ECONOMIC MANAGERS said the government should loosen lockdown restrictions and let vaccinated Filipinos move more freely, a day after the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for pandemic response deferred a plan to ease lockdowns and instead tightened quarantines in the capital region.

“Sometimes in the IATF, we are a lonely voice trying to put rationality, trying to convince people that the idea of lockdowns, don’t really work for the entire community,” Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told senators during a budget hearing on Wednesday.

Instead of enforcing stringent lockdowns that limits parts of the economy, he said the government should provide greater mobility to vaccinated people to promote inoculation in the country as well as allow more sectors to function (Related story S1/2: Business group backs mobility ‘bubble’ for vaccinated).

“In fact, I have asked my like-minded colleagues in the IATF in the next meeting to suggest that we open more the economy, but require the businesses, particularly the larger businesses, to provide weekly testing and tracing and move towards a rational approach to managing the containment of the virus. I’ve asked my colleagues to please support that idea,” Mr. Dominguez said.

“Vaccinate, vaccinate, and continue vaccinating because that is the only solution that we can see at the moment.”

About 14% of the country’s population has been vaccinated as of Sept. 6, according to Our World in Data.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the economy could only achieve growth and employment targets for the year if parts of the country no longer revert to an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) — the strictest lockdown level — and the quarantine status is relaxed after Sept. 15.

“[Based on] estimates, so long as we do not revert to the ECQ, I think kaya po ’yung (we can achieve the) estimated growth rate and employment. Under our programming, this MECQ should be finished by next week, and we will gradually move towards the granular lockdown system, so everyone else can work and recover,” he said.

Presidential Spokesperson Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said on Tuesday evening Metro Manila would be placed under an MECQ again until Sept. 15, backtracking on an earlier announcement that the capital would shift to a general community quarantine (GCQ) with granular lockdowns.

The government placed Metro Manila and other high-risk areas under a strict lockdown twice so far this year, one in April and another in August.

Limitations on economic activities prompted the government to slash the growth target to 4-5% for the year from 6-7%.

The economy grew by 3.7% in the first half and would need to expand by at least 4.3% in the second half to meet the low end of the target.

The country is facing its worst coronavirus outbreak yet as the more contagious Delta variant circulates.

The Health department reported 12,751 infections on Wednesday, bringing the active cases to 151,135.

Aside from looser lockdowns, Mr. Dominguez said passing key legislation also plays an important role in the country’s economic recovery, including the proposed amendments to the Foreign Investments Act, the Public Service Act, and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, to ease restrictions on foreign investments.

“To ensure the long-term recovery of our economy and attract more foreign investments, we will work with Congress to pass the [bills],” he said.

In a statement on Wednesday, several business groups urged Congress to approve the three key economic reform bills to support economic recovery, create jobs and boost the country’s competitiveness.

“For decades FDI (foreign direct investment) rules in the Philippines have been more restrictive than neighboring economies which receive more FDI and enjoy higher standards of living and have less poverty and OFWs (overseas Filipino workers),” they said in a statement.

“While FDI rules are not the sole reason the Philippines has fallen behind Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, our economy is less likely to catch up unless we open up,” they added.

Mr. Dominguez also sought the approval of the remaining tax bills under the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program — the proposed Real Property Valuation Reform Act and Passive Income and Financial Intermediary Taxation Act. — Beatrice M. Laforga

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