CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Pampanga – The year 2021 saw Region 3 (Central Luzon) on the recovery path amid the continuing threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
Despite the continuous challenges brought by the health crisis, the regional economy is starting to bounce back following the easing of movement of people, goods, and services.
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) noted the gradual improvement in Central Luzon’s labor market situation since the middle of this year due to the effect of the easing of community quarantine restrictions.
Divina Hope Vallejo, chief economic development specialist of the NEDA-Region 3, cited the increase in the region’s employment rate due to the reopening of some businesses as a result of the decline in the number of Covid-19 cases.
As of Dec. 21, the total number of active Covid-19 cases in the region was 1,146. The total number of recoveries was 274,516, which is 97.4 percent of the 281,774 total infections while the number of deaths was pegged at 6,109.
"Our labor market situation is improving. Noon nagbaba na nang quarantine status, nag-improve na ang business operations and nakita po natin na talagang nakaka-recover yung ating labor market (When the quarantine status was lowered, the business operations improve and we saw that our labor market is indeed recovering),” Vallejo said.
Based on the report of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the employment rate in Central Luzon was recorded at 93.8 percent in July this year, the highest rate since the pandemic began in April 2020.
In terms of magnitude, the PSA reported that employed persons in the region were estimated at 4.8 million or 211,100 higher than the estimate in April 2021, and 249,500 more than that in July 2020.
Among the factors that pushed the resurgence of the regional economy is the continuous implementation of various infrastructure projects in the region under the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
“We firmly believe that ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects could create jobs, increase income and strengthen the investment climate,” Vallejo said.
The ongoing projects include the New Clark City National Government Administrative Center; the mixed-use industrial real estate development, also in New Clark City; the Philippine National Railway North 1 and 2 projects; the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 7; the Central Luzon Link Expressway (CLLEX) Phase 1 and 2.
Freeports’ good performance
Aside from infrastructure projects, the regional economy was also boosted by the good performance of the three freeports in the region -- Subic, Clark, and the Freeport Area of Bataan.
The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) has approved new investment proposals worth some PHP16.2 billion this year that is expected to create a total of 72,722 new jobs in the freeport zone.
SBMA chair and administrator Wilma Eisma said the continuing health crisis may have initially caused the closure of some companies in Subic, “but we’re making a comeback as a preferred investment destination.”
Despite the prevailing pandemic, Clark Freeport is slowly regaining headway in becoming a Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibits (MICE) destination with the opening of world-class hotels such as the Hilton Clark, and Hann Casino Resort.
The Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB), on the other, has remained strong and continues to thread toward further development despite experiencing downturns because of the health crisis.
“Despite the economic downturn, the FAB continues to be financially viable and has managed to continue to contribute to the government. From January to August 2021, the Authority of Freeport Area of Bataan (AFAB) remitted a total of PHP164 million to the national coffers,” AFAB administrator Emmanuel Pineda said.
Central Luzon experienced a slowdown in the agricultural sector due to weather disturbance in the first quarter of 2021 as well as the high cost of farm inputs and travel restrictions.
Palay production in the region in the first semester of this year was 1.74 million metric tons -- a 1.44 percent decline compared to the 1.76 million metric tons during the same period in 2020.
In the livestock sector, hog production likewise decreased by 76.47 percent in the first semester of the year with 51,146 metric tons as against 217,006 metric tons in the same period last year mainly due to African swine fever (ASF).
On a positive note, concerned government agencies led by the Department of Agriculture (DA), as well as local government units (LGUs), have put up various measures to mitigate the impacts of the downturn in the agriculture sector.
This year, a total of 177,309 rice farmers in Central Luzon received total cash assistance amounting to PHP886.5 million under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund-Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RCEF-RFFA) program.
Qualified program beneficiaries are rice farmers tilling two hectares and below of land and are enrolled in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA).
To address the ASF concerns, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the country under a state of calamity for one year that took effect on May 10, 2021.
The DA likewise conducted an intensified implementation of programs, such as the “Bantay ASF sa Barangay” as well as surveillance and monitoring systems.
The DA Regional Field Office 3 also distributed indemnity payments to the ASF-hit hog raisers in the region.
The increasing number of operational flights at the Clark International Airport was noted with 638 flights reported in the third quarter of the year, which is some 43 percent higher than the same period in 2020.
The modernization of the Clark International Airport is seen to pave the way for improved and easier travel to and from the Central Luzon provinces, which is a come-on for businessmen and tourists.
With the full operation of the new terminal, some 12 million passengers per year are expected to arrive via Clark airport.
Following the reopening of some tourist destinations in the region, the Department of Tourism (DOT) in Region 3 has conducted various training and seminars for local guides to equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills for their safety and the tourists.
“As more destinations reopen, we recognize the importance of cultivating the knowledge and skills of our tour guides. Thus, we are preparing them for the new normal to maintain high quality and safe services for our tourists,” DOT Regional Director Carolina Uy said.
Economic outlook for 2022
The NEDA says prospects for the future appear relatively good.
Vallejo said the continuous implementation of massive infrastructure projects in Central Luzon is expected to stimulate business activities in the region.
“The infrastructure projects will give multiplier effect that could help stimulate the economy of Central Luzon,” she added.
Regional Development Council (RDC) chairperson and Bataan Governor Albert Garcia cited the need to continue building the region’s infrastructure base to improve resiliency and accelerate connectivity and linkages, food security, industrial growth, and urban development.
Garcia said the implementation, completion, and commencement of the “Build, Build, Build” projects need to be fast-tracked for the improvement of the economic and social landscapes of Central Luzon. (PNA)