JAIME ARISTOTLE B. ALIP,
March 21, 2022
Like breathing fresh air
after being cooped up for too long, people rejoiced after Alert
level 1 was declared in NCR and many regions this month. Mobility
has returned to pre-pandemic levels, a clear signal that the country
is recovering from the COVID-19 Omicron surge. Of course, optimism
is offset by concerns about developments in Ukraine and its global
repercussions. Right here and now, we are reeling from the dramatic
increase in fuel prices and bracing ourselves for the expected surge
in the cost of basic commodities.
The news that the
Philippine unemployment rate dropped to 6.4% in January 2022 as
against the 6.6% in December 2021 is, thus, welcome. This is
equivalent to 2.93 million jobless Filipinos, lower than the 3.27
million unemployed in December last year. It is also lower than the
3.96 million jobless Filipinos in January 2021. The employment rate
increased to 93.6%, higher than the 93.4% in December 2021 and the
91.2% in January 2021. In terms of magnitude, the number of employed
persons increased by 1.77 million. This increase in our labor
participation rate is a sign that our economy is beginning to
recover. The declaration of the lowest quarantine restrictions in
Metro Manila and nearby provinces, which account for about
two-thirds of the economy, raises hope for our economic recovery.
Emilia Gabin is one of the
many Filipinos who hope that the reopening of the economy will not
only help recover losses, but also bring back the jobs wiped out by
the pandemic. Emilia is a micro-entrepreneur from Barangay
Alejandrea in Jiabong, Western Samar. Her food processing enterprise
produces adobong tahong, tahong and shrimp crackers, and squid
chips. Emilia started her venture by selling the snacks at P1 per
pack in nearby schools and bus stations. She joined CARD, a
microfinance organization which lent her money to increase
production, and her micro-enterprise grew.
Emilia’s business in 2013, when Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)
devastated Visayas. With perseverance, she and her family were able
to turn things around. The capital infusion and marketing support
from CARD helped them open branches in Tacloban and Catbalogan.
After the products were registered with the DTI in 2015, her
business expanded, and she opened more stores to sell her brand of
JJED Food products. She developed new seafood-based products,
sourced raw materials from the community, and her micro-enterprise
provided jobs and livelihood to many. She even started to market
their products in Metro Manila.
Then the pandemic
happened. At that time, JJED was heavily into production, preparing
for a DTI Trade Fair in Manila. This did not push through due to the
pandemic, and the lockdowns had devastating effects on the
micro-enterprise. Product distribution became difficult, and
eventually, they had to close stores because there were very few
walk-in customers. When their stocks expired in storage, they
decided to just stop production. The business stoppage was
heartbreaking for Emilia, not just because of worries for her
family, but because her workers and their families also lost their
livelihood. Her suppliers also lost their source of income.
aggravated their economic woes, but Emilia did not lose hope. She
reopened her business as soon as the quarantine restrictions were
lifted in 2020. Her employees happily returned to work and resumed
production. But everything has changed due to the pandemic: mobility
remained limited, and safety concerns made everything difficult. So,
Emilia decided to diversify, and thought of products which she can
easily sell to neighbors and nearby communities.
She made lumpia, mixing
JJED’s main ingredient, tahong and other seafoods, with local
vegetables in their area. It was a hit, and soon, Emilia was selling
lumpia even in places as far as Leyte. This product allowed Emilia’s
enterprise to survive and serve many areas which remained on high
community alert levels throughout the pandemic. Eventually, the
economy began to reopen and her clients from NCR and other provinces
returned. With the support of CARD, she re-opened her stores and
actively sold her products online. Soon, she has resellers from as
far as Canada and Dubai.
Emilia and her family
admit that 2020 and 2021 were difficult years for their small
business. But they never thought of giving up it up, thinking of the
workers and suppliers who depend on them for livelihood. And so,
they plod on, participating in DTI Trade Fairs, exploring new
markets opportunities and developing new products. Their food
production enterprise is not big, but the employment and livelihood
opportunities it provides cannot be gainsaid.
Enterprises like those of
Emilia’s, with an asset size of up to P100 million and less than 200
employees are classified as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
The sector is responsible for 40 percent of our Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) and employ more than 5 million workers or
approximately 63 percent of our workforce.
We need to support MSMEs,
as they are the key to economic recovery. They are engines of
growth, helping in poverty reduction by creating jobs for our
growing labor force. How can we help Emilia and entrepreneurs like
her? There are a few things we can do:
1. Provide financial
support – the government can provide loans, grants or subsidies to
provide MSMEs immediate relief. As proposed in the Bayanihan
stimulus package, it should incentivize financial institutions to
provide credit to give the sector much-needed capital infusion. In
the long-term, tax relief and wage subsidy programs for key
industries may even be considered.
2. Ease the regulatory
burden – simplify registration requirements and reduce the cost of
doing business. This is important, especially since majority of
MSMEs are into food production.
3. Business development
support – provide financial literacy and business development
training to help MSMEs access credit, ensure viability and address
liquidity issues. Given the pandemic-shaped landscape, they also
need training on how to operate in a digitalized market environment.
Big things often have
small beginnings. Let us support our MSMEs.