on Twitter that he would oppose the ban citing the right to travel under the Philippine constitution. On April 13, he announced that health workers with existing contracts would be allowed to leave for work abroad. However, easing the deployment restriction will have to come in the form of an official resolution from the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the coronavirus formally approved by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippine Food and Drug Administration issues guidelines on manufacture of PPEs, ventilators, and respirators

On April 8, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Circular 2020-14 as guidance to companies which are interested in manufacturing personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and respirators to address the COVID-19 pandemic. They are directed to secure a License to Operate (LTO) as medical device manufacturer under Administrative Order No. 2016-0003. Their finished products shall be subject to a quality and safety check by a government accredited laboratory.

Should the companies which secured the LTO intend to continue manufacturing these supplies after the public health emergency period, they must apply for a product notification/registration with the FDA within three months after the lifting of the State of Public Emergency in the Philippines. According to the Philippine President's third weekly report under Republic Act 11469, the FDA expedited the approval of 12 applications to manufacture 70% alcohol and issued 418 LTOs and Certificate of Product Notification for hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, and disinfecting products.

 
 
IN THIS UPDATE
 
 

Multilateral Trade Agreements
Duterte to Asean: We must remain open for trade

ASEAN
PH, Singapore post largest manufacturing drop in Asean in March
Response Fund to be created by Asean to cushion COVID-19’s impact in the region
Collective efforts needed for rebound in Asean’s growth, says AMRO

Asset Management
Philippines Payments Platform Closes $120M Deal
SC approves new rules on liquidation of banks

Banking
BAP assures banking services during extended ECQ

COVID-19
Govt imposes tight check on private vehicles amid hike in ECQ violations in Metro streets
IATF backs lifting of deployment ban on health staff with contracts
Govt prepares for return of thousands of OFWs displaced by COVID-19 pandemic
San Miguel builds quarantine facility for military personnel
PCCI lists priorities for gov’t after ECQ lifting
COVID-19 patients now required to disclose personal information — IATF
Experts weigh impact of zero GDP growth
195 cities, towns, still have no aid due to unfinished MOAs with DSWD
PH now has 75 COVID-19 referral hospitals that can take in 3,194 patients
Philippines boosts test capacity as COVID-19 cases reach 4,932
Proposal to sell military land gains support in Senate
LANDBANK rolls out LGU loan program
Govt eyes to keep BBB funds intact to boost economy after Covid-19 crisis
From 10% investment growth goal, Peza’s hopes crash on virus woes
SEC transfers ₱2 B to national treasury for COVID-19 fight
Ecozone locators lauded for helping Covid-19 front-liners
SEC suspends penalties
With private-public tie-up, PHL can make ‘medical-grade’ PPEs
DA rolls out P3-billion cash aid program to farmers
Luzon-wide lockdown extended until end-April
Limited work for 13 rail projects allowed
DA approves P1-billion loan program amid pandemic
Imports needed for COVID-19 fight declared tax-exempt
Duterte inclined to extend Luzon lockdown until April 30
Lawmaker bats for ‘economic lifeline’ for MSMEs affected by Covid-19 crisis
‘Premature’ to say if Covid-19 is slowing – Duque 
PHL can ride out virus-induced economic shocks – DOF
Peso to climb on expectations of slower inflation
Cops to assist DSWD in distribution of cash aid to poor, indigent families
PCSO preps P447-million assistance to 81 government hospitals fighting virus 
DoLE to need more funds in event of NEDA worst-case 1.8 million job losses
BSP outlines additional relief measures for banks
Modified lockdown proposed
DOH: 11 patients recover from COVID-19 as cases soar to 3,764
RITM says its turnaround time for Covid-19 tests much faster
5 rapid test kits get FDA nod
Duterte: Gov’t to accredit more medical facilities for COVID-19 testing
Metro Pacific forms COVID-19 crisis team
ADB approves $5-M emergency grant for PHL fight vs virus
Amid rising cases, PHL on right track to slow virus spread–WHO

Customs
DOTr, PPA renew calls to shippers to withdraw cargoes
Manila ports choked by unclaimed cargo, shutdown looms
Philippines plans 300,000 tons rice import amid lockdown
FDA Advisory No. 2020-547 || Updated Procedure for FDA Clearance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Prior to Customs Release
Govt opens platform to speed up medical imports
Import process for urgently needed medical supplies streamlined

Defense & Security
US cancels Philippines war games due to coronavirus

E-Payments
Filipinos shift to e-payments, online banking amid lockdown

Economics
Group urges Palace to waive VAT, UC on monthly electricity bills during quarantine period
BSP cuts policy rate to record low
Lawmakers to consider another round of stimulus measures
Extending lockdown beyond April could be ‘difficult’ — Pernia
DOF bares P120-billion small business credit guarantee
IMF slashes PHL growth forecast
Post-ECQ options of firms: shuttle, shifting for labor
P350-billion loans eyed for business to keep workers amid pandemic
PHL to continue paying debt despite crisis
‘Wider budget deficit will boost economy’
DSWD releases P48B in cash assistance to local governments
Government still debating size of economic recovery package
DOF chief unveils P35-billion program to help MSMEs; no aid for middle class households
PHL economy’s best-case scenario is zero growth – Dominguez
Gov’t told to increase cash aid after lockdown extension
Trade gap narrows in February on weaker imports
PHL banks to see slower loan growth, higher bad loans amid COVID-19 outbreak — S&P
Govt draws money from ‘discontinued’ projects to boost Covid-19 fight
DHSUD declares moratorium on in-house financing to condo, house and lot buyers
Fiscal balance swings back to deficit in February
BSP cuts outlook for remittance growth to 2%
Virus-hit employees to get additional benefits from ECC
T-bills to fetch higher rates amid uncertainties
Moody’s lowers outlook on PHL banking industry to ‘negative'
NEDA preparing post-coronavirus pandemic policies
SEC directs implementation of 30-day extension for loan payments
Current account deficit seen widening to 2.6% of GDP as exports weaken — Fitch Solutions
Government preparing package to aid small firms
Job losses could surpass 2008 financial crisis unemployment levels
‘Use public schools as shelter for ecozone workers’
P31 billion allocated for food sufficiency measures
Financial stocks biggest losers, fall 3.35% as virus stokes market jitters
Big fund managers buy PHL stocks in ‘mega sale’
PHL may go into recession — Diokno 
Pandemic expected to weaken job market
Philippines COVID-19 stimulus gets boost from Bangko Sentral, Treasury
Government eyes up to $2-billion loan
Household consumption to take hit amid coronavirus pandemic
Foreign business groups urge gov’t to address cargo delays amid ECQ
BSP throws P300-B lifeline to gov’t
Foreign groups back steps vs virus
job losses from virus to hit 200 million–ILO report

Energy
DOE seeks stakeholders’ comments on proposed green energy pricing rules
Triconti gets DOE approval for PH’s first offshore wind projects
Philippines takes first offshore wind steps with new project
Power producers urged to lower electricity rates 
AC Energy completes purchase of Negros solar farms
AboitizPower terminates wind farm purchase deal in Vietnam

Financial Services
BSP eyes ‘deeper’ policy rate cuts
WB approves $500-M loan for PHL disaster, COVID-19 response
Economy may shrink by as much as 1.9% — Nomura
COVID-19 drives the demand for online financial services
BSP trims smaller lenders’ liquidity ratio requirement
BSP should still shore up banks’ liquidity after lockdown–UPSE

Food & Agriculture
Rice imports hit 6-month high at 229,416.65 MT in March–data
‘PHL must hike investments in improving food quality, safety’
DA regional offices ordered to assist with farm logistics
Palay output estimate for first quarter slashed by 6.7%
Solon to LGUs: Help farmers find market for their harvest
Broiler farm-gate price dips 30% as Covid-19 dampens demand
Manila gets Vietnam’s commitment to continuous rice supply
PHL to be among ‘first to know’ of new Vietnam rice policy
Vietnamese vessel unloads rice in Iligan; city gov’t to buy 20,000 sacks for food packs
PHL pursuing P8-billion G2G rice imports for stable supply
Senator, Mindanao officials unveil strategies to fight virus, ensure steady food supply

ICT
Virus hastens bid to bridge digital divide
Smart, Globe 4G availability scores improve
Boom in video chat apps brings out cybercriminals with fake sites, malware
‘Welcome back, Diwata-1. Thank you’
Google offers free access to paid G Suite for Education features in the Philippines
DICT warns vs security risks of using video, teleconferencing applications
Telcos told to present business continuity plan
Fassster than Covid-19: The science  used to forecast pandemic in PHL
JLL says lockdown prompting real estate companies to go digital
Facebook to reduce video bit rates in the Philippines during the lockdown
Coronavirus can go from 1.5M to 15,000 cases with better testing – forecasting tool
U.P. Resilience Institute sets up coronavirus information chat bot
13.4% jump in phone WiFi use in Philippines in first week of lockdown – OpenSignal
Gov't to roll out RapidPass for Covid-19 front-liners


Infrastructure
DPWH, EEI and Villar Group complete construction in 7 days By DPWH
Palace freezes P30.824-billion infra projects, realigns fund to LGUs
Build, Build, Build to hit targets despite COVID-19
Gov’t to revamp ‘Build, Build, Build’

Insurance
IC relaxes identification requirements for insurers’ clients

Manufacturing
Factory output rebounds in February
Factory activity plunges to record low

Market Regulation
Government authorizes negotiated procurement under state of calamity

Travel & Tourism
Airlines in Philippines Seek Credit Aid as They Fight to Survive
Travel agencies seek tax relief, stimulus package
OFWs, outsourcing workers to live in hotel rooms
Sports, conference venues converted into COVID-19 facilities
Rent relief for airport tenants extended to April 30

 
ARTICLE CLIPS
 
 
Multilateral Trade Agreements

Duterte to Asean: We must remain open for trade BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
President Duterte is pushing for a continuous trade of medicine, medical equipment and supplies, as well as food items within the Asean amid the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) crisis. In his speech during the Special Asean Summit on Covid-19, which was held on Tuesday through teleconferencing, the President said Asean member-states could more effectively respond against the pandemic disease united rather than individuallyv“Asean must remain open forvtrade. Crisis or no crisis, as no country can stand alone. Let us, thereforevensure the supply chain connectivity and the smooth flow of goods within the region,” Duterte said. Of similar importance, he pointed out, is the trade of food, particularly rice, since it could affect “socioeconomic and political stability” of a country.

National Affairs

DoLE to need more funds in event of NEDA worst-case 1.8 million job losses Business World 6th Apr 2020
The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) is gearing up for the worst-case scenario of 1.8 million workers whose job status will be affected in some way by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak and signalled the need for additional funding for its relief programs. In a briefing Monday, Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III said the worst-case scenario is based on the National Economic Development Authority’s (NEDA) estimate that job losses due to the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) could lead to 116,000 to 1.8 million jobs lost. “We are expecting 1.8 million workers na maaapektuhan kaya siguro (which is why I think) consequently we will have to ask for additional budget allotment from the national government,” he said. The DoLE has said it will need an additional P5 billion to help aid workers affected by the outbreak and ECQ. On Sunday, DoLE said based on its own monitoring, more than 600,000 workers have had their employment status affected in various ways.

ASEAN

PH, Singapore post largest manufacturing drop in Asean in March Philippine News Agency 1st Apr 2020
Performance of the manufacturing sector in the Philippines and Singapore posted the biggest deterioration among surveyed Southeast Asian countries, the latest Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) of IHS Markit reported Wednesday. Asean’s headline PMI for March plunged to 43.4, the lowest for nearly eight years. Readings above 50 reflect improvement in the sector, while indices below 50 show deterioration. Singapore’s manufacturing PMI in March registered 27.7, Philippines at 39.7, Vietnam at 41.9, Indonesia and Myanmar at 45.3, Thailand at 46.7, and Malaysia at 48.4.

