Finance chief says PH economy to remain strong amid nCoV threat, other challenges

Robie de Guzman   •   February 6, 2020   •   672

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Finance (DOF) has expressed confidence that the challenges posed by the global spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the eruption of Taal Volcano and the cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) are not enough to drag the country’s economic growth below the government’s target.

In a joint hearing conducted by the Senate committees on health and finance on Tuesday, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the administration’s economic teams stands by its target of attaining a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 6.5 % to 7.5% this year even amid the headwinds from 2019-nCoV and other challenges.

“At this moment, it is reasonable to expect that while these developments might slightly restrain our economic expansion, these threats are not enough to force a dramatic reduction in our growth estimates,” Dominguez said.

While the hearing was called to study ways of mitigating the impact of the nCoV outbreak on the economy, Dominguez said this development should be assessed together with the effects of the recent Taal Volcano eruption and the ASF outbreak to determine whether these require revisiting economic growth targets this year.

“While these developments may dampen our growth somewhat, domestic tourism is expected to increase as more people would likely prefer to travel within our borders, thus boosting domestic consumption,” he said.

“With our ‘Build, Build Build’ program firing on all cylinders this year, complemented by a benign inflation rate and a stable monetary policy, we expect the economy at large to sustain its momentum,” he added.

The Finance chief also stated that with the nCoV outbreak still on its early stages, it would be difficult for the economic team to estimate its potential economic costs at this time.

“We are consoled by the observation that the virus has limited local transmissions outside China,” he said.

“A significant impact on the economy will most likely be centered in the tourism sector. The travel and tourism industries around the globe are taking a hit as a result of the various levels of travel bans imposed by national governments and of voluntary decisions of airlines to cut flights to and from China,” he added.

Dominguez also said that the country may also suffer a short-term slight decline in exports, particularly in the sale of electronics and auto parts, due to a possible disruption in the global supply chain as a result of the temporary factory closures in China, which is the country’s top trading partner.

“Incidentally, our top imports from China such as steel, machinery and petroleum are products that do not seem to carry the nCoV virus, though we will continue to take all necessary precautions,” he said.

To address the possible temporary decline in the exports of electronics and auto parts, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has committed to work closely with affected Chinese and China-based companies, which will be looking to strengthen their operations by adding a production site outside of China, Dominguez said.

Dominguez added that what happened during the previous outbreaks of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), H1N1, and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERSCoV) might give authorities a glimpse of how the nCoV could impact the economy.

As for the ASF outbreak, Dominguez noted that the government has been successful in intercepting contaminated pork imported from other countries through the Bureau of Customs’ anti-smuggling campaign and the Bureau of Animal Industry’s meat inspection efforts.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has also been strictly enforcing biosecurity measures and setting up more quarantine checkpoints, as well as providing more disinfection facilities to manage, contain, and control the spread of the ASF, he said.

As for the impact of the latest Taal Volcano eruption, the Finance chief said that an explosive eruption could still happen, and “unless and until this actually happens, we can only speculate on the full impact of this episode on the economy.”

As of January 20, estimates from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) show that the total foregone income in the economic sectors owing to the eruption could reach P6.66 billion pesos or 0.26 percent of the 2018 gross regional domestic product of the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) corridor.

“The bulk of the foregone income comes from agriculture and fisheries sector, services, and industry,” Dominguez said. “Short of a major eruption, the damage to our crops and the challenges of dislocated communities to which the government will continue to respond, will not significantly impact our overall growth projections.”

He said the DA and the concerned local government units are expediting the release of production support, agri-fishery aid and livelihood assistance, and cash or zero-interest loan assistance programs to the affected farmers and fisherfolk, as well as the implementation of the recovery and rehabilitation plans for the affected areas.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro tested again for novel coronavirus

UNTV News   •   July 7, 2020

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday (July 6) he had undergone another test for the novel coronavirus, after local media reported he had symptoms associated with the COVID-19 respiratory disease, including a fever.

Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential palace that he had just visited the hospital and been tested for the virus, adding that an exam had shown his lungs “clean.”

CNN Brasil and newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported that he had symptoms of the disease, such as a fever. The president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the impact of the virus, even as Brazil has suffered one of the world’s worst outbreaks, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and 65,000 related deaths, according to official data on Monday.

The right-wing populist has often defied local guidelines to wear a mask in public, even after a judge ordered him to do so in late June.

Over the weekend, Bolsonaro attended multiple events and was in close contact with the U.S. ambassador to Brazil during July 4 celebrations. The U.S. embassy in Brasilia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bolsonaro previously tested negative for the coronavirus after several aides were diagnosed following a visit to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate in March. (Reuters)

(Production: Leonardo Benassatto, Paul Vieira)

Economic, infra clusters to hold pre-2020 SONA forum this week

Robie de Guzman   •   July 6, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Duterte government’s economic development and infrastructure Cabinet clusters are set to present the administration’s plans for recovery and resilience in the face of the coronavirus-induced headwinds this year at the first pre-State of the Nation Address (SONA) forum to be held this week.

