By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
MANILA – Micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) owners are still trying to get back on their feet after enduring the burden of the world’s longest lockdown.
“Up to this day, we are still having a hard time adjusting because we know we cannot be 100 percent safe at work. It scares us because we do not know when will be able to recover,” Kim Gener, a dentist who owns a chain of dental clinics in Metro Manila, told Bulatlat in an interview.
Since the government started implementing lockdowns in March 2020, Gener had to stop their clinics and depend on other sources of income to sustain their family’s needs. They are among the 40 to 50 percent of the country’s 998,342 MSMEs that closed temporarily, per government and multilateral agencies.
The latest survey of the Department of Trade and Industry, meanwhile stated that around 10 percent of MSMEs have closed as of June 2021.
This spelled problems among Filipino workers as MSMEs generated a total of 5.7 million jobs in 2018, which accounted for 63.2 percent of the total employment in the country.
Micro enterprises accounted for the highest share of the total employment by generating 2.6 million jobs. Small enterprises, meanwhile, provided 2.4 million jobs to Filipinos.
Thus, closures affected salary and wage workers alike who were left unemployed in the middle of a health crisis. Millions of Filipinos are increasingly resorting to self-employment and informal jobs to earn a living.
“There was a 711,000 drop in those who worked for private establishments, likely from closures and retrenchments in micro, small, and medium enterprises. (MSMEs),” said research group IBON.
For Gener, she tried to help all eight of her employees by still giving their monthly salary despite not being able to operate all of their dental clinics.
“We could not operate for more than three months because all our branches are inside malls. We were struggling but I felt the need to still provide for our employees,” she said, noting that they continued to pay their rent so they can secure their branch locations.
They also had to acquire and upgrade their equipment, as well as stock up on personal protective equipment (PPE) which are standard for medical workers since the pandemic reached the Philippine shores.
“Even when the local government finally eased on the lockdown and allowed us to operate again, it was difficult for us to adjust. We could not accept walk-in patients, we had to sterilize every hour, and we had to operate only with a skeletal workforce,” Gener said.
Emergency aid for MSMEs
MSME stakeholders have repeatedly appealed to the government to provide wage subsidies and business loans.
According to data from IBON Foundation, dated March 2021, loans under the Bayanihan 1 and 2 were reportedly released to only about 36,091 MSMEs, which only accounts for 3.6 percent of all MSMEs in the country.
As for loans provided by the Department of Trade and Industry’s COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) Program, a total of P4.79 billion (US $954 million) has been approved for 31,409 borrowers.
At least P4.57 billion ($910 million) under the Bayanihan CARES component were approved for MSMEs.
Under this program, micro-enterprises with asset size of not more than P3 million (nearly $6,000) may borrow up to P200,000 (nearly $4,000) while small enterprises with asset size of not more than P10 million (nearly $20,000) may borrow up to P500,000 (nearly $10,000).
However, there are still entrepreneurs like Gener who were not provided assistance by the government.
She said, “We did not feel any help from the government except for being a priority group in the vaccination rollout, but that is only because we’re dentists. What about those outside the health industry?”
Ibon Foundation recently proposed a P200-billion ($398.34 million) financial assistance with zero or low-interest rate and collateral-free loans to Filipino-owned and domestically-oriented MSMEs.
“[We] identified a universe of at least P2.9 trillion ($57.75 billion) in funds from which realignments can be made, including P1 trillion ($19.92 billion) in emergency bonds and other government securities, P391.9 billion ($7.79 billion) in immediate revenues from progressive taxes especially a wealth tax, and at least P333 billion ($6.63 billion) more from a land value tax,” Ibon said in their report.
However, the Duterte administration has been resistant in approving a third redo of the Bayanihan law, which grants authority to the President to realign funds.
While the P401 billion ($7.99 billion) Bayanihan 3 relief bill passed the House of Representatives on the 3rd and final reading, the proposal has been stuck in the Senate. Lawmakers debated the government should fully utilize funds from Bayanihan 2 first.
As of April 15, 2021, total releases under the Bayanihan 1 and 2 programs have amounted to P653.4 billion ($13.01 billion). Meanwhile, the government has only utilized 87.1 percent and 35.9 percent of the funds, respectively.
Meanwhile, Gener still hopes that the government will be able to help them overcome the challenges brought by the pandemic.