Response Fund to be created by Asean to cushion COVID-19’s impact in the region Khmer Times 10th Apr 2020
In the 25th ASEAN Coordinating Council Meeting via video conference Thursday, ASEAN foreign ministers agreed on the establishment of a response to help all member states alleviate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. The objectives behind the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, according to a press release from Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, is to mobilise financial resources to address the shortage in medical supplies and to support the research and development of COVID-19. The fund also aims to prepare the member state for responding to future emergencies.

Collective efforts needed for rebound in Asean’s growth, says AMRO The Edge Singapore 8th Apr 2020
SINGAPORE (Apr 8): The Asean + 3 Macroeconomic Review Office (AMRO) has slashed its 2020 growth forecast for Asean + 3 nations to 2%, from its previous prediction of 4.9%. The macroeconomic watchdog which monitors Asean, Japan, China and Korea says the upgrade follows the uncertainty from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it expects growth in the region to have a strong rebound to 5.5% in 2021 once the health and economic crises abate. Meanwhile, Asean economies are expected to weaken sharply to grow at an average of 1.1% before recovering to 5.2% in 2021. The data was unveiled by AMRO’s chief economist Khor Hoe Ee in an outlook briefing on Tuesday. Touching on how the data was arrived at, Khor said that preparations for this outlook forecast was “almost impossible”, despite this being the watchdog’s fourth iteration.

Asset Management

Philippines Payments Platform Closes $120M Deal PYMNTS.com 6th Apr 2020
Philippines payments startup Voyager Innovations has closed a funding deal worth up to $120 million from existing backers, according to a Monday (April 6) statement from Voyager. Existing investors included Voyager’s parent company PLDT, China’s Tencent, International Finance Corp (IFC), private equity firm KKR and IFC Emerging Asia Fund. The new funding follows a $215 million investment in 2018. The money will be used to help Voyager’s expansion efforts in the Philippines. Voyager Innovations runs the payments platform PayMaya Philippines. The new funding is part of a bigger fundraising effort for Voyager. The FinTech firm is taking meetings with new strategic and financial partners. Voyager Innovations, which was founded in 2013, provides mobile money and payments under the PayMaya brand, as well as mobile-based remittances under its Smart Padala brand. Cashless transactions are on the rise in the Philippines, as more Filipino consumers embrace digital payments. Germany-based FinTech services firm Wirecard partnered last month with the Union Bank of the Philippines to improve banking services for corporate customers.

SC approves new rules on liquidation of banks Business World 2nd Apr 2020
Under A.M. No. 19-12-02-SC dated Feb. 18, the Supreme Court approved the proposed rules of the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC), as reviewed by the Sub-committee on Commercial Courts, to assign as liquidation courts the regional trial courts designated as special commercial courts (SCC). All pending petition for assistance in the liquidation (PAL) of closed banks that have not been given due course by regular courts will be transferred to SCCs.

Banking

BAP assures banking services during extended ECQ Philippine News Agency 8th Apr 2020
The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) has assured the public of continued banking services during the extended enhanced community quarantine for Luzon. In a statement Wednesday, the group reiterated the commitment of the banking community in doing all necessary measures to support the national government in fighting against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

COVID-19

Govt imposes tight check on private vehicles amid hike in ECQ violations in Metro streets BusinessMirror 15th Apr 2020
Amid the rising number of quarantine violators nationwide, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will now be imposing strict inspection of private vehicles in Metro Manila. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said President Duterte issued the directive after receiving reports that PNP has already registered 108,088 violators from the extended enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon. He explained the PNP Highway Patrol Group will be issuing Land Transportation Office (LTO) violation receipt, or Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Ordinance Violation Receipt, against drivers of private vehicles transporting unauthorized persons.

IATF backs lifting of deployment ban on health staff with contracts BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
Filipino medical workers with already existing contracts may soon be allowed to work abroad. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on Monday recommended the lifting of the deployment ban imposed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) for 14 medical occupations. Under the recommendation, those with existing perfected employment contracts will be able to leave. On April 2, 2020, the POEA governing board issued Resolution No. 9, series of 2020, temporarily suspending the deployment of OFWs under 14 medical occupations, including doctors and nurses, until the lifting of the national state of emergency due to the novel coronavirus disease.

Govt prepares for return of thousands of OFWs displaced by COVID-19 pandemic BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
Some 70,000 to 100,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are now home-bound amid the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. OFWs will be required to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine to ensure none of them are infected by the deadly virus, which already killed 111,652 people worldwide.  In anticipation of the mass repatriation of OFWs, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) created a sub-task unit (STU) group under the National Task Force (NTF) for Covid-19 “to facilitate the quarantine requirements of repatriated OFWs. 

San Miguel builds quarantine facility for military personnel BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
San Miguel Corp. on Tuesday said it is building 10 emergency quarantine facilities near military hospitals to house the personnel who have tested positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) but have mild or no symptoms. The company said the move is also aimed at easing pressure on health facilities flooded by patients needing intensive medical treatment. Company President and COO Ramon S. Ang said the company is looking for more areas where prototype hospital facilities can be built as existing emergency rooms of hospitals brace for a surge of patients.

PCCI lists priorities for gov’t after ECQ lifting Business World 13th Apr 2020
The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the country’s biggest business group, is urging the government to focus on mass testing for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the resumption of some economic activity and the removal of barriers to movement of people and supplies in order to ensure a path to recovery after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) ends on April 30. “As discussions on possible triggers for a partial lifting of the ECQ begin, the PCCI respectfully submits its recommendations, which encapsulate key elements to recovery. These are (a) success in epidemic control, (b) resumption of economic activity, and (c) eliminating barriers to the supply chain and the movement of people — all towards rebuilding consumer confidence,” the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said in a statement on Sunday, April 12. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, spokesperson of the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), said in a press briefing Sunday that the IATF is discussing government action after April 30, noting that the World Health Organization has said countries should be gradual in lifting lockdowns.

COVID-19 patients now required to disclose personal information — IATF Inquirer 13th Apr 2020
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients are now required to disclose their personal information to enhance contact-tracing efforts, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Sunday, April 12. In order to aid the contact-tracing efforts of the government, it is mandatory or required to give personal information when it comes to our COVID-19 cases. Contact tracing refers to the laborious process of finding out the recent persons who came into contact with those who tested positive for an infection like COVID-19. Some COVID-19 patients have been reportedly concealing their real medical condition, risking the lives of health workers and the people with whom they have personally interacted with.

Experts weigh impact of zero GDP growth Business Mirror 13th Apr 2020
The latest government estimates of posting a zero GDP growth this year due to the coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19) will lead to lower incomes and cost at least a year’s worth of efforts to reduce poverty. The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and local economists believe that zero growth will be a setback to the country’s efforts to reduce poverty to 11 percent by 2022. Last week, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez said in a televised briefing that GDP would contract by 1 percent or post zero growth this year.“That’s Neda’s forecast, assuming [there is] no Covid-19 letup until yearend. Zero growth means real GDP standstill—same pie for more people, many of whom without work and income,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia told the BusinessMirror over the weekend. “[Per capita income will be] lower generally. But of course, we have to forestall zero or negative growth with the right stimulus,” he added.University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE) Professor Toby Melissa C. Monsod explained that zero growth simply means the sum of goods and services produced last year will be the same this year.

195 cities, towns, still have no aid due to unfinished MOAs with DSWD Inquirer 13th Apr 2020
There are still 195 cities and municipalities nationwide that have not accessed the government’s social amelioration program (SAP) due to unfinished deals with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). According to the weekly report of President Rodrigo Duterte to Congress, the 195 local government units (LGUs) are still in the process of crafting memorandums of agreement (MOAs) with the DSWDt, which spearheads the provision of social aid. ADVERTISEMENT The aid is intended for workers who have lost their sources of income due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Luzon and other areas, which was placed to limit the spread of COVID-19. “As of 09 April 2020, there are 664 cities and municipalities that have submitted an MOA to the DSWD indicating their intention to avail of the SAP. On the other hand, the remaining 195 cities and municipalities are still in the process of crafting their respective MOAs with the DSWD,” the report indicated.

PH now has 75 COVID-19 referral hospitals that can take in 3,194 patients Daily Inquirer 13th Apr 2020
The Department of Health (DOH) has now designated 75 COVID-19 referral hospitals that can house a total of 3,194 patients, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual press briefing on Monday. Before this, the DOH had only designated three COVID-19 hospitals — the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City, and Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium in Caloocan City. According to the President’s third weekly report to Congress on the government’s COVID-19 response, the breakdown of the number of hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients in public and private hospitals are as follows: • National Capital Region – 2,031 beds • Luzon – 544 beds • Visayas – 370 beds • Mindanao – 249 beds The country also now has temporary treatment and monitoring facilities with 4,413 beds.

Philippines boosts test capacity as COVID-19 cases reach 4,932 Business World 13th Apr 2020
The Philippines now has 15 testing centers for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), allowing it to test 3,000 samples daily, according to a government task force against the pandemic. “We’re now in a better position to reach our target of 3,000 tests per day, then eventually 8,000 to 10,000 tests per day,” Cabinet Secretary and task force Spokesman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said at a news briefing on Monday. The Health department would start expanded COVID-19 tests on April 14, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a separate news briefing.

Proposal to sell military land gains support in Senate Business World 13th Apr 2020
Senators expressed support for proposals to sell military property to provide additional funding for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response package, for which P1.171 trillion has so far been authorized. Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said he is open to any measures as long as they do not compromise the security of military facilities. Senator Ronald M. dela Rosa is also in favor of land sales, but raised the need for transparency to avoid jeopardizing the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

LANDBANK rolls out LGU loan program Business World 8th Apr 2020
State-run Land Bank of the Philippines is rolling out a lending program worth P10 billion for local government units (LGUs) to provide them with emergency funding to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In a press release yesterday, LANDBANK said it allocated P10 billion for its Help via Emergency Loan Assistance for LGUs (HEAL) Program. The loans carry a fixed interest rate of five percent payable in a maximum of five years, with a one-year grace period for the principal amount. The bank said both client and non-client provincial, city, and municipal governments can avail of the loan.

Govt eyes to keep BBB funds intact to boost economy after Covid-19 crisis BusinessMirror 8th Apr 2020
The government is trying to leave the budget for big ticket projects under its Build, Build Build (BBB) programs untouched as it looks for additional funds for the government’s Covid-19 response.  Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles explained the large-scale BBB projects would be crucial in government efforts to “jump start” the economy once the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ)  in Luzon is lifted.   He, however noted that President Rodrigo R. Duterte is authorized to realign the budget for BBB projects under the Republic Act (RA) No. 11469.

From 10% investment growth goal, Peza’s hopes crash on virus woes Business Mirror 8th Apr 2020
Investments registered with the Peza in the first quarter declined close to 28 percent to P16.49 billion, from P22.9 billion during the same period last year, according to official records. Worse, not a single peso was recorded in March, as board members were unable to convene.The first-quarter registrations translated into 87 fresh projects as against the 128 in 2019. Further, shipments made by economic zone locators crashed by more than 66 percent to $4.36 billion, from $12.94 billion. The Peza traced the steep declines in both investment and export figures to the calamities that struck the Philippines, particularly Taal Volcano’s eruption in January and the Covid-19 pandemic. As the whole of Luzon remains under community quarantine—extended by President Duterte up to April 30—exporters were allowed to keep operating for as long as they house their workers near plants to spare them of the hassle of passing through checkpoints daily.However, not everyone has the liquidity to shell out more money for workers’ temporary shelter. This is one of the reasons, on top of restricted movement of people and goods, that only 78 percent of economic zone firms in Luzon are operating as of weekend.