The Department of Finance (DOF) said that the forum titled, “Regaining Momentum, Accelerating Recovery in a Post COVID-19 World,” will be held virtually on July 8.

Hosted by the Presidential Communications Operations Office and Office of the Cabinet Secretary, the forum will be streamed live on the Facebook pages of the Radio Television Malacañang, and other government agencies.

Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Lambino II said this year’s pre-SONA forum will be different as the audience will be “purely virtual,” due to limitations on mass gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do hope that our citizens will be able to tune in as the country’s top decision makers discuss our path to a quick and strong recovery from this crisis,” he said.

In the forum, the DOF said that top economic and infrastructure officials are also expected to report on the state of the Philippine economy, as well as the government’s ongoing efforts to leverage on its strong fundamentals in the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar will present performance updates and priority plans, respectively, on the economic and infrastructure fronts.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua will speak on the Philippine Economic Recovery Program.

“The audience can expect Secretary Dominguez to delve deeper into the challenges we’re facing right now, the accomplishments in the previous year that we can build on, and the legislative proposals that the economic team submitted for Congress to consider,” Lambino said.

Meanwhile, updates on the monetary, external, and financial sectors will be discussed by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno.

Pre-SONA forums are held annually to discuss in greater detail the achievements of the government in the previous year and the priorities of the Cabinet cluster heads in the run-up to the President’s SONA on July 27.

DOF: P244-M worth of smuggled PPEs, medical supplies seized by Customs from March to May

Robie de Guzman   •   July 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has confiscated P244-million worth of smuggled, unregistered or counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies from March 25 to May 31, 2020, the Department of Finance (DOF) said on Friday.

In a statement, the DOF said the seizure is part of the BOC’s efforts to stop the illegal importation, storage and hoarding of goods deemed essential to the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a report to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the BOC said that while it has released various regulations to facilitate and speed up the process of importing PPEs and other medical supplies, some unscrupulous traders have taken advantage of the coronavirus-induced crisis to smuggle such items into the country.

In his report, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said he has issued 10 Letters of Authority covering the inspection of persons and premises suspected of selling or storing smuggled and/or unregistered medicines and equipment from March 25 to May 31 this year.

“Moreover, profiling/targeting of imported shipments suspected to contain contraband and other smuggled articles were intensified. As a result a total of P244.4 million-worth of smuggled/counterfeit/unregistered PPE and medicines were seized by the Bureau,” Guerrero added.

Last May 1, various PPEs, and P70-million worth of Chinese medicines that supposedly cure COVID-19 were seized by the BOC in a warehouse in Singalong, Manila.

Guerrero said in his report that the medicines, which were contained in about 360 boxes, were not registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The BOC chief also said that they have seized other medical supplies in various operations including the following:

  • P5 million worth of masks, gloves, goggles, alcohol, thermal scanners, test tubes and syringes under the name of Philmed Dynasty Supplies Corp. based in Binondo, Manila;
  • An estimated P30 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, and googles under the name of ELJ1 Medical Shop based in Sta. Cruz, Manila; and
  • An estimated P9 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, goggles from the Medical Outlet based in Rizal Avenue, Manila.
  • An estimated P80 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, goggles, medicines, and foodstuffs from an establishment located at HK Sun Plaza, Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City.
  • An estimated P400,000-worth of various medical supplies and medicines from Ton Ren Tang Chinese Medication, Binondo, Manila.
  • An estimated P50 million-worth of various medical equipment and supplies from Omnibus Biomedical Systems.

“The cases involving these smuggled or unregistered products are now the subject of forfeiture proceedings by the BOC before the law division of the Manila International Container Port (MICP),” Guerrero said.

Aside from these items, the BOC also reported that it seized 2.2 kilograms of imported Chinese medicines without FDA clearance last April 27, and has initiated the filing of appropriate charges against their importers and consignees.

Another five boxes of Chinese medicines containing 48,000 medicinal tablets and bundled with 238 master cases of assorted imported cigarettes; 4 drums of toluene-2.4 diisocyanate; 2 drums of propylene glycol; 2 drums of glycerol-propoxylate-block-ethoxylate; 2 drums of vacuum pump oil; 2 drums of paraffin oil; 2 drums of power steering fluid; 1 drum of sodium hypochlorite; and 2 drums of siloxane were confiscated from a warehouse in Valenzuela City last April 30.

Guerrero said these were seized and taken into custody by the BOC for failure of the owner to present the required import documents for these items.

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