* My column in BusinessWorld, October 11, 2021.
The Philippines’ lockdown is turning 19 months long this week. The “two weeks only” lockdown imposed on March 16, 2020 became two months, and is now approaching two years. One more proof that once government restrictions are created, they will hardly go away.
RISING DEATHS, DECLINING BIRTHS
The mandatory social distancing, restriction on mobility, and prohibition of big parties have greatly affected the people’s health and social events like weddings. I checked the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) deaths and births data and the numbers are somewhat surprising.
One, there was no excess mortality in 2020 over 2019. There were, in fact, 6,314 less deaths in 2020 compared to 2019.
Two, excess mortality showed big time in the first half of 2021. There were more deaths in January to June 2021 than the same months in 2020 and 2019 — 72,218 more than 2020 and 52,489 more than 2019. March to May 2021 saw 61,000 to 69,000 deaths per month.
Three, there was a big drop in the number of births in 2020. The average number of births from 2017 to 2019 was 1.68 million per year. In 2020 this declined to only 1.52 million, a decrease of nearly 165,000 births.
Four, there was an even bigger decline in births in January-March 2021 over same months in 2020 and 2019. From 4,300+ births per day in 2019 to less than 4,000 per day in 2020 and less than 3,000 per day in 2021 (see Table 1).
This is not yet a “depopulation” situation but it can lead there over the long term if the trend continues.
Reviewing again the economic destruction caused by the strict indefinite lockdown in the Philippines, here are some numbers:
One, the GDP (gross domestic product) contraction in 2020 of -9.6% led to a GDP level of only P17.53 trillion (at constant 2018 prices). This is lower than 2019’s P19.38 trillion and 2018’s P18.26 trillion, and nearly touched 2017’s P17.18 trillion. Nearly three years of economic achievements and output were erased.
Two, the prevailing GDP growth projections for 2021 is 4.3% to 4.5%. At 4.4%, the country’s GDP level in 2021 would then be P18.30 trillion, equivalent to the level in 2018, again three years of economic achievements have evaporated.
Three, rising outstanding public debt. From P8.22 trillion in 2019 to P10.25 trillion in 2020 and P11.64 trillion as of August 2021. It is projected to reach P12.3 trillion by end-2021. Government debt has been rising by P2 trillion per year since last year and will be a heavy burden for taxpayers in the coming years.
More government spending does not lead to more growth.
Until now there are still many economists and observers who argue that the solution to growth contraction is more government spending and borrowing. Far out. The cases of Italy, Spain, France, and the UK show that as they expanded borrowings in 2020, their GDP contraction worsened. Same trend follows for the Philippines and Thailand.
In contrast, some countries that limited their borrowings had either lower contractions or experienced growth in 2020. Examples are the US, China, Vietnam, and Indonesia (see Table 2).
The government-imposed strict lockdown is the culprit, opening the economy with a minimum of health protocols is the solution.
Implicit mandatory vaccination via discrimination against those who do not have a vax card is now happening in some malls, enclosed restaurants and shops in Metro Manila and other big cities. This is a slippery slope, from an implicit vax mandate working slowly towards an explicit vax mandate via legislation someday.
There are two reasons why this move is wrong, anti-democratic, and anti-freedom.
One, this quote from a retired nurse in the US:
“Why do the ‘Protected’ need to be protected from the ‘Unprotected’ by forcing the Unprotected to use the protection that didn’t protect the Protected in the first place?”
Or this can be restated as: If the Protected really believe in their protection, they should not be scared and insecure of the Unprotected and coerce the Unprotected to take their protection that didn’t give them confidence and security in the first place.
Two, a government that imposes the discrimination by penalizing restaurants and shops that do not follow orders, does not discriminate in collecting taxes from the people. There is double talk by government, national or local, in this case. Similar to arguing that healthcare is a basic human right then saying that the unvaccinated should be denied healthcare.
FAREWELL, CHITO GASCON
About three months ago, I and some members of the Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC PH) met face to face with then Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chito Gascon, and other Commissioners and officials of the CHR. While he supported mass vaccination, he recognized that it is a human right, an individual right, to choose not to be vaccinated for health, philosophical, and other reasons.
Chito was a friend since the 1980s in UP Diliman. He led a virtuous political life, from being a Chairman of the UP Student Council, to becoming a member of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, until his appointment as CHR Chairman in 2015.
Peaceful journey, Chito. You lived a good, productive life.
BWorld 506, Vaccination plateau and rising cases, September 23, 2021
BWorld 507, Energy prices, GDP projections, the ERC, and hydro development, October 10, 2021
BWorld 508, Tobacco taxes and smuggling in the Philippines, October 12, 2021.