SEC transfers ₱2 B to national treasury for COVID-19 fight Manila Bulletin 8th Apr 2020
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has transferred a total of ₱2 billion from its accounts to the Bureau of the Treasury to augment the government’s war chest in tackling COVID-19. The SEC made the contribution in accordance with Section 4(v) of Republic Act No. 11469, otherwise known as the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, and the directive of the Department of Finance.

Ecozone locators lauded for helping Covid-19 front-liners Philippine News Agency 7th Apr 2020
Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) Director General Charito “Ching” Plaza on Tuesday expressed her gratitude to all PEZA-registered ecozone locator companies for producing, manufacturing, and donating personal protective equipment (PPE), medical supplies and equipment to help the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) front-line workers. The companies which extended assistance are members of the Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc. (SEIPI).

SEC suspends penalties Business World 7th Apr 2020
The SEC is suspending cumulative penalties on companies for the period of the enhanced community quarantine over Luzon. In a notice on its website, the corporate regulator said it will not be counting penalties that account for the period from March 13 until the lifting of the quarantine, which is originally set on April 13. This covers investment companies, issuers of proprietary and non-proprietary shares/timeshares, public companies, lending companies, financing companies, foundations, accredited microfinance non-government organizations and publicly-listed companies.

With private-public tie-up, PHL can make ‘medical-grade’ PPEs BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
THE Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday it is working with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), industry associations, and private firms to locally manufacture personal protective equipment (PPEs) to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. A group of local manufacturers will soon be producing an estimated 10,000 medical-grade PPE coveralls daily to help address the shortage of the said item, a lack that has been blamed for the high rate of deaths—including at least 17 doctors—among frontliners attending to virus-stricken patients. In an online press briefing, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (Conwep) is set to start the production of the PPEs next week.

DA rolls out P3-billion cash aid program to farmers BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday said it will extend P3 billion worth of cash assistance to 600,000 rice farmers as part of government’s intervention program to help them cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The DA said the cash subsidy program dubbed as the Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers (FSRF) is part of its initiatives to assist small rice farmers, who are planting 1 hectare, or less, in 24 provinces not covered by the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA) program.

Luzon-wide lockdown extended until end-April Business World 7th Apr 2020
The Philippine government on Tuesday announced the extension of the lockdown on Luzon island until the end of April, as the country has yet to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has infected over 3,000 and killed nearly 200. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said President Rodrigo R. Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to extend the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until 11:59 p.m. of April 30, 2020.

Limited work for 13 rail projects allowed Business World 7th Apr 2020
The government will allow “limited work” for 13 rail projects amid a lockdown in Luzon to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday. An inter-agency task force made up of Cabinet secretaries had approved the request of the Department of Transportation to allow limited work including rail replacement for MRT-3, whose operation had been suspended. The task force asked the agency to limit personnel use, provide accommodations and shuttle services and regularly disinfect workplaces, shuttles and temporary shelters.

DA approves P1-billion loan program amid pandemic Business World 5th Apr 2020
The Department of Agriculture (DA), through its Agriculture Credit Policy Council (ACPC), has approved an initial P1 billion for loans to help the sector amid threats to food security caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said in a statement the allotment is part of the agency’s Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program for Rice Farmers (SURE Aid) and Recovery Project. The loans will provide working capital to ensure continued operations for farmers, fisherfolk, and agri-fishery micro and small enterprises (MSEs). This will also support DA’s P31-billion “Plant, Plant, Plant” initiative meant to make basic agricultural commodities more accessible and affordable.

Imports needed for COVID-19 fight declared tax-exempt Business World 1st Apr 2020
IMPORTED GOODS, supplies and equipment, including test kits and protective equipment needed for containing the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, as well as imported materials needed to manufacture these products have been declared exempt from all taxes, duties and fees, the Bureau of Customs said. In Customs Administrative Order (CAO) 07-2020 released Wednesday, the BoC said such imports are exempt from value-added tax (VAT), excise tax and other fees. The exemption was also outlined in Revenue Regulations (RR) No. 6-2020, which was also issued Wednesday.

Duterte inclined to extend Luzon lockdown until April 30 BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
UPDATED– President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday evening said he is “inclined” to extend the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon up to the end the month.  This after some government officials issued the recommendation to give more time to control the rising cases of novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in Luzon. As of April 6, 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) reported there were already 3,660 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country, of which, 163 died and 73 were able to recover from the illness.    “We have discussed it even before this. We are inclined to extend the lockdown up to April 30. We will see after that [if we could lift it],” Duterte said during a late night public address. 

Lawmaker bats for ‘economic lifeline’ for MSMEs affected by Covid-19 crisis BusinessMirror 6th Apr 2020
SEN. Joel Villanueva is pushing for the early delivery of a promised “economic lifeline” for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) reeling from the backlash of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. Citing MSMEs as a major employment generator, the senator will cite the prompt implementation of economic assistance that the Duterte administration committed to provide to MSMEs when Villanueva renders a report to Congress on the Bayanihan law as soon as lawmakers reconvene regular sessions on May 4. The senator affirmed in a statement Sunday the need for early delivery of relief, listing MSMEs among the “badly-suffering sectors facing the brunt of the crisis brought about by Covid-19.”

‘Premature’ to say if Covid-19 is slowing – Duque | BusinessMirror 5th Apr 2020
HEALTH Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said on Sunday it is too early to tell whether the spread of Covid-19 is slowing down. “Too premature to say there is flattening of the curve,” said Duque in a text message to BusinessMirror when asked. Duque also said the Department of Health (DOH) has already tested over 19,000 people for Covid-19 nationwide. “Nineteen thousand  different individuals (were already tested). Of these tested, a little over 3,000 are positive,” Duque said. 

PHL can ride out virus-induced economic shocks – DOF | BusinessMirror 5th Apr 2020
THE Department of Finance (DOF) expressed confidence at the weekend the Philippine economy will  hurdle economic shocks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.  In the economic bulletin released by DOF over the weekend, Finance Undersecretary and Chief Economist Gil Beltran said the country’s current account in 2019 strengthened in 2019 and  “almost wiped out the deficit as strong earnings were achieved from exports of goods and services and incomes from investment placements and remittances.” The country’s “strong fundamentals,” Beltran said in the bulletin, “will enable the economy to withstand economic shocks arising from the coronavirus pandemic which has locked down more than a third of the economy to a state of inertia.” This, even though the National Economic and Development Authority’s initially estimated that the economy could contract by 0.6 percent this year. It also said it could also slow to a growth of 4.3 percent. The estimate was based on the initial days of the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19. 

Peso to climb on expectations of slower inflation | BusinessWorld Business World 5th Apr 2020
THE PESO could strengthen further against the greenback this week on the back of expectations of easing inflation and amid continued efforts from the government to stem the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The local unit finished trading at P50.72 versus the dollar on Friday, appreciating by 13 centavos from its P50.85-per-dollar close on Thursday, according to data from the Bankers Association of the Philippines. The currency also appreciated by 28 centavos week on week from its P51-to-a-dollar close on March 27. Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort said the peso climbed on the back of positive market sentiment due to the government’s aid for low-income Filipinos.

Cops to assist DSWD in distribution of cash aid to poor, indigent families BusinessMirror 2nd Apr 2020
The Philippine National Police (PNP) will help in the distribution of cash assistance to poor families affected by the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the head of the Joint Task Force Corona Virus Shield (JTF CV Shield) said on Thursday. President Duterte has instructed the police and the military to assist in the distribution of cash assistance to indigents and other qualified families affected by the strict implementation of the lockdown.

IATF weighs proposal for phased BusinessMirror 2nd Apr 2020
EVEN if the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon is finally lifted later this month as scheduled, business operations within the area will still face significant restrictions due to the threat of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), officials said on Wednesday, as they also weighed proposals for a “phased or gradual” lifting. In an online press briefing, Cabinet Secretary and  Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) spokesperson Karlo Nograles noted that social distancing will remain as the “new normal” until a cure or vaccine against the pandemic disease is finally discovered.

BSP outlines additional relief measures for banks Business World 26th Mar 2020
The Central Bank is giving additional regulatory to financial institutions, including the imposition of a higher single borrower’s limit (SBL), removing penalties for reserve deficiencies, and providing leeway for some notification requirements amid disruptions caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). First of the measures is the hike in big banks’ SBL to 30% from 25% for a period of six months. The Central Bank will also relax maximum penalty impositions for reserve deficiencies. They will also give banks some leeway in their notification requirements, such as in letting the Central Bank Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

Modified lockdown proposed Philippine Star 8th Apr 2020
s Luzon braces for an extended enhanced community quarantine, a “modified lockdown” should be considered to ensure smoother delivery of basic goods and allow some businesses to reopen and serve communities, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said yesterday. In a televised interview, Pernia said restrictions on the entry of cargoes of fresh produce and other agricultural goods from the provinces should be eased to support agricultural activity and ensure sufficient food supply while a quarantine aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is in effect. President Duterte has approved the extension of the quarantine until April 30. This was meant to further contain the spread of COVID-19, as the health sector steps up efforts to increase its capacity to embark on massive testing beginning on April 14.

DOH: 11 patients recover from COVID-19 as cases soar to 3,764 Philippine Star 8th Apr 2020
Eleven more COVID-19 positive persons have recovered from the illness, the Department of Health (DOH) reported Tuesday. It is the highest recorded recoveries in a day since the first case was documented in the country in January. This raised the total number of recoveries to 84 although DOH also verified 104 additional cases of COVID-19 in the country, boosting the tally to 3,764 as of April 7. On the other hand, DOH said 14 people infected with the respiratory illness have died with the toll now reaching 177.

RITM says its turnaround time for Covid-19 tests much faster Business Mirror 31st Mar 2020
RITM Director Celia Carlos, in a virtual press conference, told DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire the tedious testing procedure of Covid-19 results takes 48 to 72 hours. The turnout time, however, according to Carlos, is already a “big improvement.“We hope that we can sustain this,” she added, noting that while before the RITM could only test 300 kits per day, “the RITM is now capable of conducting 900 to 1,000 tests each day.” While they continue to do their best to quickly validate the test kits—but with accurate results—Carlos assured that they will go on taking care of patients in RITM as well.

5 rapid test kits get FDA nod Malaya 31st Mar 2020
THE Food and Drug Administration on Monday said it has approved the use of five rapid test kits for the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), with four coming from China and one from Singapore. The FDA-approved rapid test kits are Nanjing Vazyme 2019-nCov IgG/IgM Detection Kit of Biolidics Limited from Singapore; Novel Coronavirus (2019 NCOV) IgM/IgG Antibody Detection Kit Colloidal Gold Method of Nanjing Vazyme Medical Technology Co. Ltd. from Nanjing, China; Diagnostic Kit for IgM/IgG Antibody to Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Colloidal Gold of Zhuhai Livzon Diagnostic Inc. from Guangdong, China; 2019-nCOV Antibody Test (Colloidal Gold) Innovita (Tangshan) of Biological Technology Co., Ltd. from Hebei, China; and SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Test (Lateral Flow Method of Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech Co. Ltd. from Guangzhou, China. Domingo said despite the approval, there is a need to establish guidelines and protocols in the use of the kits because these are not meant to be for the personal use of the patient. He also said that the results of the rapid test kits must not be taken as 100 percent accurate, without confirmatory testing.“A positive result due to cross-reaction with other bacteria or viruses is also possible, which is why a confirmatory PCR based test is still required,” Domingo said.

Duterte: Gov’t to accredit more medical facilities for COVID-19 testing Manila Bulletin 31st Mar 2020
The government is building up its capacity to conduct coronavirus testing by accrediting more medical facilities in the coming weeks, President Duterte announced.The President recognized that conducting more tests would give a “more accurate picture” of the spread of the new coronavirus in the country. Duterte made the announcement after the number of COVID-19 cases reached 1,546, including 78 fatalities as of March 30. Some sectors have called for mass testing while Luzon remains on lockdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak. Duterte also announced the acquisition of one million personal protective supplies for the country’s health frontliners. Other medical supplies and devices needed in the battle against the coronavirus are also being procured by the government.

