Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has urged the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to harness digital technology in building a database and payout system for the country’s labor force to efficiently and swiftly deliver aid to workers needing assistance in times of crises.
Dominguez said the DOLE can learn from, and build on the success, of the automated Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program, which was jointly implemented by the Department of Finance (DOF), Social Security System (SSS) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) at the height of the pandemic last year, to quickly deliver wage subsidies to more than 3 million employees with zero face-to-face contact with these beneficiaries.
This program,, which combined the digital capacities of the three lead agencies, helped preserve jobs and incomes that would have otherwise been washed away by the global health crisis, and prevented many small business enterprises from laying off their workers, Dominguez noted.
“The program is instructive. It shows the potential of building databases and building payout systems in helping us improve our resiliency in the face of calamities—whether these come in the form of pandemics or severe weather events. With the completion of the National ID system, we should see the digitalization of government services and private sector transactions advance by leaps and bounds,” Dominguez said in his pre-recorded speech during DOLE’s 88th anniversary.
Dominguez thanked the DOLE, led by Secretary Silvestre Bello III, “for being on the frontlines during the most difficult months of the pandemic, conserving jobs and fostering employment growth.’
“As we accelerate our recovery, I urge you to intensify your programs to help our workers cope with the pandemic and prepare them for the new labor demands of the digital economy,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez said the Duterte administration will “work hard until the very last minute of its term to contain the pandemic, fully reopen the economy, and deliver the best possible service for the Filipino people, especially for our workers.”
He said the government will rapidly modernize governance, accelerate the rollout of its infrastructure program, pursue economic liberalization bills in the Congress to bring dynamism to the domestic economy, and invest heavily in the workforce to take advantage of the country’s demographic sweet spot.
“We will ensure to leave behind a legacy of a dynamic and market-driven economy for the Filipino people,” Dominguez said.
He said the reforms instituted by the Duterte administration helped realize better economic and social outcomes for workers before the pandemic struck.
These include the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, which, through reduced personal income tax (PIT) rates, increased the purchasing power of workers and provided them tax savings equivalent to a month’s pay; the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), which ensured a stable supply and lower prices of the Filipinos’ food staple; and the President Duterte’s centerpiece program ‘Build, Build, Build,’ which has provided over 6 million jobs since 2016.
“In the long run, these infrastructure projects will create more employment opportunities as improved logistics system will reduce the cost of doing business and will help us attract more investors,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez also cited the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, which provides free tuition to college students in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) to support the education of the children of workers; the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Law and digitalization measures to democratize bond investing for small investors; and the first-ever digital-only Overseas Filipino Bank (OFBank) to provide convenient and more affordable financial services for Filipinos employed abroad.
The Duterte administration also ensured financial stability by exercising fiscal discipline, which, in turn, led to the highest sovereign credit ratings the country ever achieved and ensured lower interest rates and more accessible financing for enterprises and individuals, he said.
Dominguez said these game-changing reforms helped lower the jobless rate to just 4.5 percent by the end of 2019, from 6.3 percent in 2015 ; and bring down poverty incidence to 16.7 percent in 2018 from 23.5 percent in 2015, which meant that in just four years, 6 million Filipinos were lifted out of poverty.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, overturned this achievement of providing a more comfortable life for Filipinos, but the Duterte administration’s policy of fiscal prudence allowed the government to move quickly to protect lives and extend assistance to affected sectors during this pandemic.
On top of the SBWS program, Dominguez said the government also infused more capital into the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to substantially expand their lending to pandemic-hit sectors and offer this at lower interest rates, while the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) implemented measures to ensure adequate domestic liquidity and sustain the flow of credit.
Other agencies, such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) launched online training programs for displaced workers to upskill them, while the Department of Tourism (DOT) has been implementing Online Learning Series workshops since last year as part of its retooling program for industry stakeholders.
“The government is working hard to provide job opportunities and eventually absorb our laid-off workers into the economy in the shortest possible time,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez also underscored the positive impact of the lower corporate income tax (CIT) rates and rationalized fiscal incentives system under the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Law in sustaining employment, expanding businesses and attracting high-value investments that will create better-paying jobs and provide Filipino workers with additional competence-enhancing skills.
Accelerating the reopening of the economy has been made possible with the swift measures carried out by the DOF in procuring COVID-19 vaccines and securing doses to inoculate 100 percent of the adult population and teenagers, Dominguez said.
“We are taking a proactive stance on the procurement of more vaccines for booster shots next year as well as for inoculating our children. We are determined to roll back this pandemic for good,” he said.
“As our massive vaccination program unfolds, we should be better able to contain outbreaks in infections even as new variants of this virus emerge. As we transform our mindset from fighting a pandemic to managing an endemic virus, we should be able to restore the vigor of our economy in due time,” he added.
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