The agriculture, fishery and forestry (AFF) sector of the region accelerated by 4.7 percent from 2019 to 2020 – the fastest growth rate among all regions in the country.  Gainers in the agriculture sector were palay and corn, spiking at 10.8 and 2.04 percent, respectively.  The gross value added (GVA) of the AFF was placed at 163,899,173,000.

This is significant, considering the restrictions brought about by the community quarantine.  During the ECQ months, border controls limited the flow of agricultural inputs like fertilizers and seeds, as well as the movement of farmers and farm workers.  Although fishery showed mixed performance due to the pandemic – with commercial fishery down by 3.96 percent and municipal fishery by 11.36 percent – the overall positive performance of the agriculture sector enabled it to contribute 1.1 percent to the GRDP growth.  This may have been propped up by the 4.22 percent increase in aquaculture.

On the whole, however, the regional economy of Western Visayas, measured by the Gross Regional Domestic Product (GRDP), shrunk by 9.7 percent in 2020.  This was a stark contrast from the 6.3 percent growth in 2019. The main drivers for the decline were the huge contractions in the service and industry sectors.  Transportation and storage suffered from negative (-) 39.1 percent growth rate; other services including tourism, -55.6 percent; accommodation and food service activities, -59.4 percent; construction, -18.0 percent; and real estate and ownership of dwellings, -13.3 percent.

On the bright side, three industries posted positive growth:  public administration and defense with 3.9 percent; information and communication, 3.7 percent; and financial insurance activities, 3.3 percent.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country also dipped.  Western Visayas stood as the fifth negative contributor at 0.5 percentage point, accounting for 4.7 percent share to the GDP.  Despite this, the region remains to be the 5th largest economy outside the National Capital Region.

The 2020 GRDP estimates were announced by Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) VI Regional Director Fred S. Sollesta in a regional news conference held last 29 April.

OIC-Regional Director Meylene C. Rosales of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) delivered a statement based on the PSA report.  She said that the GRDP figures in 2020 proved that the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted the region’s economy, along with the rest of the country.

Director Rosales, however, enthused that despite this, agriculture managed to grow, specifically in terms of palay, corn and aquaculture production.  She said the region should seriously consider agriculture as its main economic driver.  One way is to lure more stakeholders into farming.  Students should be encouraged to study agriculture since many of the farmers are ageing and must soon be replaced by younger ones.

Director Rosales said that for the rest of 2021 and beyond, the region will continue to fight the pandemic. For as long as the virus is not fully contained, and less than 70 percent of the population are vaccinated, the economy will continue to suffer. Unemployment and underemployment will stay.  Revenues will be trifling and local government units will face a tough year ahead.

Speaking as the lead of the Recovery Cluster of the Regional Task Force on COVID-19 in Region VI, she assured that the government is doing its best to cushion the effects of the pandemic via numerous recovery interventions.  She cited the recently enacted Republic Act No. 11534 or the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act; BAYANIHAN Acts 1 and 2; House Bill No. 7749 or the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economy Recovery (GUIDE) Act; Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (FIST) Act; Build, Build, Build Program of the Duterte Administration; and enactment of the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget.

Reiterating the importance of the key messages of Socio-economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, Director Rosales enumerated the prospects for 2021 that could avert another slump in the economy.   These are:  to safely open the economy, while adhering strictly to health standards at the appropriate time; to fully implement the recovery package, especially those whose budgets have already been allocated but not yet fully spent; ensure timely vaccination to cover the entire adult population; and to strictly implement the Prevent, Detect, Isolate, Treat and Recover (PDITR) strategy.  She reminded everyone to continue observing the minimum health protocols – hand washing, wearing of mask and face shields, and physical distancing. She quipped, “Like any other crisis, this too shall pass. Meantime, the best positive thing we can do is to stay ‘negative’.” (YGBatacandolo/NEDA VI)