Metro Pacific forms COVID-19 crisis team Business World 30th Mar 2020
THE HOSPITAL unit of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) has stepped up its response to the pandemic by forming a crisis team and designating one of its hospitals as a referral facility for those positive of the deadly virus. In a statement yesterday, Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings, Inc. (MPHHI) said it was increasing efforts to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) through the newly formed team. “The country’s health care system faces unprecedented challenges… Our Hospitals Group are focusing their resources on critical concerns — particularly hospital care for the most critically-ill patients infected by COVID-19,” MPIC Chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan said in the statement.

ADB approves $5-M emergency grant for PHL fight vs virus | BusinessWorld Business World 29th Mar 2020
THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $5-million emergency grant for the Philippines’ fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Department of Finance (DoF) said on Sunday. In a statement, the DoF quoted ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa as saying the funds will allow the Philippines to leverage private sector donations for a food distribution program for Luzon’s poorest households. Set to be launched as early as next week, the program will be implemented by the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), in coordination with the DoF.

Amid rising cases, PHL on right track to slow virus spread–WHO BusinessMirror 25th Mar 2020
DESPITE the surge in local cases of novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday the country is still in the right direction to slow down its spread. In a press briefing, WHO Representative in the Philippines Rabin­dra Abeyasinghe commended the declaration of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, which he said is crucial for the government to “buy time” to prepare its health-care system for the influx of Covid-infected patients. “That [ECQ] is important in buying time to flatten the epidemic and reduce the pace of the outbreak,” Abeyasinghe said. The WHO official, however, noted that the lockdown of Luzon will be insufficient to contain the spread of the disease if it does not go with strict social distancing. “The government is doing what it can. It is now the responsibility of everyone of us to maintain the physical distancing, particularly from those who are vulnerable: the elderly, the people with underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and asthma, because we know if they become sick, the outcomes are going to be less favorable,” Abeyasinghe said. From less than 10 confirmed cases last month, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country rose to 552 based on the March 24 monitoring report of the Department of Health (DOH). Related story on page A8, “DOH reports 90 new Covid-19 cases, moves to protect patients with TB.” Abeyasinghe said a similar surge in the number of Covid-19 cases is happening at a global scale. Based on WHO’s March 23 report, there are already 332,930 confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide. “We need to recognize that this is now classified as a pandemic. In the words of our director general it is accelerating. The first 100,000 cases took 67 days, the second 100,000 took 11 days, the third 100,000 took 4 days, so more and more countries are affected,” Abeyasinghe  said. ‘Not the enemy’ Also on Tuesday, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire advised Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro not to consider the Department of Health as the enemy. This, after the mayor said Monday the DOH should not look at them as a “mere client” applying for a license to operate a laboratory facility for coronavirus disease testing. On Sunday, Teodoro was surprised to learn that Vergeire said they did not approve yet the testing center of Marikina.

Customs

DOTr, PPA renew calls to shippers to withdraw cargoes By Myla Iglesias -April 8, 202038 Malaya 8th Apr 2020
THE Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) have reiterated their call to cargo shippers and consignees to withdraw overstaying cargoes as ports in Manila become congested anew, with yard utilization reaching over 90 percent. ““We are targeting an approximate of 60 percent utilization to achieve an ideal operation. This congestion will not only limit the movement of cargoes in our ports, it will also result to delays of cargo delivery, which will affect prices of goods, and that’s not what we want right now, or ever,” Tugade added. Meanwhile, PPA yesterday said it amended Memorandum Circular No. 13-2020 to further aid in minimizing the disruption of the supply chain under the current implementation of the enhanced community quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. With this, truck drivers and helpers may now be allowed unhampered access to and from any PPA-managed ports, subject to safety and health measures such as accomplishment of entry protocol form, passing thru thermal scan and disinfection procedures, and referral of those symptomatic persons to Department of Health or local government unit health offices.

Manila ports choked by unclaimed cargo, shutdown looms Business World 2nd Apr 2020
The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) said that cargo congestion at the Manila ports due to failure to withdraw cargoes may cause the terminals to shut down. PPA General Manager Jay Daniel R. Santiago said in a statement that the shutdown of Manila port terminals is possible if cargo owners and consignees do not heed the agency’s request to immediately remove their ready-for-delivery and overstaying cargoes. On Friday, International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) appealed to its consignees to withdraw their refrigerated containers immediately.

Philippines plans 300,000 tons rice import amid lockdown The Star Online 30th Mar 2020
The Philippines plans to import 300,000 metric tons of rice through state deals to boost supply amid the month-long lockdown due to the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Monday (March 30). The government will allot 31 billion pesos (US$608mil) for food sufficiency efforts, allow food companies to increase workers and let farming and fishing continue during the Luzon-wide quarantine, Nograles said in a video bulletin posted on Facebook. The Philippines will ask other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) to refrain from imposing trade restrictions, Nograles said.

Govt opens platform to speed up medical imports BusinessMirror 6th Apr 2020
The Anti-Red Tape Authority (Arta) has created a single window platform intended to hasten the importation procedure of medical supplies that are needed in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Under Joint Memorandum Circular 1, the Arta, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) institutionalized the Bayanihan One Stop Shop, or BOSS. It functions as a single window and concierge for state agencies dealing with the importation of health goods crucial in combatting the Covid-19 pandemic. In the existing setup, importation of products regulated by the FDA would require the issuance of license to operate to the importer and registration of every medical item unless exempted.

FDA Advisory No. 2020-547 || Updated Procedure for FDA Clearance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Prior to Customs Release Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines 6th Apr 2020
Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the following updated measures are adopted for the expedient release of certain protective equipment (PPE) withn the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Customs. The PPE include: Face masks including N95 masks; Shoe Covers; Gloves; Head Covers, and Gowns. For the abovementioned PPE intended for entry to the local market for commercial use, the presentation of the copy of the importer’s License to Operate (LTO) should be sufficient compliance for customs release.

Import process for urgently needed medical supplies streamlined Business World 5th Apr 2020
The government said it has created a simplified process for the import of medical and protective products urgently needed to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19) outbreak. The Department of Finance, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a joint memorandum circular Saturday to streamline procedures for government agencies dealing with imports of such goods. The goods covered by the new process include personal protective equipment and medical supplies identified by the health department as COVID-19-critical commodities. Under the so-called one-stop-shop system, applications for such imports will be managed through a single window.

Defense & Security

US cancels Philippines war games due to coronavirus South China Morning Post 27th Mar 2020
The US military has cancelled large-scale exercises involving thousands of troops in the Philippines in May due to the coronavirus pandemic. “In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Covid-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” US Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral Phil Davidson said. The war games, set to be held in the Philippines on May 4-15, usually involve several thousand troops from the two long-standing allies and a smaller contingent from Australia, according to the hosts.

E-Payments

Filipinos shift to e-payments, online banking amid lockdown Business World 16th Apr 2020
Banks and payment firms have seen a surge in online transactions amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon. During the lockdown, lenders said they observed a rise in account openings as well as fund transfers as limited businesses maintained physical working hours, including banks. Digital payment transactions with pharmaceuticals posted the biggest month-on-month growth in March from February. Meanwhile, transaction volumes related to travel, hospitality and tourism edged lower due to restrictions meant to contain the virus outbreak.

Economics

Group urges Palace to waive VAT, UC on monthly electricity bills during quarantine period BusinessMirror 16th Apr 2020
An infrastructure-oriented think tank is calling for the suspension of value-added tax (VAT) and universal charges (UC) on power rates until community quarantines remain in place around the country. “The suspension of VAT and universal charges on electricity rates during the coronavirus crisis translates to around P200 in savings for the average household consuming 200 kilowatt hour [kWh]. More important, this translates into a staggering P4.2-billion indirect economic aid to 21 million lower income households without the need for new loans, or the sale of government assets,” said Terry Ridon, Infrawatch PH convener and former urban poor chief of the Duterte administration.

BSP cuts policy rate to record low Business World 16th Apr 2020
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) fired off another 50-basis-point (bp) cut in policy rates in an off-cycle meeting to bring borrowing costs to record lows in a bid to boost lending to support the economy in the middle of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. This brought the key rate or the overnight reverse repurchase rate to 2.75%. Accordingly, interest rates for the central bank’s overnight deposit and lending facility have been trimmed to 3.25% and 2.25%, respectively. These rates are the lowest on record and also since the BSP shifted to an interest rate corridor in 2016.

Lawmakers to consider another round of stimulus measures Business World 16th Apr 2020
Congress will discuss another set of stimulus measures to help shield the economy from the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, Speaker Alan Peter S. Cayetano said on Thursday. A House of Representatives committee created to respond to the outbreak will hold a hearing on Tuesday to discuss the package with President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s economic managers, he told reporters in a video streamed on Facebook. Business groups would also be invited, he said, adding that government response to the outbreak would depend on when the lockdown on Luzon is lifted.

Extending lockdown beyond April could be ‘difficult’ — Pernia Business World 16th Apr 2020
Extending the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) beyond April 30 would be “difficult,” according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia, who is backing a gradual lifting of the Luzon-wide lockdown which would allow malls and public transportation to resume partial operations. Mr. Pernia said in a radio interview it would be hard to extend the Luzon-wide lockdown, as many business groups have been calling for a “partial reopening” with safety measures in place. Shopping malls, he said, could be allowed to resume operations at 50% capacity or implement a “calibrated opening” if measures such as physical distancing will be strictly observed. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief noted more businesses that address “other needs of people like haircuts, laundry, housecleaning” may be allowed to open. Mr. Pernia also said restrictions on public transportation can also be eased provided that commuters will observe proper distancing measures.

DOF bares P120-billion small business credit guarantee BusinessMirror 15th Apr 2020
The government is looking to implement a P120-billion credit guarantee program for affected small businesses as well as an enhanced net operating loss carryover of five years to help businesses cope with losses from the Covid-19 pandemic—moves that will cost the state around P140 billion. At thesame time, the Department of Finance (DOF) said it will be implementing a P51-billion wage subsidy program for some 3.4 million employees in small businesses affected by the Luzon-wide lockdown.

IMF slashes PHL growth forecast Business World 15th Apr 2020
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has downgraded its growth forecast for the Philippines this year to 0.6% as the global economy is likely to experience “the worst recession since the Great Depression” due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The new forecast published Tuesday in its World Economic Outlook report titled “Chapter 1: The Great Lockdown” is significantly lower than its estimate of 6.3% given last year, long before the COVID-19 outbreak. Yongzheng Yang, IMF resident representative to the Philippines, cited supply disruptions as well as weaker demand from the country’s major trading partners due to the outbreak as reasons for the lower forecast.

Post-ECQ options of firms: shuttle, shifting for labor BusinessMirror 15th Apr 2020
THE National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) will recommend to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) the gradual return to work of Luzon-based employees after the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) is lifted. Neda Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Rosemarie G. Edillon said that this would require companies to implement shifting in their staff as well as the continued provision of shuttle service for their workers. Companies need to assess if they can commit to observe physical distancing, have proper sanitation, and disinfection of public spaces after the ECQ. This also means ensuring that firms are able to conduct health surveillance of their employees to provide them with adequate protection post-ECQ.

