P6.44-B earmarked to restart Region 12 economy amid COVID-19 pandemic

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 16 July) – A stimulus package of around P6.44 billion has been earmarked in Soccsksargen (Region 12) for short-term response to the economic distress caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the area, regional economists said.

Rommel Tanghal, chief of the planning division of the National Economic and Development Authority-12 (NEDA-12), said the figure reflects the amount realigned or reprioritized by various national government agencies (NGAs) based in the region to fight and cushion the economic impact of COVID-19.

“The amount was intended to restart the regional economy downed by COVID-19 and for the continuous efforts to fight the virus,” he told MindaNews.

He said the fund was intended for disbursement from May to December 2020, subject to the clearance by the head offices of the respective NGAs.

According to him, part of the fund came from allocations to canceled appropriations such as conferences, travels and other activities banned by the government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tanghal said the efforts to restart the regional economy battered by COVID-19 have been contained in Volume 1 of the SOCCSKSARGEN-Regional Recovery Plan (RRP) 2020-2022.

The fund, among others, will be used to provide subsidy to distressed businesses and workers and for the purchase of personal protective equipment for frontliners, he added.

Teresita Socorro Ramos, NEDA-12 director, said the regional office’s online survey and focused group discussions involving the business sector, various economic stimulus packages and the then proposed extension of Republic Act 10469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act” served as inputs to the plan.

“Under Volume 1, it is ensured that government strategies and resources are focused on the urgent recovery interventions for COVID-19, thus priority PPAs (programs, projects and activities) were realigned in order to abide with RA 10469,” she said in a statement.

The RRP’s Volume 2 involves rehabilitation and resiliency measures and is expected to be presented next month to the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Regional Development Council, and the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, among others.

In Region 12, investments generated for the first quarter of this year, when COVID-19 began to rear its ugly head, sharply dropped by 96.42 percent to only P69.13 million, NEDA-12 data showed.

For the same period last year, the region registered investments worth around P1.93 billion, indicating the investments for the first quarter of 2020 was down by P1.86 billion.

The Board of Investments registered only a single investment in the region during the first three months of 2020 — the Treelife Coco Sugar, an exporter of banana chips located in Carmen, North Cotabato, which generated 168 jobs.

Tanghal earlier said that investors adopted a wait-and-see attitude as the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in Wuhan in central China last December, spread to other countries.

He, however, expressed confidence the economic climate in the region “will improve once the measures to defeat COVID-19 are adequately put in place.”

The COVID-19 lockdown from mid-March to May brought economic activities in the region to a standstill with businesses shutting down and sending workers out in the streets jobless, he noted.

Region 12 straddles the provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani and the cities of General Santos, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Koronadal, the regional center and the capital of South Cotabato.

Manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries largely fuel its economy, with canned pineapple and fresh and canned tuna products among the region’s top dollar earners. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)