The Philippines reported its first Covid-19 case on January 30, 2020, and confirmed its first coronavirus-related fatality three days later. The country was officially placed under a state of calamity for a period of six months on March 17, mandating that national and local authorities mobilise the resources needed to respond to the health crisis. The state of calamity was extended for an additional 12 months in September, facilitating one of the world’s longest, most stringent lockdowns. In March and September of that year the government passed two wide-ranging stimulus packages aimed at helping to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis and aid in the health response.
Covid-19-related restrictions varied, with the government designating each region or metropolitan area one of four quarantine phases, based on contagion figures and in consultation with health officials and local authorities. These labels were re-evaluated every two to four weeks, and local officials had the autonomy to tighten restrictions within their area. The entire island of Luzon – home to over half of the population – was placed under the most stringent grade of restrictions, enhanced community quarantine, on March 16. This remained in force until May 12 across some areas – including the National Capital Region, which accounts for more than one-third of GDP.
By early November 2020 total confirmed cases exceeded 380,000, with over 7000 fatalities. Within the ASEAN region, only Indonesia had officially reported higher case and fatality counts. The Philippines had, however, ramped up testing by this time, with the Department of Health reporting that the country had performed the highest number of tests in South-east Asia as of early August. A curfew remained in place in many areas throughout November and all of the country retained some degree of quarantine restrictions.
Two weeks after the World Health Organisation officially declared the pandemic, in late March 2020 President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act – known as Bayanihan 1 – into law. Among the measures included in the stimulus package were economic assistance for disadvantaged families and displaced workers; protocols for coordination between the central government and local government units; a mandate for the public health insurance provider to shoulder the treatment costs for any medical centre employees who contracted the coronavirus; and measures to limit the hoarding and profiteering of essential food, fuel and medical supplies.
Bayanihan 1 was followed by the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, or Bayanihan 2. Signed into law on September 11, 2020 and valid through December 19 of that year, the P165.5bn ($3.3bn) package included almost P39.5bn ($785.6m) for loans targeting small businesses; P24bn ($477.3m) for the agriculture sector; and P13bn ($258.6m) to assist displaced workers. Bayanihan 2 also mandated the extension of grace periods and zero-interest staggered instalments for rental payments and utility bills incurred by residential occupants and micro-, small and medium-sized businesses during the two strictest lockdown phases.
The administration reinforced the importance of its flagship Build, Build, Build infrastructure development programme throughout the pandemic period, both as a strategy to create jobs in the immediate term and as a means to accelerate economic growth into the future (see Transport & Infrastructure chapter). Meanwhile, efforts to strengthen the digital economy gained momentum, providing an opportunity to grow value added in key segments and broaden financial inclusion. Supplemented by ongoing support for vulnerable groups and targeted strategies that aim to enhance food security and health care, these developments are expected to create a more resilient economy. These shifts will not only help to drive the post-pandemic recovery, but also pave the way for ongoing economic expansion in the years to come.