P350-billion loans eyed for business to keep workers amid pandemic BusinessMirror 15th Apr 2020
THE House Economic Stimulus Response Package Cluster on Tuesday proposed measures to flatten the recession curve and restore the country’s growth as the Philippines is expected to lose P1.08 trillion due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The cochairman of the House Economic Stimulus Response Package Cluster, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, proposed structural adjustment plans, which include a Negative Interest Loans (NIL) plan, a P350-billion loan package to provide loans at negative interest in exchange for worker retention. Under the proposal, the maximum loanable amount shall be 50 percent of the company’s direct labor costs and the loan shall be payable for three to five years, with the corresponding interest rates as follows: three years, -9 percent, four years, -7 percent, and five years at -5 percent.

PHL to continue paying debt despite crisis Business World 15th Apr 2020
The Philippines will not consider suspending interest payments on its debt obligations despite the rising costs of keeping the economy afloat amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said on Tuesday. He said the country still has “more favorable” options to fund its emergency response against COVID-19 and recovery programs, turning down a senator’s suggestion that the country should impose a moratorium on its debt obligations and instead, use the allotted funds for the virus response. Under the 2020 national budget, the government has a total debt service bill of P1.033 trillion. This includes P582.088 billion for principal amortization and P450.964 billion for interest payments.

‘Wider budget deficit will boost economy’ BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
An economist-lawmaker wants the government to widen its budget deficit up to nearly 8 percent of GDP as the government needs to implement fiscal programs to keep the economy afloat following the impact of Covid-19 pandemic. House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda said widening the budget deficit to 7.8 percent of GDP would result in a 1.3-percent growth for the economy this year, apparently averting the first contraction of the economy in 18 years. Allowing for a wider budget deficit is also supported by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said: “We can afford 10 percent GDP deficit for the next two to three years. But we have to act fast. Test, isolate, treat. Allow those who are immune and negative to start working. Slowly allow businesses to operate. Provide long-term interest free loans to MSME [medium small micro enterprises], and reduce taxes.”

DSWD releases P48B in cash assistance to local governments Business World 13th Apr 2020
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said it has released P48 billion in emergency cash subsidies to local governments and welfare offices to help Filipino families affected by the Luzon-wide lockdown meant to contain the coronavirus disease pandemic. More than 77,000 low-income families not covered by the government’s conditional cash grants have received P424 million in cash aid as of April 13, Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Joselito D. Bautista said at a news briefing on Monday. About 3.7 million poorest of the poor families under the state’s cash grant program have received P16.3 billion in financial assistance, he added.

Government still debating size of economic recovery package Business World 13th Apr 2020
The government’s economic team has identified funding for P1.171 trillion worth of social amelioration measures and tax and fiscal action to mitigate the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with a decision yet to be reached on how much will go towards supporting economic recovery. According to a document sent by Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III to reporters late last week, the COVID-19 response package consists of four pillars, for which funding levels for only three have been pencilled in. These consist of P830.47 billion worth of fiscal and monetary action, P305.218 billion for emergency support to vulnerable sectors and P35.722 billion to fund medical expenses. The last pillar is the economic recovery plan, the funding level for which has yet to be determined. The P1.171 trillion package is equivalent to 6.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).

DOF chief unveils P35-billion program to help MSMEs; no aid for middle class households BusinessMirror 13th Apr 2020
The government may not hand out cash aid to middle class households for now but Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said they are working on a P35-billion program for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Dominguez said in a television interview on Monday that it is unlikely that the government will be giving money to the middle class. Moreover, he said, the government will also unveil an assistance package for the middle class employed or operating MSMEs, including a loan guarantee program for them.

PHL economy’s best-case scenario is zero growth – Dominguez Business World 9th Apr 2020
Philippines Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the best-case scenario for the economy this year is zero growth, while the government’s massive spending to fight the pandemic will bloat the budget deficit. Gross domestic product could shrink by as much as 1% — its first contraction in more than two decades — while the budget deficit may widen to 5.3% of GDP, from a target of 3.2% last year, Mr. Dominguez said. The Philippines has lined up some P1.17 trillion ($23 billion) to fight the coronavirus outbreak. To fund the deficit, the government will borrow $5.6 billion from agencies including the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, then tap the overseas bond market, he said.

Gov’t told to increase cash aid after lockdown extension Business World 8th Apr 2020
The government should consider increasing its cash aid to workers after the Luzon-wide lockdown was extended by two more weeks until April 30 to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, business and labor leaders said on Wednesday. The state should also give workers monthly income subsidies equivalent to the minimum wage during the so-called enhanced community quarantine, while cutting paper requirements for eligibility, various groups said in an e-mailed joint statement. The business groups were made up of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. representing management. The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Federation of Free Workers and Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa represented the labor sector.

Trade gap narrows in February on weaker imports Business World 8th Apr 2020
THE country’s trade-in-goods deficit narrowed in February as imports declined while exports grew, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Wednesday. Import payments declined 11.6% year on year to $7.057 billion in February, accelerating from the 2.8% contraction in January and a turnaround from the 2.9% growth in February 2019. The latest reading marked the 10th consecutive month of decline for import goods since May 2019, according to revised PSA estimates.

PHL banks to see slower loan growth, higher bad loans amid COVID-19 outbreak — S&P Business World 7th Apr 2020
The banking industry may see slower loan growth and an uptick in bad loans amid the economic impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with their credit ratings also likely to take a hit along with other banks in the region, according to S&P Global Ratings. In a note sent to reporters on Monday, S&P noted banks’ exposure to the most vulnerable sectors that will be hit by COVID-19. “We expect trade, tourism, private-sector investment and consumption in the Philippines to be affected. This will drag on banks’ lending,” S&P said.

Govt draws money from ‘discontinued’ projects to boost Covid-19 fight BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
To fund government’s response against Covid-19, President Duterte said the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has identified items that may be discontinued in the 2019 and 2020 General Appropriations Act amounting to P189.82 billion. In his second weekly report to Congress as mandated by the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the President said of this unreleased appropriations worth P189.8 billion, P186.5 billion were taken from the 2020 national budget, while P3.3 billion were from the 2019 national budget. These funds were sourced from the personal services (PS), maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), financial expenses (FinEx), and capital outlay (CO) items under the 2019 continuing appropriations and 2020 General Appropriations Act.

DHSUD declares moratorium on in-house financing to condo, house and lot buyers BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
The Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) has declared another moratorium, this time, on the “in-house financing plans, or credit intermediation” extended by real-estate developers to house and lot and condominium buyers. The moratorium initially covers a two-month period, starting from the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on March 17, 2020, and may be extended if still necessary. DHSUD Secretary Eduardo del Rosario said the temporary reprieve will cover all subdivision, condominium and other projects that are required to be registered with DHSUD.

Fiscal balance swings back to deficit in February Business World 6th Apr 2020
THE national government’s fiscal balance swung back to a deficit in February, with the gap seen to further widen in the coming months as revenue collections are expected to fall and state spending to ramp up amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Data from the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) released on Monday showed the budget deficit stood at P37.6 billion in February, narrower than the P76.4 billion seen in the same month in 2019 and a turnaround from P23-billion budget surplus in January. February revenues rose 2.35% to P206.8 billion, with tax collections rising 4% to P189.8 billion and non-tax revenues fell 13.03% to P17 billion.

BSP cuts outlook for remittance growth to 2% Business World 6th Apr 2020
GROWTH in cash remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) is likely to slow to 2% in 2012 as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak affects countries where OFWs are deployed, though remittances have tended to remain relatively steady even in past crises, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said. “Our forecast before this crisis is that OFW remittances will increase by 3% (in 2020). Now that has been downgraded to 2%,” Mr. Diokno said on ABS-CBN News Channel Sunday. In 2019, cash remittances rose 4.1% to a record $30.133 billion after coming in at $28.943 billion in 2018, according to the central bank data. This growth rate exceeded the 3% projection set by the BSP. Mr. Diokno said based on behavior observed in previous global crises, workers will continue to send money home, and speculated that they might be tapping their overseas savings.

Virus-hit employees to get additional benefits from ECC BusinessMirror 6th Apr 2020
The government announced that the Employees’ Compensation Commission (ECC)  will give additional benefits to frontliners and other employees who were affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). ECC said the additional benefits could be accessed not only by those who tested positive for Covid-19, but also by individuals classified as patients under investigation (PUI) or thos suspected of having the disease. Qualified employees could apply for daily sickness benefit (DSB) for suffering temporary total disability due to Covid-19. The DSB for the private sector is at P480 for a maximum of 120 days, but the period could be extended to 240 days if necessary. Beneficiaries of employees, who died of work-acquired Covid-19, could apply for survivorship pension.

Build, Build, Build to hit targets despite COVID-19 Business World 5th Apr 2020
The government’s aggressive infrastructure program will still meet its target completions for the year despite the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic temporarily stopping the projects. Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark A. Villar said in a Friday briefing that while work on the building projects under the administration’s flagship program “Build, Build, Build” might have stopped at the moment, he still sees that they will be able to meet their 2020 target of completion.

T-bills to fetch higher rates amid uncertainties Business World 5th Apr 2020
YIELDS ON Treasury bills (T-bills) on offer on Monday, April 6, will likely climb anew as investors prefer cash amid uncertainties, with the government still expected to turn down “unreasonably high” bids. The Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) is set to raise P20 billion in T-bills at Monday’s auction, broken down into P10 billion for 91-day papers and P5 billion each for 182- and 364-day securities.  Carlyn Therese X. Dulay, Security Bank Corp. first vice-president and head of Institutional Sales, said yields on the three-month papers could settle within 3.25-3.375%, while the six-month T-bills could see its rate end between 3.5-3.625%. Meanwhile, the rate of the one-year securities may fall within 3.75-4%. “Should the bids be too far from market, however, expect the BTr to reject bids in full, as they did for the last four auctions,” Ms. Dulay said via e-mail on Friday.

Moody’s lowers outlook on PHL banking industry to ‘negative' Business World 5th Apr 2020
Moody's Investor Service lowered its outlook on the Philippine banking industry to “negative” from “stable,” with the Luzon lockdown meant to arrest the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) seen to take its toll on banks’ assets and profitability. Despite this, Moody’s said local banks’ strong capital buffers will help them weather this storm amid profit risks and slower loan growth. A negative outlook means lenders’ credit ratings might be downgraded in the short to medium term or in about six months to two years.

NEDA preparing post-coronavirus pandemic policies Business World 5th Apr 2020
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is preparing economic policies to help the country navigate the “new normal” once the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic ends.  The TWG is tasked to come up with “programs and strategies to promote confidence in the country’s health systems through data analytics, recommend programs and strategies to rebuild consumer and business confidence, and recommend policies and programs to adapt to a ‘new normal,’ “NEDA said.  In order to come up with recommendations, the NEDA is conducting an online public consultation (http://bit.ly/NewNormalConsultation) on the “new normal” until April 7, 12 noon.

SEC directs implementation of 30-day extension for loan payments Philippine News Agency 3rd Apr 2020
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ordered lending and financing companies to defer the collection of payments and charging of penalties while the country remains under a state of national emergency due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. In a notice to lending companies, financing companies, and microfinance non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on April 2, the Commission reiterated the provisions of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of Section 4(aa) of Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, which empowered the President to implement a minimum 30-day grace period for the payment of all loans.

Current account deficit seen widening to 2.6% of GDP as exports weaken — Fitch Solutions Business World 2nd Apr 2020
The current account deficit is expected to expand this year to about 2.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to weak external demand during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic, according to Fitch Solutions Macro Research. The current account was in deficit by $464 million in 2019, narrowing from the $8.773 billion deficit in 2018, according to the central bank. The 2019 deficit was equivalent to 0.1% of GDP, against 2.4% of GDP in 2018. Fitch Solutions said it is revising its current account balance forecast to a deficit equivalent to 2.6% of GDP in 2020, from the previous outlook of 1.2%.

