A CATHOLIC church official this week called on the government to address the growing number of unemployment in the country.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action arm of the Catholic bishops’ conference, said the government should not treat jobless people as “mere numbers.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority announced on Friday, June 5, that unemployment soared to 17.7 percent in April this year, equivalent to around 7.3 million jobless Filipinos.
It is the highest unemployment rate on record in the country.
Unemployment was only at 5.3 percent in January this year, or 2.4 million people, and 5.1 percent in April 2019, or 2.3 million people.
After January 2020, an additional 4.9 million people became jobless.
The Department of Labor and Employment earlier estimated five million jobs would be lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government should prioritize this problem over the anti terrorism bill,” said Father Gariguez, referring to the passage in Congress of a controversial anti-terrorism measure.
“The seven million unemployed is not mere figure but represents the misery and hunger being suffered by a great number of families,” said the priest.
Father Gariguez said the government should not use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for the problem.
“The government should have done effective measures to prevent this expected catastrophe and also to ensure the survival of our economy, including that of the labor sector,” said the priest.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said the increase in the unemployment rate was expected because the health crisis crippled most economic activities.
Hundreds of thousands of establishments resorted to temporary closures or flexible work arrangements during the community quarantine.
Bello said the lockdown from March to May, the traditional period for job hunting for new graduates, put the labor force in a standstill.
The presidential palace expressed confidence that the country will hurdle the record-high unemployment rate.
“We are saddened – albeit unsurprised — by the April 2020 unemployment rate … which registered at 17.7 percent,” said presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
He said he is confident that Filipinos will be able to overcome the challenges brought about by the crisis.
“Our nation is composed of resilient and hardworking people and we will stand united to weather this health crisis, and together, we will heal and recover as one,” said Roque.
The government has earlier implemented various forms of subsidies during the quarantine period to assist affected workers.