Government preparing package to aid small firms Business World 2nd Apr 2020
The economic team is working on an economic package and rehabilitation plan to keep small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) afloat after the quarantine period, which shut down most economic activity. Mr. Dominguez told reporters that the draft package is expected to be ready “by the end of the week.” Finance Assistant Secretary Maria Teresa S. Habitan said the package will tap the P275 billion freed up under Republic Act No. 11469, or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act,” which allowed the government to realign funds from the national budget and make off-budget outlays for relief measures in response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

Job losses could surpass 2008 financial crisis unemployment levels Business World 1st Apr 2020
NEARLY 25 million jobs and $3.4 trillion in income could be lost in the worst-case scenario due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, an estimate which exceeds the job losses resulting from the 2008 subprime-mortgage crisis, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said. According to an ILO assessment contained in its “COVID-19 and the World of Work: Impacts and Responses” report issued March 18, global job losses could be between 5.3 million under the “low” scenario and 24.7 million in the “high” scenario from a base level of 188 million in 2019. The subprime mortgage crisis “increased global unemployment by 22 million,” ILO said in a statement Thursday.

‘Use public schools as shelter for ecozone workers’ BusinessMirror 30th Mar 2020
The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) is asking the national government to transform public schools near industrial parks as temporary housing units for workers, saying it is difficult to shelter employees of locators while Luzon is under enhanced community quarantine. In a letter to President Duterte on Friday, Peza Director General Charito B. Plaza recommended that public schools be retrofitted as quarantine area to help in the fight against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). She said this could spell the difference in containing the virus at a time hospitals are reporting overcapacity and, therefore, are turning down patients.

P31 billion allocated for food sufficiency measures Business World 30th Mar 2020
THE government is allocating P31 billion for measures that would ensure there is enough food supply during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) said it has approved a P31-billion supplemental budget for the Agriculture department’s national “Plant, Plant, Plant Program.” The supplemental budget will now only require President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s approval, as part of the special authority granted to him under Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. “It is part of his special powers based on the new law — to realign the budget,” DA Spokesperson and Assistant Secretary Noel O. Reyes said in a mobile message.

Financial stocks biggest losers, fall 3.35% as virus stokes market jitters BusinessMirror 30th Mar 2020
FINANCIAL stocks were the biggest losers during the bloodbath on Monday as the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) continues to dampen market sentiment. The financial sector ended in the red territory on Monday, shedding 3.35 percent or 40.83 points to close at 1,176.45. Following this was holding firms which dropped by 3.07 percent. Property and industrial stocks both plunged 2.14 percent, while mining and oil slid 1.34 percent. Services, meanwhile, declined by 0.65 percent.

Big fund managers buy PHL stocks in ‘mega sale’ Business World 30th Mar 2020
BIG Philippine money managers are cautiously plowing back money into the nation’s equities, seeing cheapened valuations as an opportunity they have been waiting for, although the market has yet to bottom out. The Philippine Stock Exchange index climbed 10% last week, the most since 2009 and briefly entering what’s defined as bull territory on Friday, when gains from an eight-year low extended to 22%. The surge came as the nation unleashed monetary stimulus and fiscal spending packages of P775 billion ($15.2 billion) to avert a potential recession. The benchmark sank 2.6% on Monday, extending this year’s slump to more than 34%, one of the worst in the world.

PHL may go into recession — Diokno | Business World 29th Mar 2020
THE Philippine economy could go into recession this year, central bank Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said on Sunday, as the coronavirus pandemic brings everything to a standstill. “We’re looking at negative to maybe 1% [growth] given this development,” he told the ABS-CBN News Channel. The global economy has now entered a recession — a period of economic decline where output falls for two successive quarters — that could be as bad or worse than the 2009 downturn, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday. Countries needed to boost spending as a safeguard against bankruptcies and possible market debt defaults, she told a news briefing.

Pandemic expected to weaken job market Business World 29th Mar 2020
JOSEPH LAGUERTA, 32, has been trying to get as many odd jobs as possible to replace the daily income of P650 he used to get as a carpenter in Makati City. Since the implementation of a Luzon-wide quarantine due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, he has tried looking for other jobs in Cavite. “So long as I can bike my way to it, I will take any job. Fortunately, I still receive job orders from time to time… Somehow, my family manages to get by,” he said in Filipino.

Philippines COVID-19 stimulus gets boost from Bangko Sentral, Treasury ABS-CBN News 26th Mar 2020
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said it would remit in advance P20 billion to the national government while the Treasury announced a P30-billion treasury bond sale, as state agencies moved to fund a coronavirus stimulus. Citing the "extraordinary" circumstances, the BSP said it would remit the amount to state coffers, instead of using it to increase its capitalization, as called for by recent amendments to the central bank charter.

Government eyes up to $2-billion loan Business World 26th Mar 2020
The Philippines is looking to borrow up to $2 billion from multilateral lenders to support increased spending to stem the impact of the COVID-19, the Finance chief said, adding the government’s fiscal position is sound and can accommodate larger debt to plug its budget deficit. He said the Finance department is looking to tap multilateral lenders for grants and loans to provide the needed funding, including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Mr. Dominguez said the government is in a “very good position” fiscal-wise to support the economy versus the impact of COVID-19, with the national budget in place and a historically low debt level of 41.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) last year.

Household consumption to take hit amid coronavirus pandemic Business World 26th Mar 2020
With Luzon in lockdown, work and transportation has been suspended, while local government units imposed curfews and checkpoints to discourage people from leaving their homes. Economists have already trimmed Philippine growth forecasts this year amid the growing economic fallout from the pandemic. Even consumption — considered to be the backbone of the Philippine economy — is not spared. “With strict curfews and limited mobility, the once potent Pilipino Purchasing Power is now sidelined and is in danger of falling into contraction in [the first half of 2020] should this persist,” ING Bank N.V.-Manila Senior Economist Nicholas Antonio T. Mapa said in an e-mail. Mr. Mapa has downgraded his gross domestic product (GDP) growth outlook for this year to 5.6% with a 5.3% expansion as the worst case scenario.

Foreign business groups urge gov’t to address cargo delays amid ECQ Business World 26th Mar 2020
Foreign business groups are urging the government to ensure the unhampered transport of food and other essential products, amid reports that cargo trucks are still being stopped at checkpoints amid the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Nabil Francis, president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), said in a mobile message that there have been challenges in filing required documents, logistics, and implementation of food lanes in checkpoints. The food lanes were meant to speed up the transport of perishable agri-fishery commodities. Mr. Francis said that there needs to be further alignment between the issuances of the national and local government, and better communication in applying national policies to a local level, to prevent delays.

BSP throws P300-B lifeline to gov’t Business World 26th Mar 2020
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) will buy short-term securities from the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) to support the government in lessening the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak on the economy. In a statement on Monday, the central bank said it was authorized by its policy-setting Monetary Board to purchase P300 billion in government securities from the Treasury through a repurchase agreement with a maximum repayment period of six months. The BSP said funds generated from the bond-buying agreement will be used to support the government’s programs to counter COVID-19’s economic impact. Asked how the BTr will fund P300 billion in securities, National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon told reporters in a Viber message: “Recall we have deferred income tax payments and we also expect other inflows e.g. when capital markets open and ODAs (official development assistance).”

Foreign groups back steps vs virus Business World 26th Mar 2020
Foreign business groups are backing government measures to address the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and support the economy. American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) Senior Adviser John Forbes said that the special powers granted to President Rodrigo R. Duterte permits the “aggressive” spending they support to address the pandemic. AmCham is one of 32 business groups, including seven foreign chambers, that called on the government last week to pass the “maximum fiscal response” to address the pandemic. The business groups’ recommendations include funds to support workers affected by the quarantine and temporary hospitals, as well as subsidies for the transport and tourism industries.

PCSO preps P447-million assistance to 81 government hospitals fighting virus | BusinessMirror 2nd Apr 2020
THE Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) is set to release an additional P447 million as financial assistance to 81 government hospitals on top of P420 million it will be releasing to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth). PCSO General Manager Royina M. Garma said in a statement that the board in its Tuesday meeting approved the assistance to hospitals across the country to augment the financial capability of the beneficiary hospitals catering to Covid-19 patients.

job losses from virus to hit 200 million–ILO report Business Mirror 8th Apr 2020
GLOBAL business disruptions and the economic slowdown caused by the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) are now expected to cost around 200 million workers their jobs, based on latest estimates of the International Labour Organization (ILO). The new figure is eight times more than the ILO’s initial estimates when the pandemic was just starting to spread.This has led the labor arm of the United Nations to tag the pandemic disease as the worst global crisis since World War II in terms of employment losses. In its second monitoring report on the impact of Covid-19 on the world of work, ILO issued a bleaker forecast for workers this year, saying the pandemic could cause “catastrophic” displacement of 195 million full-time employees, mostly in the accommodation and food services, manufacturing, retail, and business and administrative activities.The Asia and the Pacific region is expected to suffer the biggest job losses at 125 million full-time workers. It was followed by Europe with 12 million and the Arab states with 5 million. In its initial report last month, ILO estimated the business effects of Covid-19 to spell the retrenchment of only around 25 million workers.

Energy

DOE seeks stakeholders’ comments on proposed green energy pricing rules BusinessMirror 1st Apr 2020
The Department of Energy (DOE) is soliciting comments from industry stakeholders on the proposed rules governing the Green Energy Pricing Program (GEPP), which seeks to promote the utilization of renewable energy (RE) in the country. In a notice posted on its web site, “the DOE, through the Renewable Energy Management Bureau, solicits comments and inputs on the draft Department Circular entitled, “Promulgating the Rules and Guidelines Governing the Green Energy Auction Program [GEAP] in the Philippines.”

Triconti gets DOE approval for PH’s first offshore wind projects Malaya 30th Mar 2020
THE Triconti Windkraft Group of Companies has secured the very first service contracts for offshore wind energy projects in the Philippines from the Department of Energy (DOE).The company which is a partnership of Filipino-Swiss-German companies got the rights for wind power projects in Aparri Bay and in Guimaras Strait with a combined potential output of over 1.2 gigawatts. Under the contracts awarded by the DOE, the Triconti Windkraft Group now holds exclusive rights to studying and developing the very first offshore wind projects in the Philippines.

Philippines takes first offshore wind steps with new project Energy Live News 30th Mar 2020
The Philippines’ Department of Energy has sealed a deal with the Triconti Windkraft Group to build the first offshore wind project in the country. It says Triconti Windcraft Group, which is a partnership between Filipino-Swiss-German companies now has exclusive rights to study and develop two offshore wind energy projects with a combined potential output of more than 1.2GW. The first plant, named “Aparri Bay” and located in Northern Philippines will have 500-600MW capacity and the second, which is in the central part of the country, will have a capacity of 600MW.

Power producers urged to lower electricity rates | Business World 29th Mar 2020
A CONSUMER GROUP on Saturday urged power producers to reduce the cost of electricity as power demand and prices continue to drop during the Luzon-wide lockdown. In a letter sent to the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association, Inc. (PIPPA), Laban Konsyumer, Inc. (LKI) noted that the power demand and supply gap dropped 50% during the enhanced community quarantine, which can be treated as a “force majeure” event.

AC Energy completes purchase of Negros solar farms The Manila Times 25th Mar 2020
AC Energy Philippines Inc. announced on Tuesday the completion of its acquisition of a controlling stake in solar farms in Negros Occidental province as part of efforts to ramp up its renewable energy (RE) portfolio. In a disclosure, the Ayala-led company said it had closed the transaction to buy the ownership interest of Philippine Investment Alliance for Infrastructure (Pinai) in Negros Island Solar Power Inc. (Islasol) and San Carlos Solar Energy Inc. (Sacasol). AC Energy acquired the controlling interest in Islasol for P1.629 billion and the stake in Sacasol for P2.981 billion. Islasol owns and operates an 80-megawatt (MW) solar farm and Sacasol runs a 45-MW solar farm, which are under the government’s feed-in-tariff (FiT) scheme. The acquisition comes after AC Energy signed in November a share purchase agreement with Pinai investors Macquarie Infrastructure Holdings (Philippines) Pte. Ltd., Langoer Investments Holding B.V. and the Government Service Insurance System for the controlling shares in Islasol and Sacasol.

AboitizPower terminates wind farm purchase deal in Vietnam Vietnam Investment Review - VIR 3rd Apr 2020
Aboitiz Power Corporation from the Philippines has announced a decision to terminate its planned acquisition of Vietnam’s Mekong Wind due to a condition precedent being unmet by the agreed longstop date. The power firm said that it decided to exercise its right to terminate the transaction that involves a 100 per cent acquisition by subsidiary Aboitiz Power International Pte., Ltd. of Mekong Wind Pte., Ltd. from Armstrong Southeast Asia Clean Energy Fund Pte., Ltd. (AAM), according to newswire Businessmirror. According to AboitizPower president Emmanuel Rubio, the corporation cannot disclose details as the parties are still bound by the confidentiality agreement. The corporation is still in discussions with AAM to revisit the acquisition at a future date.

Financial Services
BSP eyes ‘deeper’ policy rate cuts Business World 13th Apr 2020
The central bank is looking at a “deeper cut” in interest rates to help cushion the economy from the impact of the coronavirus, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said ahead of a policy meeting next month. “While BSP has cut the policy rate by 150 bps (basis points) since I assumed office last year, the Philippines is now faced with a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. It is now clear that reverting to where we were in 2018 — policy rate at 3.0% — is no longer an appropriate policy goal,” Mr. Diokno said in a text message to reporters on Sunday. The policy-setting Monetary Board (MB) has cut rates by a total of 150 bps since 2019, almost completely unwinding the 175 bps in hikes it implemented in 2018 amid multi-year high inflation.
 

WB approves $500-M loan for PHL disaster, COVID-19 response Business World 12th Apr 2020
The World Bank Group has approved a $500 million (around P25 billion) loan for the Philippine government to strengthen its national disaster response capacity, including its battle against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The Washington-based multilateral lender said its board of executive directors approved on Thursday the third risk management development policy loan, which is part of “long-standing support to the Philippines’ broader policy efforts to boost its resilience and capability to prepare for and recover from disasters.” “The World Bank is committed to supporting efforts to strengthen the Philippines’ capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters as well as health and economic shocks like COVID-19,” World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand Achim Fock was quoted as saying in the statement.

Economy may shrink by as much as 1.9% — Nomura Business World 31st Mar 2020
THE Philippine economy may contract by as much as 1.9% this year if the Luzon-wide lockdown is expanded nationwide and lasts until May, according to a report by Nomura Global Research.In a note sent to reporters on Monday, Nomura said it has downgraded its 2020 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the Philippines to 1.6% from the initial 5.6%, amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. This was its lowest forecast for the Philippines since the 2009 global financial crisis. It also expects a 3% growth for the Philippines in a “good” case scenario, and a contraction of 1.9% in a “bad” case scenario.

COVID-19 drives the demand for online financial services Vietnam Insider 26th Mar 2020
As the findings of Robocash Group have shown, the pandemic has made 41% of its customers in the region use remote financial services more often. Among the latter, online financing solutions were mentioned most often, with 23% of all responses in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and India. E-commerce took second place with 16%. Meantime, tools allowing digital payments of utility bills and other services, as well as online banking apps, got similar results – 13%. Digital and mobile wallets to make received 10% of responses. Remarkably, both open data sources and in-house records of the company have confirmed these findings.

BSP trims smaller lenders’ liquidity ratio requirement Business World 8th Apr 2020
The Central Bank has trimmed the minimum liquidity ratio (MLR) requirement of smaller lenders until the year’s end in a move to boost their stash of money amid the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on the industry. The MLR requirement of standalone thrift, rural and cooperative banks now stands at 16% from the 20% prescribed by the Manual of Regulations for Banks effective until the end of the year, unless revoked by the BSP.

BSP should still shore up banks’ liquidity after lockdown–UPSE BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
ECONOMISTS from the University of the Philippines said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) should “do whatever it takes” to shore up liquidity for banks after the lifting of the lockdown. In a paper, eight UP School of Economics (UPSE) experts led by Toby Melissa C. Monsod said consumption will likely remain weak even months after the lifting of the lockdown, and the BSP should be ready to pump liquidity into banks to prevent the country from becoming financially unstable.

Food & Agriculture

Rice imports hit 6-month high at 229,416.65 MT in March–data BusinessMirror 15th Apr 2020
Over 130 rice traders and importers used 853 sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-IC) to import nearly 600,000 metric tons (MT) of rice from January to April 3, Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) data showed. Latest BPI data showed that 134 eligible rice importers, comprised of private firms, traders, farmers groups and cooperatives, imported 594,688.517 MT during the reference period. BPI data showed that bulk of the rice imports during the reference period, or about 504,625.3 MT came from Vietnam. Nearly 1.5 million MT (MMT) of rice are still expected to enter the country due to some 1,772 unused and valid SPS-ICs. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar earlier announced that about 400,000 MT of rice from Vietnam will arrive in the country this month, following Hanoi’s assurance that it will honor existing supply contracts with Philippine importers.

‘PHL must hike investments in improving food quality, safety’ BusinessMirror 6th Apr 2020
The Philippines must ramp up investments in initiatives that will improve food quality to help Filipinos avoid health problems, according to the latest Global Food Security Index (GFSI), which indicated that the country was able to boost its food security last year. The Philippines improved its overall food security score to 61 in 2019, from 51 in 2018, making it the 64th most food secure country out of 113 countries, according to the GFSI. The GFSI indicated that the Philippines improved in all three categories that were assessed by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU): affordability, availability and quality and safety.

DA regional offices ordered to assist with farm logistics Business World 5th Apr 2020
THE Department of Agriculture (DA) ordered its regional offices to facilitate the transport of agricultural products to markets during the Luzon-wide lockdown to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said regional offices need to address the logistics of bringing produce to market and ensure unhampered delivery of basic commodities. He cited a regional field offices (RFO) in the Cordillera region which organized transport for vegetables to Quezon City.

Palay output estimate for first quarter slashed by 6.7% Business World 5th Apr 2020
Production of palay, or unmilled rice, in the first quarter of 2020 is now estimated at 4 million metric tons (MT), 6.7% lower than the previous projection, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said. In its updated Palay and Corn Estimates, PSA said that the new projection for palay in the just-concluded quarter compares with the initial estimate of 4.28 million MT issued on Jan. 1. The new projection, if realized, would represent a 9.5% year-on-year decline from the actual output of 4.42 million MT in the first quarter of 2019.

Solon to LGUs: Help farmers find market for their harvest Business Mirror 31st Mar 2020
The chairman of the House Committee on Economic Affairs on Monday urged local government units (LGUs) to establish partnerships with small-scale farmers to help prevent food waste amid the ongoing enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.AAMBIS-OWA Party-list Rep. Sharon Garin noted that the adverse agricultural impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to plague farmers with tons of spoiled food surplus. To prevent these from happening again, Garin vowed to push for a measure that can combat the increasing amount of food waste in the country when session resumes in May.Garin said she already filed House Bill 3370, otherwise known as Food Waste Reduction Act. The bill highlighted the need for a system that will promote, facilitate and ensure the reduction of food waste through redistribution and recycling.

Broiler farm-gate price dips 30% as Covid-19 dampens demand BusinessMirror 25th Mar 2020
THE average farm-gate price of live broiler plunged nearly 30 percent to P46 per kilogram as the industry endures another glut worsened by dampened demand due to Covid-19, the United Broiler Raisers Association (Ubra) said. The latest weekly price monitoring survey by Ubra showed that the average price of regular-sized broiler as of March 20 declined by P18.75 per kilogram from the P64.75-per-kilogram quotation on March 13. “It is because of the low demand since a lot of establishments and restaurants close and there are no gatherings. Demand is soft,” Ubra President Elias Jose Inciong told the BusinessMirror.

Manila gets Vietnam’s commitment to continuous rice supply Business Recorder 5th Apr 2020
The Philippines, the world's top rice buyer, said on Thursday it has secured Vietnam's commitment for continuous supply of the staple food, which may include a 300,000-tonne importation, under an existing bilateral trade agreement. The announcement comes after Vietnam, the world's third-largest rice exporter, stopped signing new deals as it checks whether it has sufficient domestic supplies to cope during the coronavirus outbreak. Agriculture Secretary William Dar said he had received a letter from Deputy Minister Le Quoc Doanh of Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Development expressing Hanoi's commitment to honour its existing supply contracts with Philippine importers.

PHL to be among ‘first to know’ of new Vietnam rice policy Business World 2nd Apr 2020
Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said Vietnam has issued assurances on its intent to supply rice to the Philippines, its biggest foreign market, after Hanoi suspended export clearances in late March pending a review of its own domestic requirements during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In a letter to Mr. Dar, Vietnam’s Agriculture and Development Deputy Minister Le Quoc Doanh said Hanoi values its relations with the Philippines within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and particularly the two countries’ bilateral cooperation on rice. Mr. Le said that the Philippines will be one of the first to be notified of Vietnam’s revised rice export policy.

Vietnamese vessel unloads rice in Iligan; city gov’t to buy 20,000 sacks for food packs MindaNews 29th Mar 2020
A Vietnamese vessel loaded with rice docked at the Philippine Ports Authority in Iligan City at 6:55 a.m. Sunday carrying 4,722.63 metric tons of rice, but it may be the last while the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing as the Vietnamese government last Tuesday announced it wsa temporarily stopping issuing clearance for rice shipments to ensure food security for its own people.

PHL pursuing P8-billion G2G rice imports for stable supply BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
THE Philippines will push through with its P8-billion 300,000-metric ton rice importation via government-to-government (G2G) transaction to ensure the country has sufficient stockpile amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said the budget for the importation has been approved and will be handled by the Department of Trade and Industry’s Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC). According to Dar, there are various available rice suppliers in the world market today despite the reported export suspension by certain exporters like Vietnam.

Senator, Mindanao officials unveil strategies to fight virus, ensure steady food supply BusinessMirror 30th Mar 2020
Senator Imee Marcos gave full credit Sunday to “Diskarteng Pinoy” innovation that quickly solved the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for medical personnel tasked to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). “The Filipino ability to adapt and survive amid adversity, colloquially known as diskarte, is solving the lack of PPE for medical frontliners fighting to stop the spread of Covid-19,” Marcos said over the weekend.

ICT

Virus hastens bid to bridge digital divide BusinessMirror 15th Apr 2020
Despite the Internet’s power of inclusion, there exists a so-called digital divide that has become more pronounced than ever, as the world turns to the Internet to find solace, social interaction and productivity amid the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak. Undersecretary Eliseo M. Rio Jr. of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said his group is deploying various technologies to unserved areas. The DICT rolled out 6,000 very small aperture terminals or VSATs in underserved and unserved areas. Likewise, the government has made it easier for investors to come into the market, thereby allowing more players to compete. The DICT is also leading other initiatives such as the construction Luzon Bypass Infrastructure; the use of the dark fiber backbone from National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) and National Transmission Corp. (Transco); the implementation of the National Broadband Network; and the Third Telco Initiative.

Smart, Globe 4G availability scores improve Business World 8th Apr 2020
PLDT wireless subsidiary Smart Communications, Inc. and Globe Telecom, Inc. have further improved their 4G availability scores, according to a recent report by wireless coverage mapping company Opensignal. In its latest Mobile Network Experience Report, the United Kingdom-based Opensignal said Smart’s 4G availability score, or the time users spend being connected to the 4G network, reached 81.8%. This is based on data gathered from Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 29, 2020.

Boom in video chat apps brings out cybercriminals with fake sites, malware Rappler 8th Apr 2020
Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the boom in popularity of video communications apps by making fake copycat pages and malware-laden fake executable files. According to a report made by cybersecurity company Check Point Research, there has been a surge in malicious domain registrations that have "Zoom" in the name, after the popular video conferencing app boomed due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing people to stay at home. Check Point said, "Since the beginning of the year, more than 1700 new domains were registered and 25% of them were registered in the past week. Out of these registered domains, 4% have been found to contain suspicious characteristics."

‘Welcome back, Diwata-1. Thank you’ BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
Diwata-1, the country’s first microsatellite, has come back home after a four-year journey into space. The microsatellite descended and entered the boundary between the outer space and the Earth’s atmosphere, that gave it “very low chances of establishing contacts” because it is “extremely low.” Diwata-1 has  traveled over 938 million kilometers around the Earth and has captured more than 17,000 images of the Earth, majority over the Philippine. Its high-precision telescope was able to collect data on damage extent during disasters and calamities, imaging of natural and cultural heritage sites, determine the health and composition of the ocean, identify distribution and magnitude of harmful algal blooms, and monitor coastal ecosystems, can complement current weather forcasting capabilities.

Google offers free access to paid G Suite for Education features in the Philippines Rappler 29th Mar 2020
Google is making some paid features of the enterprise version of G Suite for Education free in the Philippines. The app suite is a set of productivity tools for teaching and learning, including Hangouts (video and voice conferencing), Gmail, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Google Classroom. The company says that with these tools, schools will be able conduct distance learning and remain productive despite not being in one classroom together.

DICT warns vs security risks of using video, teleconferencing applications Business World 16th Apr 2020
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) reminded the public to take measures to be safe in using video and teleconferencing applications amid security issues that have emerged recently. “A number of security issues have recently surfaced for certain Video and Teleconferencing Applications, including allegations regarding the activation of the device’s video camera without the user knowing,” the DICT said in an advisory on Tuesday. The department’s cybersecurity bureau, for its part, urged users to “take appropriate steps to be more cybersafe and secure” in using such applications.

Telcos told to present business continuity plan BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has required all public telecommunication entities and Internet service providers to submit their business continuity plan that will ensure unhampered delivery of critical services especially since the Philippines is in a tough battle against a pandemic. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said its attached agency issued the order to “boost efforts at maintaining the operation of vital ICT services and supporting infostructure as the administration extends the enhanced community quarantine until the end of April 2020 to manage the Covid-19 threat.” The business continuity plans should detail measures taken to ensure uninterrupted service and to address the increased demand for ICT services. These should be submitted to the NTC on or before April 17. Telco services under Republic Act 11469 are considered critical services for the duration of the enhanced community quarantine.

Fassster than Covid-19: The science  used to forecast pandemic in PHL BusinessMirror 14th Apr 2020
The basis of the government’s announcement to extend the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until April 30 was hinged on evidence-based forecasts of possible cases and scenarios on Covid-19’s spread in the country. The technology used was the Web-based Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (Fassster), a disease surveillance platform that uses deterministic compartmental modeling. The data were culled from “health capacity and economic models” developed by volunteers from Asian Institute of Management and the Philippine Institute of Development Studies. Fassster was developed by Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research of Ateneo de Manila University, in collaboration with the University of the Philippines Manila-National Telehealth Center and the Department of Health-Epidemiology Bureau. It was funded by the DOST-PCHRD.

JLL says lockdown prompting real estate companies to go digital Business World 13th Apr 2020
The current enhanced community quarantine in Luzon and other select areas across the country is pushing the real estate sector to accelerate the digitalization of operations. In a recent report by property services firm JLL Philippines, it said real estate players will have to adapt faster to the market’s changing demand as the quarantine poses new needs from emerging work environments. Since the implementation of an enhanced community quarantine in Luzon mid-March, demand for office space in Metro Manila has slumped. The residential segment likewise saw clients pulling out of their spaces, proven by the reopening of condominium units in different residential projects. JLL said this resulted in an increased use of online platforms to seal new transactions, and in worse cases, developers planning to postpone project launches.

U.P. Resilience Institute sets up coronavirus information chat bot Rappler 8th Apr 2020
The University of the Philippines (UP) Resilience Institute announced it had set up a chat bot to help people seeking support or information on the coronavirus to get the information they need. The chat bot, called Yani – from the word Bayanihan – lets users find information on hospitals, as well as information on the Philippine government's policies regarding the coronavirus. Yani will also offer information on where to find psychosocial support for a user's mental health needs. The bot can be found on Facebook Messenger and is integrated into https://endcov.ph as a support system.

13.4% jump in phone WiFi use in Philippines in first week of lockdown – OpenSignal Rappler 8th Apr 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is prompting more people to go online on their phones and likely from their homes, mobile analytics company OpenSignal said in an analysis released on March 30. According to the report, OpenSignal noticed a "large week-on-week jump in Time on Wifi in the Philippines" on the third week of March, beginning March 16. This was around the time Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine. The figure rose 7.5 percentage points from 55.8% to 63.3% during the period, which represents a week-over-week increase of 13.4%. OpenSignal reported this was the largest week-on-week increase observed across all the Asian countries it was tracking. Comparatively, the only observed higher increases were in Peru and Spain, at 20.4% and 16.8%, respectively.

Gov't to roll out RapidPass for Covid-19 front-liners Philippine News Agency 3rd Apr 2020
Front-liners in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) will have a faster and more efficient way of passing the checkpoints via RapidPass, which the government would start rolling out in the National Capital Region (NCR) on April 9. RapidPass is a system that would enable front-liners or those who are allowed to be outside their residences during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), as well as priority vehicles like cargo vehicles, to pass the checkpoints by simply allowing checkpoint personnel to scan their QR codes.

Infrastructure
DPWH, EEI and Villar Group complete construction in 7 days By DPWH Phl Information Agency 8th Apr 2020
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with the support of private firms EEI Corporation and the Villar-led Vista Land Group have completed the construction works of the health facility at Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Forum Halls in just 7 days. Secretary Mark A. Villar announced that civil works for the makeshift hospital at PICC Forum Tent are already completed with 294 patient cubicles, 6 nurse stations, and 6 smart houses outside the Forum building for the health workers. The fully airconditioned health facility at PICC complex will soon cater to patients with mild to moderate cases of corona virus disease (COVID-19) once medical equipment, such as hospital beds are installed and disinfection activities are completed. “The Philippine National Police (PNP) Medical Corps will manage the health service operation of PICC Forum Tent quarantine facility”, added Secretary Villar.

Palace freezes P30.824-billion infra projects, realigns fund to LGUs BusinessMirror 7th Apr 2020
President Duterte has approved the discontinuation of P30.824 billion worth of infrastructure projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to fund the grant of financial assistance to local government units (LGUs). The government said the fund will be sourced from the infrastructure projects of DPWH classified as “For Later Release” under the FY 2020 General Appropriations Act, or Republic Act 11465. The President also authorized the realignment of generated savings for the said grant equivalent to one-month Internal Revenue Allotment of the city/municipality, subject to the availability of funds, and pertinent budgetary, accounting and auditing laws rules and regulations.

Gov’t to revamp ‘Build, Build, Build’ Inquirer 13th Apr 2020
In light of the socioeconomic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duterte administration’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program may be reconfigured to prioritize health infrastructure and address potential funding issues. Presidential adviser for flagship programs and projects Vivencio Dizon told the Inquirer last week that he agreed with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III’s earlier pronouncement that the administration would sustain massive infrastructure buildup to facilitate immediate recovery of the domestic economy once COVID-19 has been contained.

Insurance

IC relaxes identification requirements for insurers’ clients Business World 13th Apr 2020
The Insurance Commission (IC) has relaxed the requirements for customer identification documents until June 30 amid the lockdown in various places due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The IC issued Circular Letter (CL) 2020-37 stating that “the requirements on valid identification documents under Section 24 D of CL 2018-48 as amended shall be relaxed and subject to conditions.” Among the conditions are that the annual premium price payable on the policy should not exceed P50,000 and that the client should be a permanent resident of areas placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or community quarantine (CQ).

Manufacturing

Factory output rebounds in February Business World 7th Apr 2020
Factory production rebounded in February, rising at its fastest pace in 18 months, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Tuesday. Preliminary results of the PSA’s Monthly Integrated Survey of Selected Industries (MISSI) showed that in February, factory output — as measured by the Volume of Production Index — grew by three percent year on year. This was higher than the revised 0.1% growth logged in January but was a turnaround from the 9.3% contraction that was recorded in February 2019. The February result was the fastest growth recorded in 18 months, or since the 3.1% expansion in August 2018.

Factory activity plunges to record low Business World 1st Apr 2020
FACTORY ACTIVITY slumped to a record low in March, snapping a 43-month growth streak, as the Luzon-wide lockdown due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic brought factories to a halt. In a statement on Wednesday, IHS Markit reported that the Philippines Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) decelerated to 39.7 last month from the 13-month high of 52.3 in February, signaling a “marked deterioration in operating conditions.” March was the first time the Philippines’ manufacturing PMI slumped below the 50 neutral mark, breaking its streak of steady growth since August 2016 when the survey for the Philippine leg started.

Market Regulation

Government authorizes negotiated procurement under state of calamity Business World 26th Mar 2020
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the government procurement policy board (GPPB) has authorized a simplified procurement process to expedite transactions during the state of calamity declared in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Budget department said GPPB Resolution No. 03-2020 allows procurement projects to apply the rules of Negotiated Procurement (Emergency Case) during the state of calamity, which will have a duration of six months.

Travel & Tourism

Airlines in Philippines Seek Credit Aid as They Fight to Survive Bloomberg.com 31st Mar 2020
Airlines in the Philippines are asking for credit relief and a longer reprieve from fees, saying government intervention is needed as the industry faces an “existential threat.” Philippine Airlines Inc., Cebu Air Inc., the local unit of AirAsia Group Bhd and other members of the nation’s Air Carriers Association or ACAP halted all passenger operations for a month until April 14 on the government’s lockdown order. This translates to 30,000 canceled flights affecting 5 million passengers. Airlines are seeking a credit guarantee from the government to back their loans to remove banks’ aversion to the risks of the industry, an emergency credit line for 6 months and a longer-term facility to ensure recovery.

Travel agencies seek tax relief, stimulus package Malaya 13th Apr 2020
TRAVEL agencies and tour operators are seeking for a two-year assistance ranging from tax relief to stimulus package as they reel from the effects of the new coronavirus disease 2019. The Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) said in a statement it has written Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat seeking endorsement of their two requests: “survival recommendations” which will cover the remainder of the year and “recovery recommendations” which will run until December 2022. “The PTAA wants the government to defer corporate income tax payments for their members this year to April 2021. They are also seeking corporate income tax and value added tax holiday this year for their members along with the withholding of taxes on salaries and professional fees; a 50 to 75 percent subsidies on the salaries of their members’ employees until the end of the year citing the model being used in Singapore; a waiver on both employees and employer’s contribution to the Social Security System, Home development Mutual Fund, and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. without prejudice to the benefits of their employees; a waiver or significant discounting on office rentals of their members until the end of the year, up to 30 percent discount on utilities payments, the granting of soft loans at low interest payable over two years, and moratorium on outstanding bank loans until end of the year, among others.

Rent relief for airport tenants extended to April 30\ Business World 16th Apr 2020
Secretary Arthur P. Tugade has instructed airport authorities to extend the rental holiday for airport concessionaires until April 30. Mr. Tugade’s order covers all airports managed by the government. President Rodrigo R. Duterte extended the Luzon-wide lockdown to the end of the month, pending containment of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In March, Mr. Tugade ordered the Manila International Airport Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) to suspend rental payments at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for that month and defer collection of such charges for the following month.